Trying not to hate Chicago

 Two people attended this event. One of them went on to fire me. 

Two people attended this event. One of them went on to fire me. 

For a long time, being a Chicagoan was central to my identity. I took inordinate pride in being not just a Chicagoan but a third generation Chicagoan. Chicago wasn’t just the city that I chose to live in. Chicago was in my bones. Chicago was in my blood. Chicago was a part of me. Chicago was my city. I felt a sense of pride and even a sense of ownership in it. 

I went away to college in Madison but I couldn’t wait to get back. So I was overjoyed when The A.V Club moved to Chicago and I could continue my dream job in the only city I could ever envision myself living in. Almost seven years ago, with a head swimming with optimism and hope (stupid brain! Never allow yourself even a fleeting moment of either!) I fulfilled another of my life’s dreams by buying a modest condo in the working class Mexican neighborhood of Albany Park with the idea of having children and raising them there.  

 I do miss the Chicago literary scene, however. 

I do miss the Chicago literary scene, however. 

My love of Chicago always came with caveats. I loved Chicago despite the agonizingly cold weather. And I loved Chicago despite the incredible corruption that famously characterized pretty much every facet of Chicago life, but was particularly toxic and ubiquitous in politics. And I loved Chicago despite its horrific racism, awful schools and horrific segregation, which I would love to call horrifically unAmerican but in Donald Trump’s America the separation of rich and poor, black and white, country and city, seems all too American. 

 Pretty good bill 

Pretty good bill 

I loved Chicago despite how violent it was. More than that, I loved Chicago despite the fact that Chicago really didn’t seem to like me at all, let alone feel the same sense of loyalty to me that I did to it. Whether it was the permanent judgmental frowns of the assholes I had the misfortune to share a condo association board with, or the the frigid glares of coworkers or bus drivers or just people on the street, I increasingly had a difficult time holding onto my conception of my hometown as a friendly place full of warmhearted people. 

And that was when things were good. The last few months in Chicago things took a turn towards the brutal and unbearable even before I got fired from The Dissolve and quickly found myself unable to afford to continue living in the city. 

 Dex met some nice young men, but I think they're from out of town. I'm thinking Detroit?

Dex met some nice young men, but I think they're from out of town. I'm thinking Detroit?

When I was a huge Chicago booster, I would have gotten really irritated by someone feeling as negatively towards the city as I do now. I identified so strongly with Chicago that when someone attacked it, I felt personally attacked so I was endlessly protective and defensive about the city, until it became all but impossible to hold onto my delusions about Chicago. 

I hoped that time would take the pain away. Nothing heals quite like time and distance. While my anger towards Chicago isn’t as strong as it was two years ago when I fled my hometown to live in my in-laws’ basement in suburban Atlanta, it’s still there. I used to love Chicago, so perhaps it’s fitting that what I feel towards it now is not indifference, the antithesis of hate, but rather a still-simmering frustration and disappointment that is, in many ways, the inevitable flip side of the way I used to romanticize Chicago. 

Now I romanticize Decatur and Atlanta the way I used to romanticize the city I grew up in. Is it inevitable that some day I’ll be disillusioned and disappointed with Decatur the way I am with Chicago? Perhaps. That’s the nature of love when it comes to people and cities. It burns bright at first, during the white-hot honeymoon stage, and then life happens and fantasies crash into reality. 

So I’m trying to be realistic about my new home. I know it’s imperfect but right now I love being in love with Decatur, and I’m going to hold onto that feeling as long as I can. 

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