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Thoughts Under City Lights

Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy —the joy of being Salvador Dalí— and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today? ~Salvador Dali

Toward Michigan Ave

Toward Michigan Ave

The Dream

There was a time I believed the highest calling for man was to live in the back of beyond, isolated, spending days in solitude working through existential angst by creating personal masterpieces. The creation medium wasn’t important. Acceptance of the finished work by the masses irrelevant. The key was the solitude needed to thoroughly examine one’s demons, to create based on deep introspection of those demons, and, hopefully, in the creative process exorcising those demons resulting in a person residing on an elevated plateau of understanding. For some reason, I believed isolation was a prerequisite to be creative.

My personal vision in those days was to mold collections of words into personal essays illustrated with the photos I crafted. I envisioned myself as 1/2 Ansel Adams, 1/2 Edward Abbey, 1/2 Grizzly Adams, 100% me. For years I dreamed of pulling up stakes, shedding human encumbrances, disappearing into the stark world of Southern Utah becoming one with the rock, one with the sun, one with the sacred red desert.

The linchpin in my plan was to live isolated, alone, remote, somewhere in the back of beyond, safely distant from civilization but close enough to society for supplies. Far enough from people to be a half naked, semi-hermit but near enough to entice a warm body to visit for a day or week so we could explore our mutual nakedness, near enough to provide succor to a damsel seeking escape from the monotony of her daily routine. The isolation was fundamental to me effectively engaging in deep creativity. The nearer I was to people the less creativity I believe could find it’s way into my art. 

The Reality

I never realized that particular dream. Life conspired to alter my journey, new dreams were dreamed, new paths taken. Where once I believe one could only realize full humanness by living away from humanity, I now feel fully human while living in Chicago. I have lived in the greater Chicago area for all but an amazing 18 months when I lived half way around the world in Pune, India having an adventure few dream of let alone have the amazing fortune to experience.

Visiting Chicago, or as we called in The City, was not an exercised opportunity of my youth. We, as a family, put little importance on venturing into The City because everything we needed could be found in the expansive Suburbs in which we lived. It wasn’t until college at UIC (and working for my uncle in the South Loop) that I entered the city on a regular basis. Those 5 years fighting rush hour traffic in both directions found me vowing never again to go into Chicago. 

And for most of my adult life, my vow held true. I avoided at almost all costs venturing into the City unless absolutely unavoidable and then entered begrudgingly when there were absolutely no other options. I loathed the thought of stagnant traffic jams on beastly days sucking in car exhaust nor could I comprehend how anyone could enjoy living in crammed quarters like caged chickens in the squalor of a factory farm where shit falls from above upon the beakless chicks squeezed into the layers of foul cages below. 

Today, I live in “The City”. I was reflecting on this irony while walking along Michigan avenue following a dinner with one of my daughters. We feasted on succulent meats, creative vegetables, with a tasty bottle of Pinot Noir at the Purple Pig, a trendy restaurant at the very congested end of Magnificent Mile bordering the Chicago river. She and I had departed and I was walking toward the subway when a group of accented men asked me to take a picture of them against the backdrop of the city lights with their camera phone.

When asked, I will take pictures of people in these situations but tend to not go out of my way to engage them in further conversation. However, my tongue loosed by the wine, I asked, “Where are you from?”

“Mexico. Jalisco. Guadalajara.”, came the response in three short sentences.

“Chivas!” I responded, naming the local fútbol team, drawing smiles from them all at which point I snapped their picture and a second one just in case the first wasn’t perfect. They thanked me and continued their walk to the North and I to the West. (This small human connection sparked the idea for this essay.)

Surprisingly, I have come to love living in Chicago. Where I used to think I needed to avoid humanity to be creative, I now find I am at most creative when surrounded by a diverse group of people. I  learned to feed off their collective energy. No physical interaction is required.(This was a skill I developed sitting for hours at a very busy outdoor coffee shop in India.)I am able to tap into the collective consciousness buzzing over the heads of people at a busy coffee shop and create my word pictures or edit my digital pictures in such a way as to generate an internal emotive response. My favorites are when  I combine the two and create short vignettes for my photographs.

I still try writing at home but find the results are inferior to those produced when in close proximity to people. So, whenever I feel the need to create, I simply go and sit at a local coffee shop and slowly drink steaming cups of Early Grey tea while my hands skitter across the keyboard placing words in just the sequence needed to order my thoughts or tweak those photos with just the right visual enhancements.

My dream of being1/2 Ansel Adams, 1/2 Edward Abbey, 1/2 Grizzly Adams only came partly true in that I take pictures and I write. It’s hard to be a bear toting, mountain man in the heart of the big city. However, I am still 100% me which is all anyone can ever really hope to be.



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