June was a rough month. Nothing specific, really. Just the grating reality of seemingly every little thing being rougher than necessary. We got achingly close to buying a house, and it fell through. My husband had to travel unexpectedly quite a bit for work. I had a ton of shows and rehearsals while trying to fake my way though feeling mega-nauseous, sore, and exhausted because of this fetus I’m lugging around. All of these challenges are pretty luxurious problems, but they took it out of me nonetheless.
Unfortunately, Chicago is currently taking the brunt of my recovery frustration. I’m trying to be honest with myself and remember that I really love living in Chicago. I love how easy it is for me to participate in so many facets of the comedy community. I love seeing so many people out walking and biking in my neighborhood. I love easy access to great food and art. I love Chicago.
But it’s not just about me. I’m a parent, and as Ida grows and I contemplate life as the mom of two, my love for Chicago is called into question more and more. Not that it decreases necessarily, but it feels as though I’m constantly negotiating with myself – trying to figure out where living in Chicago falls on the cost/benefit continuum.
Benefits: multicultural living, access to art, a small living space (so, not too much stuff and more time spent out in the community), close to family, everyone in our family can pursue their passions, so much good food, great community, and that unquantifiable feeling of Chicago. That last one is a biggie, and I don’t know how to properly account for it. I just know that every time I visit my hometown in Michigan, I have a moment when I wonder if I missed the apocalypse, and I remember what it felt like to live in a place so tied to private space. Chicago never feels lonely in that way for me. In the words of Chicago improviser Susan Messing (speaking about improvising, but almost always universally applicable), “if you’re not having fun, you’re the asshole.” Never does this ring truer for me, in the sense that you can be and do whatever you want – you’re empowered to do it — than in Chicago
But there are costs, and lately they loom large. Namely: even though we live really comfortably I know we could be spending less and saving more somewhere else, potentially less audible gunshots (summer on the boarder of Uptown/Andersonville invites residents to play the super fun guessing game of “firework or gunshot?” with unsettling regularity and depressing results), the seemingly overwhelming challenge of getting Ida into a good school, lack of access to nature in an un-crowded low-supervision setting (like I had playing in the woods, by the river, and in the backyard as a kid), lack of personal space (our upstairs neighbors are making me crazy and I’d love to have a garden folks didn’t throw cigarette butts in), and the constant feeling of low-grade hassle – this one, much like the above mentioned “feeling of Chicago” is hard to measure. There is just something about the needling frustration of parking, transit, permits, arrangements, noise, crowds, and general oversaturated gridlock that wears me out. Sometimes it feels like the city is challenging me to subvert it. And while this occasionally gives me a feeling of strength and grit, other times it just leaves me frantically driving around Old Town, watching the precious minutes tick by on my car’s dashboard clock muttering fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck while searching for a parking spot.
I know the grass is always greener and all that, but I’m waxing nostalgic for my Pure Michigan roots today. I’m wondering if Chicago is the right place for my family, or if I’m being a little selfish in my determination to make urban living work for us. I’m imagining sitting on the deck in the back yard while Ida and her brother or sister play. I’m thinking of sending them to “the school” – you know, the great no-waiting-list-or-rigmarole local school that all the kids will attend (they might even walk unattended!). I’m thinking of affordable housing. I’m thinking of gunshots that come in a wave, only once a year, during hunting season and never dictate which Target I’ll visit to run errands.
Of course there are things I didn’t love about living in Michigan, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have moved in the first place. But right now in this hot, sticky, crowded city where the other day I had to wait in line, in the sun, with my kid to swim at the pool for the allotted 45 minutes with a hundred other folks, Michigan seems like a magical place where I could catch my breath and raise my kids with less stress.
It occurs to me as I re-read this typo-riddled missive that it’s entirely possible I’m just a woman in desperate need of a proper vacation. Maybe I’ll go to Michigan.