Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Museum of Contemporary Art

Today, I was determined not to come home from work and plop in front of the television and waste my evening. I decided that weekdays don’t always need to feel like work days, so I treated myself to the Museum of Contemporary Art (it’s free on Tuesdays!). I literally sloshed there in the rain, periodically piecing my poor, battered umbrella back together as I went. I probably shouldn’t have risked the damp weather, considering I just spent the weekend in bed, trying to get well from a sore throat of some undefined nature, but I needed to break my routine. I’ve found that I’ve already carved a rut for myself, and I haven’t been exploring Chicago in all the ways I originally intended, and I don’t want to leave here someday, saying I should’ve done this or I should’ve done that. And I figure that the only way to cure loneliness (and a bit of a broken heart) is to get out and get comfortable with me again. So, the MCA was at the top of my to-do list.

Contemporary art and I have always had a bit of a love/hate relationship. Some of it will never be art to me (i.e., Duchamp’s famous “Fountain,” which I frowned at in the Tate Modern), and I feel like the descriptive placards alongside some of these exhibits are nothing but profound-sounding b.s. Let me qualify that I do not feel this way about all modern art, and actually enjoyed most of what I saw at the MCA. In fact, I found myself wishing there were more.

Two artists really stood out to me, today. Both altered my mood considerably, and caused me to react, visibly. Kara Walker’s large cut-outs looked like a playful series of silhouettes from far away. They almost looked as though they could be painted on a child’s bedroom walls. But then I looked closer, and few of the scenes remained playful or light-hearted. Most took on a deeply sexual, violent and disturbing nature. At first I blushed, then I felt angry. Walker brings to light (through her use of darkness) the perversions of the worst Antebellum stereotypes, sometimes in what I hope is gross exaggeration. I found myself alternately concerned, shocked, and angered as I paced the room. I felt very uncomfortable looking at those scenes--and I think that good art should be able to do that to you.

The second exhibit that stuck with me was Williaim Kentridge’s (charcoal?) drawings, which he converts into a short film. Almost animated, but not exactly. I was near tears watching it (okay, yes, I’ve been a tad more emotional lately than usual), with the unexpected violence, and the integration of the telephone, typewriter, etc. with the bod(ies) and the wounds. I really can’t quite describe it. You should go see it. And sit through the whole film. I read the description afterward, which I think was best because I had initial, guttural reactions without even knowing the specific subject matter. Now, I need to go back and watch it again, knowing to what it refers (to take it in more cerebrally.)

It was good to be there digesting the artwork alone. I like going to museums with friends, as long as they aren’t art snobs, but generally like to wander about at my own pace, lingering at the works that most resonate with me (which invariably aren’t the ones that resonate with my companions.) Alone, I feel freer to react without censoring myself. It was nice just to be there. To hate what I hated (an exhibit called “Plywood”) and love what I loved (the above-mentioned, and some drawings from the 70s whose artist’s name I already forgot) and not necessarily have a good explanation for why. Looking at art helps me get closer to grasping myself, which is always a good thing when you’re new and alone in a big city and trying to figure it all out.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Cubs Postseason Rally

If I were a good reporter, I’d have written about this event directly after it happened. I am not, however, a reporter (though I wouldn’t mind having that job someday), as my blatant opinions here attest, and I’ve shied away from describing the event because I felt like such an impostor being there—at the Cubs postseason rally. Last Tuesday, Daley Square was bursting with Chicago pride (the Cubs kind, not the Sox kind) as Jessica, Chris, and I milled around on our lunch break. We arrived early, but it wasn’t long before the place was overflowing with blue. I was wearing blue, too—a lucky coincidence.

As I watched all the cheering fans around me, I hoped they wouldn’t sense my unavoidable naivety. I felt as if I wore my secret on my forehead like a scarlet letter—I know nothing about baseball. I’ve been to one game in my entire life, a sad showing this past summer by the minor-league Tennessee Smokies (a Cubs affiliate, ironically); they couldn’t even seem to get a man on base, let alone score any runs. I was bored stiff, and my (now ex-) boyfriend treated my disinterest as a personal slight against the Smokies, against Tennessee, and against him. I tried to appear amused, but it wasn’t working. His friends, far more supportive, assured me that I needed to see a real team play. They told me that the major leagues are a completely different experience, and that if I really wanted to enjoy a game, I should go see the Cubs. I believed them then and believe them now. Unfortunately, as badly as I wanted to go see the Cubs after I moved here, I was completely broke upon my arrival to Chicago this fall.

So, instead, I stood there in Daley square, feeling my baseball ignorance more strongly upon me than ever before, but somehow it didn’t completely matter. I became swept up in the excitement (believe you me, I am now twice as excited to see the Cubs, and even more anxious for next season when I will hopefully have the funds to go.) I loved it that businessmen and women had hung Win posters from their office windows facing the square. I loved that parents decked their kids out in head-to-toe Cubs gear. And I loved seeing Jim Belushi (“According to Jim” is one of my favorite TV shows, though I’m not sure why) and Ernie Banks (I remember him from years ago when my brother and I collected baseball cards.)

At the Cubs postseason rally, I learned a little more about Chicago politics. Everyone cheered for Mayor Daley (although there are certain events occurring in Uptown, as well as a few moments from Chicago’s past that I think may be cause for concern among some residents), and booed at Illinois Governor Blagojevich (I don’t know why—I’ve got some research to do.) All of the speeches were pure fluff and no substance, but that’s what the occasion called for. Every speaker said exactly the words they knew would excite the Cubs-loving crowd, lauding Chicago, praising the team, and flattering the fans (except, of course, when Governor Blagojevich made the mistake of bringing up the White Sox.) It was during this rally that I began to understand what it means to have pride in a sports team (and I have not had a very good grasp on this in the past) and why you don’t wear White Sox gear in my neighborhood.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Hardwood floors and steam radiators

Let’s face this fact right now—I’m excited by the little things. Easily amused, as they say. But I’m not ashamed. It’s nice to have those times in your life when everything is new, and you don’t even need to attempt to see things from a different angle because everything is different to your still-adjusting eyes. I seem to recall that one of the joys of childhood was the sense of freshness. Things that had become ordinary to the adults around me weren’t completely grasped by me. So, I’d ask unending strings of questions to try and wriggle things into my swiftly developing consciousness. It can sometimes feel unnerving not to know our surroundings, to be unfamiliar as adults, yet it can also take us back to that sense of reveling in the small things that made youth so precious.

The point I’m after is that I live in a building built in approximately 1918 (my roommates couldn’t tell me exactly, but that was their estimate) and I'm excited about it. It’s certainly the oldest building I could ever call my residence. The hardwood floors creak under my feet as I walk through the apartment and, being as I am in love with old movies from the forties and fifties, I try to imagine the women and men whose footsteps shared my path. From the outside, the place looks like it could have popped right out of a black and white movie (let’s face it, before moving here my vision of Chicago essentially depended on its onscreen portrayal.) The building has kitsch and character, which is something I always wanted my home to have (I was insanely jealous of my friend Kim’s amazing old studio in Minneapolis when I lived in my boring white box of an apartment in Knoxville.) And while this particular residence is only temporary, it feels good and fitting for me to be here. (I’m currently trying to find out more specifics about my building and Uptown architecture. Here are some excellent sources I’ve found so far: Chicago Reader and Uptown Chicago History

I love this building and I’m excited about steam radiators (yeah, I’m such a dork), but I wish they’d turn on the boiler already! The weather turned cold in Chicago almost the moment the calendar said “Autumn begins.” It was suddenly forty degrees at 5:30 AM and I could barely peel my warm, nestled body from the blankets shielding me from the cold. There sits my radiator in the corner, cold and still and essentially useless. I’m looking at it right now, curled up in bed with my computer, nursing a sore throat and willing my sinuses to stop pulsating behind my cheeks. And I definitely could use a bit of steam heat right now. (I heard a rumor that it’s a city ordinance to have the boilers turned on by October 1st. Apparently, our association missed the memo.)

I’m trying to prepare myself for the frigid Chicago cold from which a mere two months separates me. I’m not sure how I’m going to hold up, considering that I’m already freezing and it’s only October. My mom has always called me a freeze cat, because I’m constantly cold, and having spent two years in Knoxville where their definition of winter is a handful of forty-degree days and half an inch of snow, I feel rather defenseless. But if the millions of other people who live here can handle it, I’m sure I will manage. And it’s all worth it to know I will be here at Christmastime.

You can count on multiple, sappy, detailed blogs come Christmastime. I love Christmas more than anyone I’ve ever met, and cannot picture a more perfect place to anticipate the holidays than Chicago, Illinois. I can hardly wait to walk by Macy’s window displays twice a day, every weekday going to and from work… Wow, it’s October and here I am thinking about Christmas. This is what fall does to me—it brings cooler weather and my mind immediately fast-forwards to December. But I really missed the Christmas spirit in Knoxville. Not only was I much further away from my Midwestern family (and they are more a part of my idea of Christmas than anything else), but also there was no snow in sight, I couldn’t afford a full-sized Christmas tree on my grad student budget, and people just generally didn’t seem to get too terribly into the spirit of the season. So, being back in the Midwest for Christmas, especially being in Chicago, gives me real contentment and anticipation.