Saturday, July 30, 2022

Northshore Notes: Tart Cherries

     By week's end my head wasn't a very good place to be, and I appreciated our North Shore correspondent, Caren Jeskey, taking us on one of her trademark rambles through a world that seems much more expansive and welcoming than the cramped confines most of us inhabit, cages of our own construction.

   By Caren Jeskey

 The opposite of war isn’t peace. It’s creation.
                 —John Larson, Rent
     This week I got tired of analyzing every goddamn thing. I wanted to just say “anything goes!” and throw caution to the wind rather than trying to live a carefully measured life. Why not? What’s the point of taking things so seriously when there’s so little that can be controlled? Existential theory suggests that it is possible to shape our own existence. As Sartre said “any purpose or meaning in your life is created by you.” If that’s true, I have a long way to go if I’m going to be content. I have not fully embraced the concept that my destiny is in my hands and sometimes I think it's not based on inner and outer resources or lack thereof.
     I spent almost four days indoors. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and until 5 p.m. on Thursday. A friend who’s currently in Denmark helped me feel less bad about it. “There is nothing wrong with a period of hygge,” which Wikipedia defines as “a word in Danish and Norwegian that describes a mood of coziness and ‘comfortable conviviality’ with feelings of wellness and contentment.”
     I realized that my friend was at least partially right. I like my cozy abode. I did, after all, play flutes, talk and tend to happy plants, cook healthy meals, soak in lavender baths, dance, meditate, and stretch between long work days and lying on the couch watching Prime. I felt I could not deal with people, not even in passing on the sidewalks. I just needed to hibernate a bit after the world got so scary. Science explains all of it, but Armageddon embodies how it feels.
     It’s not as though my dance card is empty. It’s that all of my invitations during times like this are “nos.” And besides, I’m supposed to be (and usually am) a champion of the value of solitude and being good company for oneself. Still, hermit days are harder to bear when it’s perfectly temperate summertime in the Midwest.
     Rather than more work on Thursday night after my last client of the week, the call to get out there finally came from within, and my Birkenstocks and I hit the pavement. We strolled intuitively — I like to walk down the streets that look the brightest with the clearest paths — and noticed a little art school on Park Drive. A mile west, we stopped and drank in the expanse of the azure lake from the overlook at Kenilworth Beach.
     Thumping music led us to Plaza del Lago where the lead singer of The Molly Ringwalds enchanted us with a gorgeously sung German intro to "Ninety Nine Red Balloons." I treated myself to whitefish and Pellegrino on the patio of Convito with a front row seat to the band, noise cancelling ear pods (iLuv brand, cheap and good) protecting the hearing that I have left.
     Fine dancers from 2 to 92 embodied the adage that all things are possible. Maybe Cocoon was a true story. At first I thought “that’s how old people look dancing” until I realized that I will be they one day in the not too distant future, if I’m lucky. Maybe I look like that already, who knows? I suddenly saw them with new eyes. Children in grown up suits, like all of us. I noticed their couture styles, talent, and joie de vivre. Their lack of flexibility, wrinkles and stooped spines disappeared.
Alone in one’s mind.
Open to the sea of one.
Fear will disappear.
     That’s what I am seeking, these sacred moments of calm connection that are always within my home and myself, and just outside the front door for the taking.
     I thought back to my Austin walkabout days when the pandemic started. With few family and friends nearby and COVID job loss, I had plenty of free time to walk and walk. Usually upwards of 10 miles most days. I was in a state of hygge partly thanks to denying certain realities such as economic uncertainty and housing instability. Still, I spent thousands of hours putting one foot in front of the other and communing with whatever I came across on the journey — a nature trail, a lizard, backyard goats, a neighbor, a park bench. The grounds of the Elisabet Ney Museum, where their kind docent Oliver (who invited me and 2 friends in on my birthday for a small private tour), died of the cancer he’d told me about. A loss to Austin.
     “Perhaps Scandinavians are better able to appreciate the small, hygge things in life because they already have all the big ones nailed down: free university education, social security, universal health care, efficient infrastructure, paid family leave, and at least a month of vacation a year," the New Yorker noted in a 2016 article on the practice. "With those necessities secured, Danes are free to become ‘aware of the decoupling between wealth and wellbeing.’” Lucky them!
     Since I’ve last written I did one very bad thing, throwing caution right out the window. I jumped into a private “no swimming” lake and took a short swim to the middle and back. The friend I was with said “please don’t do this.” It was warm and rainy and the placid lake had tiny divots where the raindrops hit. I needed to feel differently in that moment. The water beckoned. I was wearing shorts and a top that could easily pass as a swimsuit. I took off my rain boots and dress and jumped in. I was instantly gratified, and I swam and floated on my back, raindrops hitting my closed eyes and lips. I could have stayed there forever.
     When I looked back at it the next day, I realized that I could have been cited. Arrested even. A scary thought.
     I found safer moments of contentment after that dip. A farmers market with my father. Sweet-tart cherries, basil plants, and baskets of peaches. Discovering prolific muralist Max Sansing working on his newest creation in Evanston. I’d noticed his work on Grand near Milwaukee when I moved back to Chicago last year, and also on the housing shelter behind the Wilson red line, and had even snapped photos. It was a treat to come across Max, filling in the outline of his mural from top to bottom on a bright orange mobile hydraulic high rise work platform.
     As a friend recently asked, since we are atheists and "we don’t bow to a white sky daddy in the sky” then what IS the point of working so hard to be good? Trying to change bad habits and becoming more peaceful? Better cogs in the wheel? Spreaders of peace? I’m not sure, but I cannot let myself off the hook. Have I inherited a chronic sense of Catholic inferiority where I will never be good enough, the sinful human that I am? That others are not good enough? I hope I have not been cursed forever.
     As I warred with myself on and off this week, my solace has been in a pleased client caseload, growth and less suffering in their ranks, enjoyment on my part of our sessions together, Irish jigs played on my silver flute, sitting down to write this, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a feeling that it’s, overall, good to be alive.


  1. Arresting people for swimming, has got to be one of the dumbest & most useless things any government can do!

    1. Thanks Clark. I'm with you! And all of that private lakefront property? Oy vey.

    2. When I was 14 years old, I was arrested for walking on Lake Michigan, frozen of course. My father, who was a policeman, was not happy...with me.


    3. Thank goodness you survived it! I used to do that too! Sometimes the ice would break off and start floating away & we’d jump back. Haven’t thought of that reckless behavior in years.

    4. We didn't experience any breakaway floes, but when our footsteps started to fill up with water, about half of our group heading back. Not long after, when the rest of us started to return, we noticed a police car at 75th with its Mars light flickering. When we veered North, the Mars light magically moved in that direction too. The early leavers were caught as well, so being smart didn't pay either. I'm surprised that you did the same stupid thing, You're so much younger than I am and for many years the Lake didn't freeze over at all, even close to the shoreline.

    5. I did that with my friends, in eighth grade. We rode our bikes to the Evanston lakefront, on a cold, gray, mid-winter Saturday, and went WAAAAY out on the ice. Got nervous...and came back. Climbing onto the icy rocks, one of us (not me) slipped and fell into icy water up to his waist.

      We knew he had to dry off, so we rode to Marshall Field's in downtown Evanston, where we stayed in the rest room for what must have been hours.
      He sat on the radiator until he wasn't so wet. Even so, his pant legs became as stiff as boards on the ride home, and he could hardly pedal his bike. It took us a LONG time, and our hands, feet, and faces were numb from the cold and wind. We were so stupid. Easily could have died, because we were WAAAAY out there.

    6. We were in Evanston too! And I worked at that Marshall Field’s in the mid 80s.

    7. Yup...right next to the Varsity theater, where I saw countless movies for decades. Downtown Evanston had a small-town feel then, but all that is long-gone. Both the store and the theater eventually became pricey housing... and nothing else looks or feels the same.

      During my visit last month, I had to remind myself of where I was. The sound and sight of the passing trains outside my hotel room window were a great comfort...and not just because I love trains.

    8. If I may interrupt this reunion of the Evanston Historical Society... you're all describing my era too, growing up in Wilmette, and the Varsity was actually one of three theatres that the newspaper listings would always group together, and which I assumed were of the same Balaban and Katz management: the Varsity, the Valencia and the Coronet. (That sequence of three names has been burned into my brain forever, as if there was going to be a quiz on it.) There was also the Central theatre up on Central, but that was viewed as an outlier, not part of the group.

      The layout of Evanston in general is marvelously unusual, some sort of attempt to impose an orderly grid system on a bunch of cockeyed main arteries that got there first. I was especially fascinated by our visits to Wieboldt's, which from Wilmette required navigating the bizarre angled merge of Green Bay Road and Ridge and some other street, the whole three-way complication stuffed under a Chicago & North Western viaduct for extra excitement dodging bridge supports, the ultimate Driver's Ed nightmare. Once you executed a left turn onto the parking deck, you could then cross a pedestrian bridge into the store. All that just to buy some shirts! Walmart isn't the same.

    9. I entered that parking deck, and crossed that pedestrian bridge, many times as a child and as an adult. Thanks to my job at the Sun-Times in the late 70s, I had access to countless historical images of what Evanston had looked like before my time. That angled merger of Green Bay Road and Ridge and Emerson, all crossed by a Chicago & North Western viaduct, opened in 1957. It replaced an even more complicated underpass that also included a different railroad viaduct in a slightly different place, and even a sort of S-curve, if you can imagine that. The Sun-Times ran a photo essay about how truly quirky and dangerous it was, circa 1947, and that was how I learned about the original layout--through the old pix.

      After 1983, that intersection was also close to the wonderful BBQ joint owned and operated by Hecky Powell. His motto was "It's The Sauce!" and he also bottled it and sold it. His new motto became: "No mask, no sauce!" But it didn't help. He died of Covid in the spring of 2020. His passing was national news. I was heartbroken.

    10. I used to work at a nursery for children of moms who went to ETCH in the Family Focus building (that was formerly a school), right around the corner from Hecky's. One time I had too many toddlers in a stroller (funds were limited) and a wheel fell off as we tried to cross Green Bay Road in front of the restaurant. Like all things when I was in my 20s, it was just a fun little blip to roll with, or in this case not roll, that the kids talked about for the rest of the day. Hecky opened the joint when I was a freshman in HS. We had the great gift of Jimmy Burton who kept the builidng running and regaled us with stories about his epic horseback journeys.

  2. This horse, having been ridden a week ago, while not necessarily dead, is certainly contentedly resting in the barn -- plus I certainly don't want to deliver a beating to it, anyway. But I'm wondering...

    Is it safe to assume (as I have) that 3 comments in anticipation of "A Quiet Passion," with none following the viewing of the movie, indicate that it was a disappointment, Caren? If so, sorry for recommending it.

    1. No! I liked it. Just forgot. The cinematography is beautiful.

    2. Oh, good. Thanks for the response. : )

    3. The movie is slow, which I appreciate as a meditation of sorts. This looks quite interesting too:

    4. Well, that certainly sounds like a very different take on Dickinson's life than the one presented by Davies. Doesn't seem like slowness is much of an issue with this one... Alas, you can't watch it for free!

    5. If I get to it I'll report back! :)


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.