Story and Legend

(Photo: Never let the vehicle deter you from the road you want to follow.)

Last night during Community Media Workshop‘s 2008 Studs Terkel Awards at the Chicago Cultural Center, one of the winners, Sylvia Rivera, the general manager of bilingual public radio station Radio Arte, shared this comment from the stage:

“You write the story of your life. You create your own legend.”

In two sentences, Rivera described my dilemma.

I recently learned I may have a chronic neurological disorder that has been with me since birth. It’s a not uncommon problem for which there are several very effective treatment and management options, but no cure. Assuming I have it, the condition affects every moment of my day and will require me to rethink the way I manage my life. Based on my symptoms–which, as it turns out, have been lifelong–I don’t expect any surprises to come from the evaluation I’m scheduled to have later this month.

Eh, at least it won’t kill me. But what do you do when you find out the person you’ve chronicled for so long may not be who you really are? How does one surf that kind of segue in the story?

Having my selfish, mundane identity crisis mirrored back to me at an award ceremony named for a storyteller famed for keeping things real was almost painfully ironic, but in a weird way, somehow inspirational.

I have Chicago Sun-Times opinion page editor Tom McNamee to thank for that. Another of the evening’s awardees, during his comments he disclosed the deeply selfish, mundane roots of his writing: to feel a connection with the world. The mundane world of common people with problems so ordinary that they cannot help but speak to everyone, reader and storyteller included.

McNamee could just as easily have been speaking about bloggers. It’s no secret we’re a selfish lot, and if we weren’t interested in identifying with those we share this world with, our journals would be of the private pen and paper sort, not the public post and publish variety.

And we’re nothing if not ordinary. I find myself lately ending my evenings wondering when I’m finally going to cry over a looming but still only potential diagnosis. I can’t decide whether that kind of inanity in a world that, as the evening’s third award winner, Chicago Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice, noted has far more perilous problems that need tending to, makes me boring or laughable.

Or maybe it just makes me human. Anyone who knows me will tell you how hard-pressed it is for me to admit that particular diagnosis.

Here’s my segue. I’m tired of living by the tyranny of a self-imposed editorial calendar that I never get around to. At this moment in time, I really couldn’t care less about opining on the Children’s Museum move, ranting about some perceived civic slight, or Photoshopping a graphic of Brendan Reilly in a caving helmet.

Rivera’s right. We are responsible for our own stories, and leaving behind such a cynical legend is not a legacy I’m interested in. There are far more ordinary and important tales to tell.

CHICAGO CARLESS is officially changing gears. I want to know more about the people with whom I share my beloved adopted hometown. It’s a connection I need right now, to put my own problems in perspective. Along with my own story, I want to share the stories of other ordinary Chicagoans on these pages, too. I’ll be writing about some of them and others will tell you their stories in their own words.

I may suck at what I’m about to try here. I may not. Heck, given what I’ve learned about myself lately, I may very well have no idea where my true strengths lie.

And it’s comforting to know that’s about as ordinary as it gets.

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