I have avoided writing about Chicago.
I told myself I did not want to objectify the city. At the same time I wanted to document every single thing that charmed, baffled, or irked me about the city in frightening detail. I feel had I been here as a traveler, or wanderer, or explorer (whichever term is in vogue for snots like me who have the luxury of global mobility, albeit with varying degrees), I would have engaged in this project of objectification and documentation with frightening impunity and just a faint, niggling sense of remorse. But alas. I did not have that luxury. I am here to stay for a significant amount of time. Naturally, I wanted to be part of the city (dramatic inflection), an insider. I wanted to write with the comfort and embedded-ness of an insider. I felt all of these uncomfortable things with no real idea of what constituted this sense of belonging that I was trying to engineer.
But right around Christmas (don’t worry, this isn’t a cinnamon scented, hallmark moment), with my attempt to cross a busy street in the Loop impeded by a large group of chatty and merry tourists, I had an epiphany (still not a snow-covered, firewood-scented Christmas story. No ghosts of Christmas were harmed in the making of this epiphany either). This epiphany was preceded by an intense moment of eye-rolling and mental harrumphing about, ‘Tourists’ (alright, so there is a bit of Christmas Carol in this story). I caught myself mid-harrumph, a very difficult reaction to interrupt, and broke into a desperate case of the giggles at my own impudence. Three months in a city and I had already laid claim to a place. I had taken it upon myself to see this group of people as outsiders, unfamiliar with the mores of the movement of this city, while reflexively casting myself in the role of the insider.
But I caught myself. Tempting as it was to adopt the false confidence this moment appeared to promise, I realised that I was okay inhabiting the cleavage between belonging and being a visitor. It’s an exciting place, this cleavage. It’s also utilitarian. I can oscillate between being fascinated by all that is trite, contrived, and presented to be touristy, thereby ‘making the most’ of this experience as a consumer; I can also be dismissive of these on occasion and instead wax lyrical about the quotidian and the banal aspects of the city as a local would.
I look forward to the opportunities that my occupation of the cleavage provides, in the meantime, I need to stop thinking of the migratory geese that I see near my home as ‘my geese’. That’s just sick.