Happy Birthday to Me: Four Years of CHICAGO CARLESS

(Graphic: Celebrating four years of a blowhard blogger in a windy city.)

In June 2005 when I told my then-boyfriend, Devyn, how jealous I was that he had a blog and I didn’t, I never expected to end up downtown Chicago’s official firebrand blogger. Back then, Devyn had Looper, a celebrated photoblog of downtown Chicago architecture. All I had was memories of the late 1990s, when I wrote About.com’s Brooklyn home page (my content long since removed.)

Having recently moved into downtown Chicago from the suburban pastures of Logan Square, I knew if I launched a blog, I’d have something to write about. After two years in Chicago, I was firmly in love–and falling even deeper for downtown. I always say I do my best thinking when I’m peeing. One good flush and the URL came to me: chicagocarless.com.

That’s how this blog was born, emerging out of a magical combination of envy, obsession, and and an over-full bladder. Four years later, Devyn is a happy New Yorker and Looper is no more, but this blog and my love affair with downtown Chicago are still going strong.

In my first anniversary post of June 2006, I tried explaining my civic affection. For this blog’s second anniversary, I mulled a move back to NYC (happily aborted later that summer) and reviewed the string of unexpected public relations successes that gave me a new career.

Last June, I celebrated a spiritual awakening that turned my life–and my heart–right-side up for the first time ever, sharing my journey deeper into Buddhism and my ongoing recovery from codependence and attention deficit disorder. At the time, I also performed a sweeping overhaul of CHICAGO CARLESS (though for four years my all-caps branding has remained), making my third anniversary post a couple of weeks late.

So sue me, but this year I’m getting a jump on the blog’s fourth anniversary (technically, my first post was June 27, 2005–and on Blogger, yet.) Let me tell you, it’s been quite a year.

Not long before last year’s anniversary, I broke up with the (happily still-friended) Pastry Chef Chris. Guilt and missing him almost turned me into a suburbanite to help him keep his apartment. It took a lot of urban hiking to clear my mind of that near disaster. New bylines on the Gapers Block food beat and at Huffington Post Chicago helped out, too.

Safely remaining a Chicagoan (what on earth would I have called this blog anyway?), I headed towards harvest season doing my best big-mouth blogger. I performed my first celebrity interview (with Food Network star Sandra Lee), fell head-over-heels for Cincinnati, Ohio, braved a tornado warning for the hot wings of doom, told the newspaper industry why it was dying, waded back into the downtown noise controversy, and scored a coveted golden ticket for the Obama election night rally.

My mouth was shut a few times, too. During the latter half of 2008, I also said good-bye to my codependency recovery friend, John C., who took his own life, worried about my own chances for happiness as a codependent and ADDer, and suffered an unexpected medical emergency (that I literally blogged from the bottom up.)

The best of last year came over the holidays, though, when I got the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to monitor the Chicago Transit Authority after I blogged at length about the CTA’s mean-spirited winter homeless harassment policy–winning major citywide press coverage including studio interviews on WBEZ, WVON, and Out of the Loop Radio and an article on page 8 of the Sun-Times. (Huzzah!)

I celebrated those holidays with my close friends, though I didn’t miss my chance to call out Macy’s State Street for its cost-cut, trailer-trash Christmas windows.

And then the claws really came out. I don’t wonder why–I ran long and fast away from my recovery group after John C. died. Trouble is, I needed to be there. For evidence of that, witness the unfriendly rants about friends and dates that opened 2009 on CARLESS aimed at Gino Vesuvius, Mikey Stickler (et al.), Cincinnati Jamie, and Gay O.J.

Heck, I even let the beloved suburban hip-chick Val have it. She wasn’t mad though. After all, who wouldn’t love a Seussical rhyme about buying your first vibrator?

I was on less, er, shaky ground taking Blago to task for his media-relations cluelessness–and telling you how to be batshit bonkers like him.

Or taking Intelligentsia Coffee to task for raising its pricies just for funsies (for which I won a guest spot on the nation’s most popular LGBT podcast, Feast of Fools–now Feast of Fun.)

Or asking the CTA who stole the Washington/State ‘L’ stop, and blasting da mare for moving Ron Huberman to Chicago Public Schools. (It’s with a mix of amusement and horror I note my follow-up post about Ron Huberman publicly outing himself in the Sun-Times remains the most popular page on this blog.)

If I only I knew the fall I was about to take, myself. In February, after thanking Pizzeria Due for helping me become a Chicagoan, I met and fell in love with my very first Chicago native. I gifted him Brooklfield Zoo Mold-A-Ramas, so it must have been love.

But two months of hanging around with me and my friends were followed by a painfully unexpected disappearing act, leaving me to muse about the power of fear to persistently wreck the lives of closeted gay men, as equally as I mulled over the technical definition of borderline personality disorder.

Why, it was enough to drive anyone into rehab. That it did me, straight back to my codependence recovery program, where for the first time in two years I finally found hope (and catapulted my way into Step Seven, to boot.)

Personally, that’s kind of where I stand right now. The past year has brought me back to recovery, where I’m finally learning when and why to say, “Yes,” to the men in my life. And, more importantly, when and why to say, “No.” (God, I wish I had a time machine to go back a few months and use that new skill set.)

I’ve explored that theme in the video blogging I’ve been trying out this year, most notably in my opining on the annoying circle of life I always seem to be caught in. Finding my power also made it more fun to meet two new Seattle friends who helped drag me further out of my shell on a recent Chitown visit.

My new-found self-worth helped me reconsider my professional relationships, too. Not only have I shaken my client tree and let a few nuts fall to the ground and roll away, but being brave enough to share my opinion about the future of print media in general and the Chicago Tribune in particular led to the highest-profile blogging byline I’ve ever been offered.

June 2009 arrived with an invitation from the Trib to renovate their old Chicago’s Best Blogs column for their new ChicagoNow group-blogging project. After I said yes, I went to the bathroom to think up a new name, and now I’m the scribe of CHICAGOSPHERE: a blog about good local blogs.

All in all, this isn’t the story I’m used to telling on my blog birthday. There’s been no pulsating religious epiphany, no life-altering re-affirmation of civic pride. No over-arching through line. If nothing else, there’s at least been some significant personal and professional growth.

In fact, what there has been is a year in my life. That’s what I set out to chronicle four years ago–not merely the story of life in downtown Chicago as some people expect to read here, but the story of my life in it. The ups and downs, the loves and losses, the bravey and the fear, for all to see.

I write my story on CHICAGO CARLESS because it helps me make sense of my life. My friends will tell you, that’s never been my forté. I share the happiness because sometimes I have a hard time believing in myself, and I share the gory details because I know how alone they sometimes make me feel.

I regularly receive email from readers old and new who tell me how often they feel the very same way, and thank me for helping them feel a little more brave and a little less alone. You reading my words has the same effect on me. This blog is a two-way street and I’m grateful for that fact.

So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for journeying with me these past four years.

Now buckle up, folks. After all, you know me well by this point. God knows where we’re headed next…

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