"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

comparing urban experiences

a portrait i took on the bike path from Hyde Park to upper downtown.
this photograph always exemplified the entire chicago experience for me: contented solitude in the midst of vastness.

you know, it's funny. my friend asked me the other day why i love chicago so much. and i really didn't have a compelling reason for him, aside from the obvious: public transportation, access to concerts, Millennium Park. beyond that and i'd have to go into a longer history of my interaction with that place.

it's not like Chicago's weather is even that great. when i lived there in the summer of 2006 it was sweltering hot and humid, and i lived without a.c. i sucked it up and refused to pay for such extravagance, knowing that strength and endurance emerge from a furnace. when i spent hours in the hot summer sun at Pitchfork and Lollapalooza that year, i hardly even sweat it (idiomatically speaking, that is). when i think back on it, i don't even recall being uncomfortable with the heat. i wore skirts a lot that summer, cut my hair real short, wore bathing suits under my clothes on the weekends. i sweat a lot but learned to not mind so much.

and it's not like life was easy. i worked two jobs, one at the Field Museum and the other as a field journalist/videographer for an indy news group. it was a 9-5 gig with on-call jobs over the weekends and sporadic meetings in the evenings. i remember hating the desk job at the museum at first, but then learning ways of using the space as a resource and finding my own projects to work on. i was never bored and never felt overworked. in fact, i recall working all day on a net neutrality video on a Saturday, from the 1 o'clock lunch with a co-worker that inspired the need for action, walking home writing a script (/rant) in my head, getting back to the apartment, starting up the camera, and recording/editing until 3 am in the morning, just for fun, because the project meant something to me. there were endless reports and meetings to do at the Field as well, but they were always fascinating and exciting and diverse enough in nature that it never became stifling.

it was the first time i'd ever lived in a big city, too. and i was by myself, without a car, without any friends or family in the city, no knowledge of how public trans worked. i was scared to take buses and trains at night. scared to leave the apartment after sun down. it was the first time i'd lived in an apartment (and in the worst part of town!) it was my first time grocery shopping for myself, the first time cooking (or attempting to) for myself. it was my first time using a gas stove, and i was afraid of gas leaks so never ended up using it. this is how my diet came to consist of mostly cold and raw foods for 3 months of my life. i was practically a live vegan, but i ate a lot of cheese and crackers. it was the first time i was overwhelmed with the possibilities of so many things at once, and i was so completely new to the experience of all of it.

but, that was the year i walked everywhere. and, when i got tired of walking, i found a couple who was willing to lend me a bike for the summer, and i rode along Lake Michigan and explored the city beaches. that was the year i joined Critical Mass and made 1,000 friends at once. that was the year i did yoga after work on the floor of a Maori house exhibit in the museum, and again in Millennium Park on weekend mornings, saluting the sun thru metallic beams. i spent afternoons walking thru art museums or photographing street performers. i read a book a week. i drew! i wrote poetry and listened to music. i danced. i took 30 minute train rides to chinatown to eat mango fried rice from a bamboo bowl. and that was the year i accidentally stranded myself in the worst part of town when the trains stopped running. it was the year i learned to make salsa from scratch and all-natural ingredients, and the year i fell asleep listening to Band of Horses' Funeral almost every night.

it's amazing to me to remember all of this, and there is still so much i could say. and though i have a penchant for reminiscing, this is hardly nostalgia at all, memory imbued with illusion from the passage of time. for though i never ate warm foods, and never had a.c., and was always working and walking and alone, i never felt unhappy, unfull, uncomfortable, or hungry. i was restless for more, but always well-rested, my skin was glowing and i felt young and alive and vibrant.


compare with now: i live with a childhood friend, but we hardly talk. i feel alone most days, even though i have many friends in the city and family nearby as well. i have a car but i'm terrified of driving it. LA traffic scares me and driving with the windows down is no longer considered part of a pleasurable experience. i lament missing good concerts b/c the venues are far away and the shows expensive. i have a fully functional kitchen and though i've gotten good at making fod for myself, i don't enjoy it, and hardly have the appetite for anything i make. still, i feel constantly hungry, go to bed hungry some nights. i don't sleep well, i toss and turn, waking up worrying it's 7 am when it's not even 3:30 am. i watch a lot of tv, hardly ever read, and even though i am always working or preparing to work, i never feel i've accomplished anything.

and LA's weather is fine, but i hardly ever enjoy it.

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