A Tale of Three Cities

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“I started thinking about what my life was going to look like when I was 50.”

This week, I stumbled across an article I can’t stop thinking about: Bright Lights, Small City. In it, Jami Attenberg discusses the consequences – expected and unexpected – of relocating from New York City to New Orleans, after 18 years, at age 42.

The article immediately struck a chord with me, because I also recently moved to a new city (Chicago) from one I’d called home for more than two decades (San Francisco).

Both the author and I are single, with no children — and if there’s a gene behind long-term personal life planning, we were both born without it. For us, “Living day by day (has) always seemed a valid way to operate.” Now, we’re questioning that operating model.

Like Attenberg, I lived in New York after college, and felt like I was at the center of the universe. Everything comes to New York first – every fashion trend, every indie movie, every play. It can be exhilarating, but also wearying. And very lonely.

Image result for california or bustAfter graduate school, I hurried to San Francisco. It felt cozier and friendlier, until an influx of tech money — BIG money — triggered a seismic shift in demographics, median income and cost of living. Life began to feel hard for “the rest of us”, just as it had in New York.

Borrowing again from Attenberg: “I wanted things to be easier and sunnier and I wanted to own a house.” That was never going to happen for me anywhere in the Bay Area.

Family obligations brought me East in 2018, and I chose a city where I knew I’d feel welcome. Sweet Home Chicago is vibrant, interesting and diverse with a rich history embraced by proud residents. Anthony Bourdain summed it up perfectly in a 2016 Medium essay:

“It is, also, as I like to point out frequently, one of America’s last great NO BULLSHIT zones. Pomposity, pretentiousness, putting on airs of any kind, douchery and lack of a sense of humor will not get you far in Chicago.”

I’ve blogged about the uncertainty I’m facing these days. An untimely job elimination has me in professional and personal limbo. When I’m especially anxious, I find myself scrutinizing every aspect of life in Chicago. Am I happy here? Should I try someplace new? What if this city is just too big for me?

Image result for The second mountain imagesToday I saw New York Times columnist David Brooks speak, as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival, to promote his new book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. He posits that 50 years of American individualism, and a focus on personal achievement, have spawned a lonely population that lacks deep personal connections and a sense community belonging.

Brooks shared this stat: Just 8% of Americans say they’ve had meaningful conversations with a current neighbor. That hit home, because last night I bumped into my neighbor as he was moving out of his apartment. Not only did I not know his name, I realized I’d never given him more than cursory eye contact and a perfunctory “hello” in the hallway. He’d lived next door for an entire year, and this was our first (and last) conversation.

Yes, Chicago is enormous. I can sometimes feel lost and lonesome here – but I must own my part in that. To feel settled, like I belong, there’s more I can do. It’s not as if I don’t have time! Even the most committed job seeker needs distractions.

I’d love to say I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, like Jami Attenberg in New Orleans. A lot depends on where my next career opportunity takes me. I must earn a living, and there’s a chance I’ll need to relocate to do it. Chicago is a wonderful city, but it’s not the only one.

Meanwhile, it’s time I begin the awkward (for an introvert) task of planting my stake in my current community, and building deeper connections here. For starters, when my future neighbor moves in, we WILL chat, and I WILL commit his/her name to memory, damn it!

Sometimes in movies, a sickly character will discuss his impending demise – philosophizing that everyone dies. He just happens to have an ETA.

If I’ve learned just one thing in the last two years, it’s this: EVERYONE’S future is uncertain, but most of us just don’t know which shoe is about to drop — or when. Our only choice is to go with what we know.

Maybe it’s time to go forth, and find my Chicago tribe. Wrigley Field on a sunny day seems like a great place to start…

Carpe Diem! — John Keating (aka Robin Williams)

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High Times

TV's Judge Judy wags her finger in a tsk tsk motio
Tsk Tsk!

A CNN/ORC International survey released today suggests that a majority of Americans (55%) support legalizing pot, while only 44% oppose it. This follows a New York Times report on Sunday, indicating that Governor Andrew Cuomo is set to legalize medical marijuana in his state. Oh, and unless you’ve been living under a rock somewhere without 24-hour cable news, you are probably aware that on January 1 Colorado became the first state to fully legalize recreational marijuana for residents 21 and older.

So, what’s the verdict?  Is it high time, or does legalized pot stink to high heaven?  (Ha, see what I did there?)  According to erudite New York Times columnist David Brooks, these changes will have sobering consequences. (There, I did it again!)

In his January 2 op-ed, Brooks sought to walk the fine line between 60’s freethinking bohemian and dowdy prig.  He reminisced about smoking pot as a teenager, and the embarrassing things he and his friends got up to. There was something about going to honors English high and COMPLETELY bungling his recitation of Chaucer in Middle English. I mean, can you imagine? The HORROR! A cautionary tale, boys and girls, if ever I did hear one.

OK, I’ve long had a teeny crush on Mr. Brooks (or David, as I like to call him) so I feel a smidge guilty for lampooning him, and embroidering his story for my own blogging gain. But when he moralizes that government should encourage “the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature” over smoking weed… He couldn’t possibly mean OUR government, could he? The 113th do-nothing Congress? David Brooks was born in Canada, which may account for his unfounded optimism. Or else, he’s smoking something.

I make light of this subject because the truth is, I don’t take it very seriously. I feel much more passionately about marriage equality, and I’m straight!

Every argument for criminalized marijuana I’ve ever heard could also logically be applied to alcohol. “Smoking and driving is a good way to get yourself killed,” writes Brooks. True, but so is drinking and driving – and texting and driving, for that matter. Both are illegal, and still prevalent.

“Young people who smoke go on to suffer I.Q. loss and perform worse on other cognitive tests.”  Granted, I’m not a doctor, but I suspect teens who abuse alcohol suffer the same effects.  Plus, no one is proposing legalizing pot for teenagers.

No, I don’t worry that society will go to hell in a handbasket if recreational pot is legalized. I don’t predict that unemployed stoner zombies will roam the streets, bloated from gorging on Fritos bought with food stamps. Once the media turns its collective attention to some other chicken little-type story, and the novelty has worn off, I think usage will normalize. People who smoked pot before will continue to do so, probably in similar quantities — and unless a pot dispensary sets up shop in their lobby, pretty much everyone else will just drink wine. (Wine has a nice “nose”. Pot stinks like a skunk — which I can prove, because my downstairs neighbor is a stoner and his smoke permeates everything. It’s an olfactory offense.)

One thing David Brooks and I agree on: We’re too old to party like rock stars. That may be because we’ve matured, or maybe it’s just because we have work in the morning. Either way, no law change or ballot initiative will reverse it.

And do you know what? I wouldn’t want it to.

Put that in your pipe, and smoke it.