Thursday, December 29, 2022

"I don't want to go on the cart" — The State of the Blog, 2022.

In January, we went with the Night Ministry to visit the homeless.

     Two thousand twenty-two was another bad year for newspaper columnists. Media critic Robert Feder threw in the towel and Sun-Times obit maven Maureen O'Donnell retired. As did the always readable Leonard Pitts at the Miami Herald, citing "emotional exhaustion" as if that were a bad thing. I kinda like the drained-of-everything feeling that comes from cranking out a big story. Good tired. Makes me feel alive. 
     But maybe I'm strange in that regard. When I plug "newspaper columnists retiring" into Google I find a cemetery worth of folks whose names I've never heard, or forgot if I did, the fate of every columnist not named Mencken or Royko. That's why I'd be reluctant to write a farewell column — that seems how you learn about the existence of most columnists, at their goodbyes, their lives illuminated by their final spark as they gutter out. No thanks.
     And 2022 followed 2021, another lethal year in the pundit biz, when both Eric Zorn left the Chicago Tribune and Gene Weingarten was shown the gate at the Washington Post, his two Pulitzer Prizes tucked under his arm, driven out after a lame joke about Indian food. Mark Brown quietly stepped back from the daily thrust and parry, offering up the occasional column as the mood strikes.
     Honestly, those last two give me comfort. Because if Gene Weingarten can hang it up without the sun going dark at noon, and Mark Brown can decide to cough into his fist and amble offstage, then Dante's quiet harbor can call to me, too and, when the time comes, I can furl my sails and coil my rope without reluctance or regret.  Anything more is hubris.
     Though in the time that remains, it is getting lonely. The very idea of opining on the news, or having a distinctive voice, seems antique, out of favor in a world become free-fire zone where everybody is upchucking opinion at everybody else all the time. Sometimes it seems like I'm already performing a useless task, polishing the zeppelin mooring mast, scanning the skies, ready for the airship that isn't ever coming.
     What makes it worthwhile, still, are the stories. To me anyway. I can recall those without regret or foreboding or anything besides pride of accomplishment. A quick recap of the highlights of 2022:
Ashlee, left, at Roseland's COVID ICU.
     In January, I teamed up with Ashlee Rezin, covering the hospital side of COVID, returning to Roseland for "People are exhausted." I tend to pooh-pooh augury, but on Feb. 15, I did write "Why Russia is about to invade Ukraine," nine days before the war began, while many were still in denial of the obvious. In March, we cleaned out my father's art studio in "Doing time's dirty work."
     In April, the US Census for 1950 was unsealed, and I packed a lot of personal exploration along with some Chicago celebrity sleuthing with "Tracking down the family and the famous."
     In May, I let Smuckers conduct a master class in inept public relations with "Why does peanut butter taste so good?" 
     In June, I wrote my second most clicked post ever, "Why restrict child porn but not guns?" You'll notice that I didn't say "most read," because it's hard to believe the bowl-haircut yahoos reacting to it — with a Beavis and Butthead babble of "heh heh, you said 'child porn'" — actually read the column. One tweet had 10,000 comments, and I didn't read one, though people who did expressed concern for my safety, which I waved off. Bullies are cowards, and the fact that I'm still here means I gave their threats exactly the consideration they deserve.
Photo by Ashlee Rezin
      In July, Ashlee Rezin and I attended "Hearts to Art," a program for children who have parents who have died, "A camp that saves young lives." Again, her work is so outstanding, my writing functions pretty much as something to fill the space between her photographs.
     In August, I had a lot of fun with the dance of the seven veils that former Tribune columnist John Kass did over where he lives. "And John went down to the land of Indiana." Self-importance is a folk illness among columnists, and nothing keeps me humble better than watching the Kasses of the world fail to even try.
     Talk about things that keep you humble, in September, the book based on this blog, "Every Goddamn Day: A highly Selective, Definitely Opinionated and Alternatingly Humorous and Heartbreaking Historical Tour of Chicago" was published by the University of Chicago Press, a fact I ballyhooed in "Book Event This Weekend." If you remember Daffy Duck going down on one knee and spreading his arms to a chorus of crickets, you'll know what that felt like.
     In November, I finally submitted to the constant drip-drip-drip encouragement of Chicago Public Square's Charlie Meyerson, and started sending out emails with the link, "Receive EGD via mail." Forty days after I began, it now has 150 subscribers, which is both laughably small and enough.
     Which brings us to December. Caren Jeskey finished up her second full year of providing a clear, distinctive, alternate voice on Saturdays, with gems such as "Silurian Sea."  I am grateful for her consistency, professionalism, kindness, imagination, energy and spirit. The advertisements went up for Eli's Cheesecake, the 10th Christmas in a row that the venerable Chicago cheesecake company has supported this blog. If for some unfathomable reason you have not ordered their cheesecake, shame: go to it right here, right now.
     It seems we've all made it through 2022. Good for us. Hearty back pats all round. I can't imagine what 2023 will bring, but you can read about it here, before the day comes when I look down and see the big hook that has already yanked so many other better writers offstage now fixing itself around my waist. Until then, thank you for reading, and commenting, and sending in your email addresses to subscribe, and for buying cheesecakes. This won't last forever, but I am fairly confident we can get through another year. Let's give it a try.
Can't forget June's fulfillment of a longtime dream: a visit to the Neenah Foundry. 



  1. Thanks for giving us another year of something to look forward to...

  2. Your work is uniformly excellent. Yours has always been lonely (or at least iconoclastic) work -- but this column, and the accompanying picture, bring that out. Here's hoping you keep doing what you're doing -- an indispensable public service, and a helluva good read.

  3. As a manhole cover enthusiast I particularly dug the Neenah visit. I especially appreciate the clarity you bring to issues (upon which we generally agree, of course). Looking forward to another ride around the sun here one goddamn day at a time.

  4. Your column (and Caren’s) is part of my daily retiree routine of keeping my brain from turning to mush.

  5. It is my privilege to extend a laurel and hearty handshake for a job well done…

  6. Really enjoy EGD in my daily email. Thx & Happy New Year.

  7. You should retire when you're ready for a new chapter in your life. If you're not ready to retire, keep working. Your columns are always interesting.

  8. EGD first read every morning. And always look forward to your books. Love the way you worked in Mr Goldberg and his youngest daughter (haha). Thank you for all you do. Happy New Year to you and your family.

  9. Thank you for another outstanding year of blogs and columns. I'm glad you keep going and if you enjoy your work keep going. I have read the Sun-Times for over 35 years, we're about the same age so I feel I have grown up with you over the years. Although I don't think I'll ever grow up.

    In the early 90's I enjoy you and Roeper but he went to movies but you stayed.

    I think you're columns/blog are the best. The variety of stories from politics to visiting factories and places around town are the best anywhere. I can't get this anywhere else.

    I also enjoy the comments in the blog. Great people with very intelligent perspectives.

    Hope you have a great 2023 and all your great readers and hopefully this time next year we can get you to go for another year.

  10. Keep on keepin' on, as long as you care to. The many others heading off into the sunset results in your work being even more valuable and distinctive. But you're not just the best columnist in the city and a fine blogger, you've authored 9 books.

    "When writers die they become books which is after all not too bad an incarnation."

    --Jorge Luis Borges via Paul Holdengraber via retweet by Robert Loerzel.

  11. I look forward to your blog every goddamn day, Hope it lasts for a few hundred more!

  12. I know many people who rely on their daily dose of Steinberg. Your columns always have a fresh angle, make us laugh, and are done with a stylish wit. I second Les's comment, that reading and writing helps keep the brain alive. Thank you for letting me come along for a bit of the ride! Happy New Year Neil.

  13. Nextdoor and the Washington Post finally booted me for good in 2022, and the only other private blog I was a member of finally bit the dust (after 18 years), so EGD is all I have left. Looking forward to another year here, and hopefully more after 2023. For all you do, Mr. S, this kudo's for you. Happy New Year, boychik. Zei gesunt.


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