Over twenty years ago I had a singular experience.
I was in the Pacific Northwest driving on the 520 Bridge spanning Lake Washington between Seattle and Bellevue. The morning sun was coming up. The floating bridge rocked gently on the water. I pushed the accelerator down, smoking a cigarette as I drove towards my apartment on the Seattle side of the lake. My car windows were open. The air tasted different, wet. It had been a long road to get there, to get to that city and so recently arrived I had found a job, made a few friends and locked in an apartment I really enjoyed, a small one bedroom right on Lake Washington. Through the windshield the bridge looked ahead while the water spread across my vision to the left and the right. I had so much to anticipate here, Seattle being so different from any place I’d previously known. The fact I was driving on a floating bridge registered in my mind. I had no idea such a thing existed before I arrived. Newness, everything felt so new, from poetry readings in Capitol Hill to fresh smoked fish on Elliot Bay, from the fading residue of the grunge era to a dozen kinds of olives at a food co-op. I drove along, and suddenly felt overcome, charged with these feelings of anticipation, of a freedom unlike any I’d every experienced. I made it to Seattle. The future was unknowable and I felt so incredibly free. It was an electric feeling. I grinned as the spray from the lake spotted the windshield.
I left Seattle a couple of years after that day.
When I left, it was with only what would fit in my car.
I’d been reading Walden again.
Gone was the moving truck and all it held when I’d come West. I sold most of what I had, gave away the rest, except for 100 carefully chosen books, a small box of irreplaceables, my clothes, a computer, a carton of cigarettes and my bank account. The rest was gone, all of it seeming unneeded and unnecessary, left behind in the small house in Rainer Valley I’d been sharing with my partner in the midst of a really terrible relationship. It was a relief to us both when I drove away, though I had called her from a stop in San Francisco and she’d asked if I was ready to come back. I’d stripped myself down for the ease of emotion and movement, a long drive through San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Cheyenne and the Black Hills. Taking the scenic route back to Chicago where I stayed for a year, before moving to New Orleans, to San Francisco twice and always back again to Chicago.
Each place I lived, I bought a small desk, a mattress and maybe a chair, abandoning them again when I felt it time to move on. I kept things stripped, until this last time.
I’ve been in Chicago again for seven years.
For twenty plus years I’ve been chasing that feeling. I’ve lived in Illinois, Wisconsin, California and Louisiana, moves every few years to find something new, more experience, more people, more bookstores and dusty bars, more jobs helping people in all sort of situations, finding the Pacific Ocean, San Francisco Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River, Lake Michigan, water and wetness and climates and spray and so many people across so many streets and in so many offices, helping them find their way while I lost mine. Chasing that feeling, searching for that feeling, but always flailing.
I’ve been in Chicago for a little over seven years now. It’s the longest I’ve lived in any one city for over two decades and in hindsight I see I’ve been preparing to leave for years. While most people my age are busy accumulating: items, friendships, roots and cares I’ve done the opposite. I started in a two bedroom apartment in Albany Park before the large space grew uncomfortable. One room had nothing in it but curtains and a chair. It all seemed such a waste. This led to the first downsize towards a one bedroom in Buena Park, but in a matter of months I grew to dislike how when I was in one room, I couldn’t see what was, or was not occurring in the other. Last year I downsized again to a studio, same building but one floor down and across the hall. With each of these moves, I severed a handful of ties. I stopped attempting to be social at work. I filled dumpsters with unnecessary junk (where did I get all the stuff?) My only real interaction with others was with my partner or when I was out shooting photographs and now even this studio seems too large. My job seems too much of what I don’t want, spending the majority of time in program development or supervising staff instead of working with clients, patients, the people I can and want to help. I’ve never found the drive to care much about this city. It’s been play-acting for situations, for photographs of protest and people and for the stories of those I’ve met here, an empathetic nod of the head, asking questions about who they are, what matters, what they’ve been through, mostly because asking those questions seemed the right thing to do. This Chicago existence is not the life I wanted to live. The 520 bridge has been completely obscured by fog. This job I do, while beneficial to many does not offer me what I need, what I want to feel. Thankfully my partner, whom I love deeply accepts this and understands. It won’t be the first time we’ve lived across the country from one other.
On Monday, my new lease arrives. It’s for nine months, not an annual and just long enough to finish my work, get prepared, get creative and amuse those activities I do enjoy about Chicago before I again upend my life and head west, back to the Bay Area. Within the spiritual path I most abide, the tortoise is an important symbol, always at home in spirit within its shell. When I leave, I’ll be filling more dumpsters, trying on a newer, yet familiar shell. I’ll be stripped down again, to renew the search for that lost feeling from the 520 Bridge, running between Seattle and Bellevue.
I’m confident it’s out there…(it might be within). Either way, I’m going to find it…(or me), again.
Have a nice day,