Friday, April 11, 2008


the opening sequence to Wilco's 2002 documentary, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart

the first time i lived away from home was when i left the nest, post-community college, in january of 1996. i headed downstate, to illinois state university in order to learn more about fine art and art history. my time down there was certainly like most people's. i had been the transferring junior that lived in the dorms one semester; i had late night study benders; i had binge drinking sessions; i had fallen in love; ate, drank, and slept art; and smashed televisions in the middle of busy streets. but aside from all that maturing, fucking up, and re-maturing, i had actually graduated with a good degree in a solid art program, earned my way into a full time position at a reputable contemporary university art space, and gone to grad school for free. but for some reason, i decided to not tempt some seeming "complacency" and to move on.

in may of 2002, i decided it was time to leave the comforts of bloomington-normal. i had met a girl — a fellow artist — in a far-off part of the country and become smitten, and it turned out she lived in a chicago suburb. after casually dating for quite a while, she decided she was moving to chicago proper — a place that i had a strong aversion to my whole life. so, what did i do? i packed up and followed her. and of course, it quickly fizzled out, for good reasons. so, in the summer of 2002, i was 26, and all by myself in a city of 3 million people, surrounded by a suburban area of another 6 or 7 million. and it was unlike anything i've ever experienced.

it's unbelievably difficult to describe what 5 years with chicago did to me. it's funny, but as i watch the opening sequence to I Am Trying To Break Your Heart — as Jeff Tweedy nervously yet comfortably drives around town — it strikes a chord within me. it illustrates the paradox that my chicago experience proved to be. it brings back a flood of memories, and i'm wrought by tinges of sadness, regret, pride, anger, and joy, all balled up into one overwhelming feeling.

i'm sitting here, as i write, thinking about that time, and an immense number of memories are coming to mind. my first friends that i met at the adler planetarium — the first time going out with people for a social drink. figuring out public transportation by myself. driving through some bad parts of the south side to go see a girl i had a crush on. punching buses and cabs as i rode my bike. being the first-hand witness to an awful car crash on Lower Wacker, and helping out the folks, eventually receiving mail from one victim - a sweet woman who wanted to say thanks. walking along the lakefront and watching strangers' dogs play for hours near Addison or Belmont at that dog park. all these memories in my mind have this little nuanced "flavor" to them - this hint of a common thread, and as pathetic as it might sound, i think that thread is loneliness.

the first year i lived in chicago, i had a $565 studio apartment that literally had no bedroom. the only interior wall was a tiny one that separated my toilet and shower from the rest of the tiny space. i slept right next to my couch, television, and bikes; i painted on my tiny kitchen floor. i recall that first summer, when i worked at a day camp teaching art. i spoke to no one, knew no one, except for these children who i taught art to. very strange. i recall getting home from work at night, and the smells of summer, as i walked around my neighborhood, glancing into windows with lights on, wondering what went on in the world of other folks. it was all so incredibly... strange, what i went through that first year. i recall the liquor store one block away at ashland & montrose, and buying a lot of beer that i'd drink by myself while painting on that kitchen floor. then perhaps, if a weekend, a bike ride at 2 or 3 in the morning, south towards belmont, to see the fellow punk rockers, in some vain hope i'd meet a friend, or a girl.

i don't mean this to sound so damn maudlin, because that is not my intention at all. but... it was a really fucked up, lonely time in my life. and oddly enough, as friends started moving to the city, and as the neighborhoods became more and more familiar, i don't think i ever lost that feeling of being overwhelmed by chicago... the concrete, the hordes of people, the lack of caring for your fellow human being, the dirt and grime, the concrete. everywhere, the concrete.

i could (and may, as time goes by with this blog) write an awful lot of anecdotal stories about my 5 years in the big city. but i suppose the feelings that i wanted to get across tonight, in this journal-ish post, are that aside from how strong of a yearning i had to get out of there, i have to say i'd never change one damn thing about my 5 years in chicago.

it's funny how the visuals and music in that snippet of video above bring back all those memories so perfectly.


Chao said...

I remember the studio apartment!!! And I totaly forgot about Jew camp also. Those memories are what made you a "normal" person now. Sucks growing up, but I would think it would suck even more without fun/bad/stupid/embarassing memories to be reminded of from time to time.

Matt said...

for those that don't know, the kids camp i taught art at was a jewish day camp. and i'm a godless heathen. and the church that the camp was at was a korean christian church. hilarious.