18 February 2011

Springtime in the near-nothing

We've had some true spring days here this past week, and after a long bout of flu I have only now been well enough to leave the house and enjoy them. The sky this evening just past dusk was an extraordinary intense bright blue, a shade I'd never seen before – I was about to say, in Chicago, but it may in fact honestly be left unqualified. Afterward, the sky was vibrant black, a relief after months of weird orange and purplish tones caught in the low snowclouds.

It's become a reflex, I've realized, to append a “for Chicago” to the end of most expressions of delight. A wonderful sunset, for Chicago. A really good sledding hill, for Chicago. “In Chicago, one becomes a connoisseur of the near-nothing,” wrote Saul Bellow (Humboldt's Gift), and, having moved here directly after four years among the enormous landscapes and cloudscapes and brilliant heavenly bodies of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the surrounding Southwest, this seemed immediately true to me. (Bellow and his cohort were more concerned, I think, with the perceived cultural flatness of the tackily new city, but for a modern rube like me, this is surely the most “culturally advanced” place I have lived.) Even neighboring Michigan, where I was born and which, we have been told, is a rusting wasteland everyone is trying to escape, is far more beautiful than northern Illinois.

Insofar as Chicago is impressive, it is so on a textural rather than a monumental level. It is a sprawling mass of details. Its exciting current is produced by rather small changes in charge as one moves from place to place. This suits the cast of mind of someone like myself, always saying “yes, but not quite” and “some, not all” and “well, maybe,” who has thought of the Pyramids and the Great Wall of China and considered how exhausting it would be to have to pass these things each day. But sometimes it puzzles me a little that I am still happy here, as I also like adventure, or at least think I do; before ending up here I had an idea that I might move from city to city as in fact I've moved from neighborhood to neighborhood. Instead, I have traveled much in Chicago.

A guest speaker in one of my classes the other week was urging us to consider moving to find work upon graduation, and I folded my arms against the idea, although she was probably right. I have all these things here now – a girlfriend, friends, a band, a citizenship of this place. How impoverishing for the connoisseur to be denied the substance of her connaissance. Certainly I'm willing to admit that many other places may turn out to be as rich in yielding the tiny bits of knowledge I pore over jealously. But this is like saying, after shattering someone's collection of rare jazz 78s, that he might profitably turn to breeding show pigeons instead. It may be true, but it is hardly any consolation. 

No comments:

Post a Comment