Saturday, June 5, 2021

Norwood Park Notes: Embracing Neophilia

    One mark of a good writer is knowing when to raise questions and when to answer them. In today's post, Norwood Park Bureau Chief Caren Jeskey fills some holes in her resume.

     Denial is not just a river in Egypt. It’s an excellent coping tool too. In the biz, we used to call it a “defense.” A gentler and less stigmatizing way of talking about a so-called defense, or “resistance” to self-awareness, is to view some human behaviors as adaptive coping mechanisms. Why not deny, deflect and avoid things that bring us down? Is it better to dwell on all that is horrible in the world? All that is going wrong? That’s easy to do, especially in these times of mayhem and exhaustion.
     My personal mayhem circa Summer 2021 involves a very painful broken toe, a weak internet connection (and I work from home), and planes that continue to wake me up a couple times before my alarm goes off. Have you tried to find a decent apartment rental in Chicago lately? Let’s just say it’s not fun. This leaves me feeling ungrounded and worn down.
     What’s the solution? Mindfulness. Getting through stressful moments with grace, and savoring calm and joyful moments. Putting one foot in front of the other and taking each day one hour at a time. Knowing it’s OK to not feel OK sometimes, and reminding oneself “this too shall pass” when the worry kicks in.
     Today was my beloved eight year old nephew’s birthday. I originally moved to Austin in April of 2014 to be her (yes, her), nanny. (Please read this if you have questions about gender pronouns). She was 9 months old. I had texted my sister who was living in Austin during a polar vortex to say "Hey. How are you?” She said “not so good. The nanny quit with 2 weeks notice.” I said “well, why don’t I move down there and take care of him [we referred to Anthony as him then] until you find a new nanny?”
     She agreed, and within three weeks I was there. Arrivederci polar vortex! Farewell 6’7” Green Mill bouncer who lived in the apartment above me and laughed in my face when I asked him to please be quieter when he came in during the wee hours of the morning! Farewell job that hired me with a bait and switch! (They hired me to work from home, told me after orientation I had to go into the office in the West Loop during the polar vortex, and then dropped the big bomb: I’d have to drive 200 miles in one day to visit clients in rural Illinois. And I did not have a car).
     I sold and gave away almost everything I owned with the help of friends who swooped in and dug in to get me out of there. It would have been impossible without their help. (Thank you Ellen, Harry, Bob, Tara, Mom & Dad, from the bottom of my heart). I stored some boxes and a few pieces of furniture at my folks’ place. (Sorry guys, I know you want your space back soon).
     I arrived in Austin with a couple of suitcases. What I thought would be a few months of caring for precious little Anthony turned into two and a half years of living with my sister, brother-in- law and my favorite little person. I do not have children and the closest thing I will have to feeling that I’d definitely jump in front of a truck to save someone happened when I met Anthony. Anthony was the easiest child I’ve ever taken care of. We’d spend the first part of the day on a porch swing in the backyard, snuggling and listening to doves as Anthony would practice standing. 
We spent shoeless (and for Anthony, clothing-less) days in the yard, we checked out all of the cool animals at the Austin Zoo (a rescue sanctuary) and hopped on the train that circled the zoo a few times, much to Anthony’s delight. We biked around Arbor Trail in South Austin, and spent hours running around grassy fields at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Anthony would call out “I am running through a field!” That sheer delight warmed my heart to the nth degree.
     When Anthony sees me now—and we’ve seen each other five or six times since I’ve been back (13 days), she beams with the brightest eyes ever and exclaims “Peaches!!!!” Her nickname for me.
     Isn’t this what life is all about? It’s not about the travels, meals at Alinea
It’s all about the shining eyes of a child, and touching family and friends again. It’s also about the heartfelt hugs my parents and I have been sharing.
     They are not getting any younger, and are my main reason for coming home. I missed them during that long COVID year. It helped me realize what’s most important to me. Family, friends, and a solid career. That will all happen for me in Chicago once I get settled.
     Neophilia is love of or enthusiasm for what is new or novel. Change is good. I keep telling myself this is true, in this time of strange uncertainty where change is the only constant. The inter-webs are peppered with research that shows exposing oneself to novel situations, rather than being a dogmatic creature of habit, seems to improve memory and brain function. Well, that’s a relief. There is nothing ruttish about my life right now.
     Living back in Chicago is not what I expected. Nothing feels the same. I am a different person. Being back in a city where there are happy and not so happy memories on many corners has me regressing at times. The pandemic has changed things. 
     This week I nursed a client through a suicidal day and got them to safety. Neil lost his cat Gizmo. Big things are happening all around us. 
How do we live with the chaos and still find peace within? I will keep finding my ways, and I hope you find yours.


  1. EGD is a must read for me EGD, but this only my second post. As someone who deals with depression, Caren you sound just like my excellent doctors and therapists I currently see and the ones in my various support programs. Several things jumped out at me that are a big part of my success in my daily life. Change is the only constant in the world, it is ok to not be ok, and that it is a fine line between avoidance as a defense for coping or having dealt with an issue and moving on. My program stresses to "Stay in the moment, the past is gone, the future isn't here yet". To keep moving forward, one foot in front of the other. As Winston Churchill said, "When going thru hell, keep going". Thank you for bringing your experiences and these issues to light, there are bumps in the road of life, but we can all survive and thrive.

  2. Thank you for commenting Arthur, and thank you for reading. It's nice to hear that someone can relate.

  3. I think everyone who reads this column can relate. Certainly some have have greater struggles than others for a variety of reasons.
    The move to Austin was much easier than the move back because you had a well defined purpose and was housed with those you love.
    Judging from what you’ve written in past columns, you’re well equipped to deal with the challenges.
    I know you know this but patience is the key and never underestimate the trauma of moving.
    Chicago is incredible.

    1. Well said Les- thank you! And I do love it.

  4. Still looking for a new home? I guess Evanston is too pricey, right? I lived in South Evanston (mostly near Main Street) for twelve years as an adult, and loved it. Quiet, green, no planes. But that was a long time ago (Seventies and Eighties), and I'm sure it's changed. Far more expensive, for sure.

    East Rogers Park hasn't changed all that much, has it? Still has the 'L' and the lake, and it's so diverse. But maybe it's too expensive AND too sketchy now...ya think? I haven't lived there since 1971.

    Good night...and good luck. And good hunting.


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