|O'Hare, Feb. 13, 2020|
Are you having a good pandemic? I mean, not dead, and nobody you know dead? Not yet anyway. Good, good, that's the important thing.
And your job? Secure so far? Excellent. Mine too. Sure, it could change at any time. But that was true before COVID-19 burst out of whatever bat's ass or pangolin's lymph gland or wherever the hell it came from. In December. Times can change. Fast.
Not round here, of course. We soldier on, immutable. Every ... goddamn ... day. I won't belabor the state of the blog this year. First, I realized—and file this under "Obvious, realizations of"—that I've been doing two summations each year. One at the end of June, since the blog began July 1, 2013. And another at the end of December. That's one too many.
No number crunching this time, for instance. Spambots made that pointless. One day in January we had 246,583 hits, which is about 245,000 more than usual. I thought, fleetingly, of presenting that as some kind of triumph. Alas, it's not. I don't think the whirling Chinese techno-dervish or thrumming chip caused the spike benefited from my high caliber prose. Otherwise, we lope along as usual, doing about the traffic we did three years ago—somewhat shy of 2,000 views a day.
Hardly worth doing, right? Though if there were a hall with 1,500 people in it, I sure would show up, and be amazed and pleased at how I had packed them in. So it shouldn't be different here, though of course it is. Perhaps tweeting this every day is the problem. Every attitudinal 40-year-old seems to have 200,000 followers on Twitter. I have 8,600 and am stuck there. Twitter feels like I'm printing the day's blog out, rolling it into a tube, sticking it in a bottle and casting it into the sea.
Again, hardly seems worth doing.
But it is, because, well, if not this, what? What would I do instead? Watch television?
I must like paddling my little canoe among the big tankers and destroyers and nimble racing sloops of the more significant communications efforts. Year Seven certainly has been personally memorable, with all that spine surgery in July—an oddly uplifting experience, sort of in the way Churchill once said nothing is more exhilarating for a man than to be shot at without effect. And then in February I wrote about getting a new hip. Which I'm reluctant to even mention now—makes me sound old and falling apart. But if I have one overarching principle to this, it's "Be who you are." I think a lot of bad writing comes from people trying to be who they're not—better, younger, smarter, whatever. A writer doesn't want to sit around vomiting out complaints and unwelcome personal details either. But I think there's a sweet spot in there and I hope that, on some days, I hit it.
The pandemic arrived in mid-February. My wife and I were on our way to New York, and a JAL flight crew came by, all masked, and I stepped in front of them and snapped off a picture of the unusual sight and sent it to the city desk. Might be news. Turns out it was, though we didn't realize it quite then.
My goal was to cover the story, best I could, and not just sit on my ass in Northbrook, and I was satisfied I carried my share of the burden. I had contacts at hospitals, and so brought readers there, into the struggle to fight the virus, first at Mount Sinai, then Roseland. I started working regularly with one of our excellent staff photographers, Ashlee Rezin Garcia, and that was a very rewarding and fun collaboration.
Three days a week EGD features my column from the paper. The other four I'll repost old columns, or write a fresh essay. Saturdays I tried for a change of pace, for something fun. If you remember, I used to run the Saturday Fun Activity, but got tired of sending out prizes. Then I shifted to the Saturday snapshot, usually sent in by readers, and that proved a lovely rest at the end of the week. In April, Saturdays were given over to an uprooted Chicagoan now living in Austin, Texas, Caren Jeskey, and her detailed and heartfelt reports have been a welcome addition to the blog—some weeks her numbers are better than anything I've written.
What else? The University of Chicago Press asked me to write a book entitled "Every goddamn day: Neil Steinberg's Chicago." That seems a kind of significance. Though the title may be a little deceptive. It's not a collection of blog posts, but a quotidian history of Chicago in 366 dated entries. (Jan. 1, 1920 is the beginning of the Palmer raids, eager Chicago cops jumping the gun on the rest of the country. Jan. 2, 1900 is the reversal of the Chicago River, and so on). I've had a lot of fun working on it, It's due in March, which probably puts it out in early 2022. The neat thing about that structure is it is limiting, like haiku. You have to choose which episodes to explore. Some days there are three or four worthy candidates. I'm working hard to get the balance and tone right, and it speaks to the question: what is history? What stories do we tell and why do we tell them?
Which is the same challenge I have here. Thanks for sticking around for seven years while I try to figure it out. Thank you to the core dozen or two who regularly comment, and of course to my advertiser, Marc Schulman of Eli's Cheesecake. Thank you to John for birddogging all the typos. Thanks to Caren Jeskey—like the readers, I've enjoyed getting to know her—for all your hard work. Thank you Ashlee Rezin Garcia for allowing me to repost your marvelous and dramatic photographs.
I remember, when I began the blog, reading somewhere that most people make the mistake of giving up too soon, and one should stick it out three years to see if it's going to catch fire. I've stuck it out double that plus a year, and success, whatever that is, still floats somewhere in the distance.
Unless just doing this is the success. "You are the music," T.S. Eliot writes, in the last section of "The Dry Salvages"—I've been reading a lot of Eliot this year—"While the music lasts."
For most of us, this is the aimThat sounds about right.
Never here to be realised;
Who are only undefeated
Because we have gone on trying.