The other day, we took the L train downtown to go museum-hopping. Rory was on winter break and a lot of the museums were free to Chicago locals, so we took advantage.
At the Merchandise Mart stop, this young lady got on. She was tall with dark skin and broad shoulders. Her hair was plastered back and styled as if to be intentionally dynamic. She was wearing a red jacket and was having a ‘power conversation’ on her phone posturing about how she was getting things done and making heads roll and all that dynamic, powerful kinda stuff.
She was a force of nature, that one. On a mission.
We got off the L a few stops past that point and went about our evening. We went to Potbelly subs and had dinner (yes, classy) and then headed across the street to the Art Institute (for real, classy). After doing our thing there for about an hour and a half, we decided to jump back on that beautiful L train and head back north towards home.
As we approached the platform, I glanced up at the sign to see when the next train was due. The next natural place for my eyes to transition to was the platform straight across from us. And what did my eyes behold?
Red jacket-donning, tall, broad-shouldered power-woman. Still on her phone. Being powerful.
I couldn’t believe it. She could have gone anywhere and done anything. She could have hopped a helicopter to Washington DC or taken a different Metra train to Indiana. The possibilities were endless. But there we were. Walking up to the same platform at the same time.
It’s not the first time something like this has happened here in Chicago. Stuff like this blows me away. And it makes this big city really, really small.
I live right around the corner from a bar that has one of the finest selections of German beer -probably in the entire state of Chicago (yes, to me, Chicago is a state).
It’s called Resi’s Bierstube. This place is classic Chicago, opened in 1973. People go out of their way to have a couple beers and a shot of Bärenjäger there.
Anyhow, my wife has a friend in town from Germany, so of course, we had to take her to the Bierstube to test its authenticity. So we’re there eating some potato pancakes and schnitzel and having drinks when suddenly, I notice… Holy hell… Everyone is looking at the television.
Human connection. Murdered.
I know I bitch and moan about the distractions of tech a lot. Mostly, I’m bitching and moaning at myself. I’m openly a hypocrite here.
I found myself, in that cozy little awesome bar with great beer and fantastic company, twisted around in my seat staring at a horribly-dressed news anchor as he yapped about the ‘apocalyptic snow storm’ that just hit Chicago (and no, it was not apocalyptic at all — it was quite peaceful, actually, from my living room staring out feeling grateful I didn’t have to drive in it).
Even after I recognized what was happening, it was hard to ignore that damn screen.
This is what I can’t stand about bars in the US… 98% of them are plastered with TV’s. (I love what I hear about pubs in Ireland — no TV’s.)
Trust me… I still love the Bierstube. I will continue to be a patron. Their classic hole-in-the-wall Chicago vibe, good food, and great selection of beer make up for their TV use (and it’s not nearly as bad as our sports bars). I’m just saying…
So, a couple things here.
First, if you’re considering opening a new bar, please don’t install televisions.
Ignore the urge of your inner American and the very real complaints of some of your patrons. Be bold. Do something different. Design your bar around human connection. It would be a remarkable thing for those of us who want it.
Secondly, this ties directly into content creation and creative work in general.
Yes, everyone focuses on the flashy, headliney, shiny, tabloidey thing. Yes, clickbait will trigger our lizard brains and get our attention.
But afterwards, will we be feeling better about you and ourselves because of it? Will you truly be remarkable?
Try something different. Shoot for content based around passion, enthusiasm, care, and connection.
Try creating work designed to make an imprint on our hearts rather than inciting our nerves and triggering our egos.
You may not find the masses rushing in, but the ones who do will know that they’ve found something that’s meant to be treasured and shared with those who ‘get it’.
I don’t know about you, but these are the only ones I want hanging out at my bar.
First thing I should say is that, before I moved to Chicago, I lived 25 minutes from one of the most incredible natural wonders in the world. That place is Lake Tahoe, the pristine alpine lake that straddles California and Nevada.
As Mark Twain so aptly described it, “Surely the fairest picture the whole world affords.” Every summer, I’d swim in its waters and gape at the sunsets above it. Every winter, I’d trek through the snow that blanketed it. It’s an incredible place, indeed.
Having moved back to Chicago this summer, people sometimes ask where we’re from. “Lake Tahoe area,” we say, which consistently leads to a look of astonishment on their faces…
“You’re from Lake Tahoe? Why would you move here?”
Of course, it’s mostly said in jest, but there is an underlying level of seriousness in those words. My wife and I laugh and give them an elevator pitch of how we’ve lived here before and we love it and then we change the subject as quickly as possible. Because those who react this way are from Chicago, they naturally take for granted the things that we see such beauty in.
But here’s what I see when I take the train from my neighborhood up north down into the city…
I see the miracle of millions of people making their way on trains, buses, cars, bikes, skateboards, and foot to where they’re going. I see a train system that’s a product of thousands of brilliant designers, adamant planners, and hardened workers.
I see beautifully crafted buildings that reach the sky and I wonder — how many hands have touched just one of those buildings as it was erected? How many sleepless nights, spilled coffees, liquid lunches, lost lives, bloody knuckles, and acquired fortunes have those buildings brought to pass?
I see water running to millions and sewage flowing from the same — an incredible feat in and of itself.
I see people dressed to the nines walking down the sidewalk beside beggars who hustle for their next dime.
I see the endless shores of Lake Michigan stretching out to the horizon as it hugs the city in its greenish blue luster. I see a bike path that runs the entirety of the city — the result of a political bout won by Daniel Burnham, the famed architect and urban designer who made Chicago his masterpiece.
I see the millions of people who’ve come before us to make this city what it is. A hard working city with corruption and crime — no doubt — but also with a charm and character I’ve seen unmatched by any other.
They say that when you’re here for long enough, you only see the dregs of it. Well, I’m happy to say, I’m not there yet. So right now, I’m enjoying my bewilderment.
When I stand from a good vantage point and look at this skyline, I see the divine intelligence that works through us humans and all of life to create an array so beautiful, complex, functional, and perfectly flawed all at the same time.
When I contemplate this, I know that the same creative force that stretches through a pine tree high above snowy Lake Tahoe is alive and well in the big city just the same.
You might have read the story, but we’re moving to Chicago in a month (read it here if you haven’t read it yet and are curious why). Which means my wife and I had to go out there a few weeks ago to find a place to live. Which also means, we had to leave Rory at home with her grandma (because house hunting with a 3 year old in tow sounds harmful to anyone’s health, including her’s).
If you read my story, you know that Chicago is a big deal to us. It’s where we fell in love. Every year we talk about moving back there. You may hate Chicago, but to us, Chicago is — to quote the late, great Frank Sinatra — our kind of town.
I hadn’t been back there for an extended stay (we drove through a few years ago on the way to somewhere else, but that doesn’t count) since we moved away 7 years ago. Not only that, I haven’t been on an extended trip anywhere with my wife alone since Rory was born, almost 4 years ago.
Needless to say, I was extremely excited to go on this trip. To fly out with my lovely wife to the greatest city in the world (yes, I’m sticking to that) to hang out with old friends, new friends, and find our new home. I was kid-in-candy-store ecstatic to go on that trip. Counting the days. Building it up to myself. Gushing to friends about it. Alex and I both were.
And then came the day before…
Holy. Shit. I was depressed.
Like, SUPER low.
I couldn’t help but prematurely start to miss Rory. Like, reallyreally miss her.
Alex and I were packing our clothes the day before our flight. We were both moving around slow. Shoulders slumped. Not saying anything. We both had that far-away look in our eyes.
I looked at her, paused, and then said shit, are you feeling this too?
Yeah! It’s horrible!
Ugh… The entire trip, we were having a good time and loving it, but we both carried a bit of heaviness and anxiety from missing our little drunken sorority girl (it’s how I’ve scientifically labelled this stage of her life at age three and it totally fits — she regularly slurs her speech, falls down a lot, has been known to wet the bed and vomit unexpectedly, strips naked at random moments, throws violent temper tantrums, and smothers us with kisses, all of which can and has happened in the same night).
We’d Facetime with her at night. After a day or so, she started openly missing us. She’d say are you guys going to pick me up right now?
No, honey… 4 more sleeps…
Her blue eyes would fill with tears and she’d start sobbing.
At least she missed us. I guess that’s a good thing.
Kids… Do they ruin us? Yes. They sure do.
But missing her that deeply showed me a love that was so intense it physically hurt.
It didn’t stop me from having a Chicago hot dog, though. Because for these last 7 years, I’ve longed for one of those too.
Hey there, my name is Jonas (yes, like the Weezer song). I’m a spiritual counselor who writes shortish preachments in Higher Thoughts on the daily.
Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders — Carl Sandburg; Chicago
We’re packing our stuff and heading out to the City of the Big Shoulders in August.
There’s a bit of a backstory here. This post is a bit longer than usual. So grab some coffee and hang out for a few minutes. Facebook can wait:)
Me, Chicago, and Her
I’m from the small-town world. I hail from Modesto, CA and moved to Minden, NV when I was 18.
Eventually, I met a girl. Not one of those other girls, the girl…
We worked together. Her family lived in the area, but she was headed off to college in Chicago.
She was a lot younger than me. It was summer. She was on break. I saw it as a summer fling, initially.
Then she went back to school. And a part of me went missing. It hurt, which was inconvenient.
I did some work that summer for a friend and he paid me by flying me round-trip anywhere I wanted.
“Where do you want to go, Jonas?”
Wow, is this happening? Do I really want to do this? Yep…
So I went out for a weekend. It was a perfect elixir made up of the shores of Lake Michigan at night with fireflies buzzing around like tiny incandescent fighter jets (never saw those before), the towering commercial beauty of the Magnificent Mile, and… her.
It was the most beautiful weekend of my life. We fell in love that weekend. Then, I flew back to Nevada and she stayed. We dated long-distance for two years before we got married and I moved out there.
The city was a dream to me. I fell in love with it along with her.
In the months before I moved out, I was day-trading on the side (you probably know where this is going). I was doing okay, so the plan was to just move out to Chicago and do it full time.
The day we moved in to our apartment in Chicago, and I fired up my trade station for the first time as a full-time trader, something interesting was happening on the news. It was autumn of 2008 and the markets were collapsing. Markets that had only moved an average of a dozen points or so during a day were now jumping hundreds in seconds.
I gave it a valiant try for a month or so, but eventually I lost it all. I had to go find a job in the worst economic downturn since the depression with no college degree, no contacts, and no chance in hell. I was a golf pro by trade and it was fall in one of the coldest cities in the US.
No chance. In hell.
Long story short, we made it. I found a job waiting tables. Alex finished up at Northwestern. Then we moved back to Nevada to be close to family and to take advantage of the human capital we had there to get back on our feet.
We’ve been back here since. Every year around this time, we talk about moving back to Chicago. But every time, we talk ourselves out of it.
The call to adventure
Last summer, we moved into a little house in Minden owned by my in-laws and were going to buy it.
It’s a small town. 3000 people, give or take. We have a gazebo in the park. Which is nice.
We painted the house and put in a new kitchen. Did a few other things you do when buying a home and had plans to do even more.
And then, I got a phone call…
If you’re familiar with Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (check out Joseph Vogler’s model above if you’re not familiar — he did a great job of explaining it more simply than Campbell), you know that Minden, NV — for me — represents the ‘ordinary world’. If I was Luke Skywalker (let me dream here, okay?), Minden would be my Tatooine.
It’s safe. Quaint. Conservative. A lot of farm land. But there’s always that stormy, husky, brawling city beckoning.
About two years ago, when I was considering the path to ministry, I got in touch with a mentor (yes, part 4 of the Hero’s Journey) who had founded a widely successful spiritual center in Chicago years ago and had since passed it off to his board before going back out on his own prior to my reaching out.
So when I first talked to him, he was doing consulting for other ministers who were growing spiritual centers of their own. What’s great is that he’d done it himself in a big city. I loved the vibe he created and his sermons were electric. So I got in touch and we clicked.
About a month ago, we were chatting and he said,“So I’m thinking about starting another spiritual center here in Chicago.”
Cool, I thought. Since he’d been away from his recently founded center, I could tell he’d been itching to get back. He continued…
“I’ve been following your work, man. And I know you’re on the pathway to ministry now. I also know you and your wife have been wanting to move back to Chicago. So, check this out. Whattdya say you become my founding assistant minister?”
At that moment, I should have been overwhelmed. I don’t handle change well. But I oddly experienced the exact opposite. An inner calm. Like a piece of the puzzle had just fallen gently into place.
“Wow, Rev.,” (I call him Rev. for short — it’s industry lingo, stop laughing) “That sounds amazing. Let me just talk to Alex about it.”
It was bizarre. We were this close to settling down in Minden, NV permanently. We were still renting, but we’d been treating this place like our own. And now this?
I mean, I’m not even an ordained minister yet. I’m still in my first year of divinity school. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this professionally. I was honestly just doing this for myself because I found the subject matter interesting and it satiated my lack of a college degree.
But now I was being called by someone I highly respect to help open up, grow, and be a founding minister of a thriving spiritual community in a city my wife and I had been dreaming of going back to for years?
It’s when you truly let things go that they come flying back to you in spades.
Fear as well as elation ran circles in my mind. Confusion and clarity were moving into my headspace at the same time.
The call to adventure is a disorienting one…
Crossing the threshold
Going back to the Hero’s Journey, step 5 is ‘crossing the threshold’. It’s the point of no return. Where the hero answers the call to adventure and steps outside of the ‘ordinary world’ into his/her destiny.
I talked to Alex that night and it took zero convincing. She was in. Immediately. For one, her heart’s been in that city since we left (more so than mine). Second, she realized how huge of an opportunity this was for me.
“The fog comes on little cat feet. It sits looking over the harbor and city on silent haunches, and then moves on.” Carl Sandburg⠀
A few weeks later, we flew out to find a place. After walking about 30 miles around the city, we finally found one. It fit like a glove. It’s a classic Chicago third story walk-up, just a couple blocks from my mentor.
We just signed the lease. The threshold has been crossed. The call has been answered.
Answering the call
Ever since driving out of town before, tail between my legs, I’ve wanted another crack at that city. It beat me before, but I’ve long wanted another shot. I’ve wanted to live and thrive there.
Ego-driven and unspiritual? Maybe… But maybe not.
This is a big moment for me and my family and I wanted to share it with you since I’ll be writing about it a lot here on the blog. It’s my life now, this whole ministerial thing. And it’s all because the readers here have been perfect enablers of this insanity of mine (yes, I’m talking to you).
The next step on the Hero’s Journey is ‘tests, allies, and enemies,’ so it should make for excellent writing.
Here we go, Chicago. That toddlin’ town.
And so it is.
Jonas Ellison is a spiritual counselor and blogging coach who writes shortish preachments in Higher Thoughts on the daily. To jump on his mailing list and get his free email course as a gift of his undying gratitude, do your thing below…