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And nobody noticed. I stopped writing, and nobody noticed but me.
Definitely at the “why bother?” stage of my career.
One of the drawbacks of this “blog a day” business is that I work at home. Subsequently, I lack my former pre-pandemic benefit of working downtown. The commute was a pain in the ass, but at least I was guaranteed to see something new and different every day. On my 25-minute stroll from the train station to the office and back again, I would see such strange sights. Familiar figures, like the “FBI RAPES ME DAILY: HUNGER STRIKE DAY X” guy near the Daley Center or Walking Man (RIP) in any number of places. The lampposts and walls were papered with street art, kook rants, and other ephemera. There were great places to eat, buildings to admire, free newspapers to peruse, museums to visit, and of course, the staggering vastness of the lake to the east.
Not always, of course. I worked in the Loop for some 21 years (and for two years in the early 90s). When I started working the steady decimation of the old city had been in play for several decades. You could still see and experience some of what used to be in the early part of the 21st century. But every day I watched more structures coming down, more chains moving in, and more unnecessary touristy and upper-tier inhabitant crap installed. I made a goal to walk the Loop from end to end before it was all gone, and I recorded as much as I could. I only wish I’d had a digital camera earlier on in my walks. By 2020, most of my favorite places were gone.
And yet, I still had the Art Institute, Grant Park, weirdo buildings like the I AM Temple and the former Medinah Shrine, Mallers Deli and the Pittsfield Cafe, many different pretty lobbies with friendly guards who let me look about, and so on.
Now I sit and work and look out the front window of my home, wondering who the hell half these other people are walking about MY neighborhood (I am a grumpy middle-aged man; this is my charge). I sometimes stroll to the lake, now a mile east, not just outside my office window. I get a coffee at Astra or a brownie at Sally’s Nuts and look at old Jens Jensen’s memorial to Augusta Rosenwald in the park named after him. It’s nice. It’s quiet. Occasionally too quiet.
I need more new.
One of the dumber fictional ideas humans have had is that immortality, or more “realistically” a very, very long and healthy life measured in millennia, would be unbearable. Given that extra-long lifespan, only an unimaginative soul wouldn’t find multiple worthwhile somethings to do along the way. We have the notion that losing people would be especially torturous, but would it be any worse than losing them while grey-bearded, half-mad, and near-death oneself?
I like the TV show The Good Place, but even that show thought a few billion years in Heaven was enough for a life in a challenging eternally customizable paradise. No one even considered the possibility of offering people the option to erase and reboot themselves, letting them enjoy that sense of accomplishment again and again and again.
What a crock. To believe that in a literal perfect world we’d eventually choose oblivion. Certainly it beats the existing alternative of hoping you have enough funding to reach a hundred years in a disintegrating meat machine.
Today’s blog addresses the piece of writing I worked on today. A well-overdue review of a book about Chicago’s Vivian Maier. Vivian, if you don’t know about her, worked as a nanny for most of her life and semi-secretly made a vocation of photography. Through the middle of the 20th century, Vivian snapped pictures of people on the street, self-portraits, urbanity and urban decay, and, as a strange sidebar, newspapers and documents, page by page. Vivian seemed uninterested in earning a living as a photographer. Good as she was, photography seemed more of an obsession than a means of self-expression. Afflicted with hoarding syndrome that grew worse with age, Vivian took tens of thousands of pictures, printed some, but mostly sacked away thousands of rolls of undeveloped film. When she died, few folks knew she’d been a serious photographer.
Then certain men found her photographs after buying the contents of several unpaid storage units. Vivian was declared an unrecognized genius (some of her photos were quite nice, possessing Weegee-esque and Arbusian aspects), the price of her photographs soared, and Chicago adopted her as one of our many weirdo saints (St. Veronica, shown, is the official shutterbug saint for the Catholic Church, by the way). The book I read did a good job of discovering where Vivian came from, what much of her life was like, and why she took photographs. Finding out who she really was, however, will always be an impossibility. Especially now that others who stand to profit from her work most benefit from defining her.
Coming up with a topic for a quick paragraph here every day is already a challenge. I know there are people who can sit down and regale you with tales of their dental appointment, baking escapades, and foot care regimen, but… Well, I could probably do that too. Babbling in print has been my day job for years, and also my night job when it comes to the freelance stuff. But I’ve long hated the idea of the literary trots. Some writers could stand to shut up their pen once in a while. Oh, some got very good at jotting down exactly 2000 readable words on assorted subjects, but doesn’t a non-stop flow of words devalue what you say? I can name several pundits off the top of my head who could stop and recycle columns they dashed off years ago…and no one would be the wiser, in all senses of the word.
Which is not to say that I’m bringing a sack of dazzling jewels whenever I deign to slam words together. At the same time, I try to never cheat the reader. You see this…this verbal construction I’m sharing with you here is what I called a “ramble” in my LiveJournal days (as opposed to a “rant,” which was more of an angry ramble). Back then, before Twitter, I’d turn out a few hundred words a day on this, that, and the other thing (often on my employer’s dime; relax, I got my work done). A few fellow writers said I was wasting my time, but I was simultaneously getting published in the papers, so I didn’t see the issue. I liked the immediacy of blogging and the ability to write about things I knew I’d never see published in “legit” newspapers and magazines. The blogging days were fun. As fun as the zine days. And both helped me keep my interest in this writing nonsense, even as the “real” writers clucked and mocked us hobbyists, knowing they’d NEVER be toppled from their inky perches.
So there. A blog about blogging. To quote my friend Kathy: META.
I have a fellow writer friend who shares the things he’s grateful for everyday, without fail. I’m far too much of an ingrate to do that, but it might be worth it to mention the things I do to keep busy and push this wobbly-wheeled wagon I call a writing career further along.
For instance, Third Coast Review. This is a local (Chicago) site that appeared after Gapers Block shut down, and several GB writers wanted to carry the torch. I wasn’t one of them; I heard about TCR later. I contributed a few reviews early on, and when the previous Lit editor left I volunteered. It’s been fun, I’ve met interesting folks who became regular contributors, and I’ve discovered new books, authors, and publishers I wasn’t aware of before. It’s been a good experience.
Here’s the first TCR Lit article of 2023. I’m always looking for new writers/reviewers and Chicago authors, publishers, and Lit subjects to cover. If any of those apply to you, contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: These daily blogs are intended to help me keep my hand in at writing. Also, notes for possible future articles and suchlike. Don’t look for finished work here. I’m experimenting!
Putting away the Christmas decorations is never a sad thing for me. It’s one last whirl of holiday glee. One last whiff of cinnamon, pine, sugar, and the many little bits of everything used to create ornaments. One last unwrapped gift, removing the lights, garland, and other trinkets and knickknacks, revealing the parched but still proud tree beneath. Yes, it needs to go, but also, yes, it can be ground up and mulched and spread to protect and promote growth elsewhere. One last goodbye, at least for a year, to a fleet of Santas, reindeer, snowmen, elves, angels, Krampuses, and other mythological creatures adorning the tree, mantel, furniture, and more. How can you be unhappy revisiting all that glamorous, glitzy, glittering ridiculousness? Plus, you can finally see the floor again, fercrissakes. Farewell, Christmas. Return from whence you came: the attic.
When I was younger, I was filled with a constant sense that I had to accomplish certain things, or else I’d regret it. I pictured my fifty-something self, fat and balding, half-mad, half-blind, and filled with hate, looking back and wishing I’d grabbed the gusto in my youth. Well, the view is different from here. I don’t remember any of the dares I declined, even after I was told by my friends that I’d regret not taking them. Most of the potential lovers’ names escape me, and the trysts I had were forgettable. I’ve achieved much of what I set out to do (though perhaps not as successfully as I might have liked), and I suspect that if you presented me with a list of the goals I made in my twenties, I wouldn’t recognize half of them. Finally, in my experience, the things I build up the most in my mind most often disappoint me. That probably goes for the aforementioned goals too. Regrets, I’ve had a few, as the song goes, but then again, too few to mention. Above all, let us give thanks for encroaching senility.
One of the benefits of living in Highland Park is its closeness to Lake Michigan. Less well-known is our proximity to a series of 30 lovely ravines. While the shoreline has a number of nice beaches, it’s the ravines that stand out. Snakily winding their way into the interior, they’re large but subtle, left behind when the Ice Age’s last glaciers melted and water trickled down from the Chicago moraines, carving rough and steeply acute angles into the earth. Animal, vegetable, and mineral: all either visit or house themselves in the ravines.
We live in Ravinia neighborhood, which takes its name from our local topography. Once an independent, incorporated village back in the 19th century, Ravinia was annexed by Highland Park in 1899. Today it’s better known for the Ravinia Music Festival, which more or less began when the Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad built an amusement park there in 1904. The amusement park eventually closed—the Martin Theater and the Old Gate are the only original features left—but the music played on, stopping only during the Depression and the height of the COVID pandemic. The festival brings the crowds, but the ravines its named after remain an open secret.
I wrote this because I’ve been pondering an essay or some longer work addressing the ravines. I’m no John Muir though, so I need to read up on geology, botany, biology, and more. Still, does this sound interesting to anyone out there?
It’s after midnight, but it’s been a busy day, and I spent it finishing up an article I’m submitting to the Chicago Reader. Last year was not a great one for writing outside my job. Hilariously, I’ve never been more productive, but most of my writing of the past two years went toward my current job. Blogs. Lots of blogs about all sorts of subjects. Occasionally, I wrote for a comics website (yes, despite the byline, that’s my work) or some other fun site, but mostly I wrote about industrial machinery, hydroponics, and window wells. Oh, I learned and wrote so much about window wells. I switched to a different department, and now I create the blogs for the company website as well as case studies about our clients. As such, I’ve averaged about 2500 words a day (workdays). I do my best whatever the gig though, so I’ve never sold myself or the reader short. Still… I want to go back to regular writing this year. Maybe even polish up those two semi-formed novels I wrote. This I resolve. But I also resolve to write more here.I may falter, but I’ll try my best.