Crime rates and sketchy politicians aside, there’s something magical about summer in Chicago. Maybe it’s waking to the dazzling and seemingly infinite expanse of “The Lake”. Or perhaps, it’s the way a walk around “The Loop” can turn into a concert on every other corner—often, with dancing.
My two decades in New York have had a magic all their own. But this is where I return when I need to unplug from Gotham and reconnect with myself, where I’m reminded that magic can be as simple as watching the colors change on Buckingham Fountain: Sweet Home Chicago.
Coming of age during Chicago summers, it seemed that romance was just a glance away and every night out was an adventure—especially as an under-aged coed in the mid-to-late 90s. This is where I partied and flirted with cute but awkward musician-types at underground house parties and hole-in-the-wall clubs. Several would go on to become mega-stars—a few, megalomaniacs. As the sole intern at a tiny urban arts magazine, it wasn’t New York, but here that I first encountered then-rising stars such as The Roots and D’Angelo. This used to be my playground; I was Alice in “Chicagoland”.
Obviously, Chicago has changed—and so have I. But it still felt like a bit of cosmic kismet when, while watching one of my favorite chanteuses slay the Chicago Jazz Festival Saturday night, I saw a familiar face on the keys: a young musical genius (and fellow Chicago native) that I’d been lucky enough to gig with a few months back. What were the chances?
Delighted, I sent a quick text to let him know that I was in the audience. An hour later, the prodigy and I were on a downtown corner trying to decide what to do next when our answer suddenly arrived via a fleet of SUVs filled some of the best—and best-known—musicians in New York (if not the world), fresh from another gig in town. Spotting a few friends in the bunch, it was clear that this wasn’t going to be a quiet night. Kismet, indeed!
Having kept a low profile in the music industry for a few years now, I’m always flattered when anyone recognizes or remembers me. But nothing could’ve prepared me for this booming greeting:
“YOU! I’ve been meaning to talk to you…”
Who me? Now, granted, this was from a guy I’ve known for some time—another great piano man and coincidentally, an ex of a close friend. Over the years, we’ve hung out, discussed collaborating and even dined together on at least one occasion. But I couldn’t imagine what he needed to say that we couldn’t have discussed via phone or text. Maybe he’d lost my number?
“Uhh…okay. What’s up? Wondering what I’m doing here?” I asked.
“No, I want to talk about your BLOG. I have some questions for you.”
Now, I’ve been on my fair share of stages. But at that moment, I was undeniably on the spot—which was no small feat, in that crowd. What followed was an awkward but highly animated exchange, as my friend demanded that I explain my almost-daily confessionals to a small crowd of strangers—while he continually interjected. I’m sure most of them were just as bewildered as I, having no idea who I was or why they should care (though a few of you are following me now. Hey, y’all!).
It was clear that he had a few misgivings about how I described my dates and online encounters, despite my practice of fully disclosing that I’m writing about my experiences and carefully guarding anonymity. (You may have noticed that I only post unidentifiable pictures or ridiculously common names, and use pseudonyms for all my dates).
But his real issue was with my intent. Damn, here we go again: It always comes back to that pesky intent of mine. Why am I doing it, if I have no long game planned?
“I mean, do you want a relationship?” he prodded. I paused. He continued. “I’m just sayin’: If a dude is interested in having a relationship with you, are you going to write about it? Because if I was that guy, I think I’d have issues with that.”
That’s valid. Of course, it is. He is entirely entitled to his feelings. However, as a songwriter, I can only think of two songs I’ve ever written that didn’t reference someone in particular. Hell, Sam Smith, Adele and everyone’s fave, Tay-Tay (to name a few) have made entire careers (and armloads of Grammys) out of writing—and singing—about their relationships. Comedians riff onstage about ex-and-current partners, and their portraits are rarely flattering (because apparently, that’s not funny). And countless writers have based their so-called fictions on people they’ve been involved with—Arthur Miller, anyone? Fitzgerald?
As a young writer, aspiring to write about things far more exciting than the life I then lived, I hated the old adage, “Write what you know.” But there’s a reason the phrase is so clichéd: It’s damned good advice.
I may not yet know how to keep a houseplant—or a relationship—alive; but I’m the world’s greatest expert in Mai. I study her every. single. day. Some days, she’s a complete enigma; others, a complete a**hole; but she’s my life’s work.
More good advice from renowned writer, Anne Lamott:
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Even though I reference the men I’m encountering on this journey, the stories are now mine; they were given to me. And ultimately, as most of you have noticed, these posts are really about self-discovery. What do I want: a new lover or a lasting relationship? What kind of partner is best suited to meet me halfway? What habits, hang-ups and baggage do I need to unload in order to create a partnership that I can invest in (and will invest in me)?
In the absence of a relationship, there’s no better time than now to experiment, meditate and hopefully, figure it the f**k out. So, I’m going to keep writing. And, since reading about me fumbling towards ecstasy (shoutout to Sarah MacLachlan—and my college roomie, Trish) seems to have struck an empathetic chord with so many of you, I’m going to keep sharing, because we’re on to something, you and I.
And as for the future king of my heart, who has yet to reveal himself, I hope he’ll understand, accept and love that I’m a writer. I write; I write about what I know.
If that’s not okay with him, I suppose I’ll have to tell him what I told my friend on Saturday night:
“If you’re the guy for me, it’s going to be cool with you. If not, well…*shrug* I’m not the girl for you.”