Moving on from Marina City

(Photo: And so I go–my last moment in Marina City.)

Two weeks ago, I moved into an apartment share with friends in the Fulton River district. On Saturday, more friends helped me move the balance of my stuff into storage. On my final way out, I took one last photo of my empty 38th-floor unit and wondered why I wasn’t feeling any sense of pathos. And that’s how five years at downtown Chicago’s high-rise Marina City corncobs ended for me.

The change was long in coming. I’ll be 40 soon. Ever since turning 39, I’ve had a sense of a somewhat early mid-life crisis. I’ve spent most of a year wondering how I arrived at this place in my life and questioning my understanding of myself. Not that I’m in a bad place, but I’m sure living through a time of change. The economy erased most of my communications consulting business, and my ADHD-laden shock froze me in place to watch even more of that business fade away. And with my income in a tailspin, my dumpy but pricey downtown studio apartment–and all the costly yuppie amenities that go with it–quickly became a stretch to afford.

I wasn’t necessarily unhappy about either U-turn in my life. When you stop denying the fact that you’re having one, a mid-life crisis can turn out to be a useful thing. Over the past few months I came to see that my longstanding assumptions about who I am, what I value, what I’m capable of, and what I want out of life changed while I wasn’t paying attention.

Five years ago, after a strong-arm mugging in Logan Square made me afraid of the quieter streets of outer neighborhoods, I moved to the busier environs of Marina City to enjoy downtown while safely buffered by electronic security doors and lobby guards. I have always gravitated towards the downtowns of major cities, but that’s not really why I moved to the downtown of this one.

At the same time, I met Devyn, a wonderful, equally downtown-leaning man with whom I shared a lot of common interests, not the least of which was taking a lot of my self-definition from my location–my skyscraper neighborhood and my mid-century knock-off apartment.

Most of all, five years ago I found my voice. I began this blog and discovered I was a writer–and a good one. Devyn had a popular photo blog and I was jealous. So I channeled my New York City mouthiness online, and came up with Chicago Carless. My newly recognized ability to write launched me into an unexpected local and occasionally national career in strategic public relations.

And I loved it all for only about half the time I had it.

When Devyn left for New York in 2007 (we remain in touch, he’s doing fine there), I knew my times they were a’changing. But I didn’t want to let go just yet. (Losties among you, feel free to flash on the last shot of Ben refusing to get off that bench.) As time has passed, I’ve felt less attached to downtown, less identified with my New York origins, and less eager to ram my opinions down everyone else’s throat. The piss-and-vinegar of my early thirties became increasingly tempered by my ongoing march through life. My codependence recovery. My ADHD diagnosis. My growing Buddhist belief that I’m more than I give myself credit for being.

I continued on auto-pilot for a couple of years. Then, finally, I realized how inorganic my life had become. None of the reasons that got me where I am resonate for me any longer. Some of them don’t even exist anymore. So instead of mourning my finally arrived part in the Great Recession, I figured a much better idea might be to let it all go, and set out in search of a truly sustainable life.

I love downtown, but I love Chicago neighborhoods, too. In fact, I spend most of my free time in them. And while I’m a great writer and strategist, if I never pitch a story to another reporter as long as I live, I won’t miss media-relations in any way. Most of all, while I’ll always cherish my New York origins, I also cherish my Chicago friendships and professional relationships. It’s not a fine line between blogging and bloviating, it’s a big, fat, wide one, in fact. Calling myself an ex-New Yorker isn’t just cause to constantly traipse across that line just to drag my point across with me.

My goal is to get out of the consulting world and put my shoulder into a day job with an upstanding nonprofit or commercial firm, and later this year reunite with my stored possessions and settle into a modest, low-rise, garbage-dumpster-out-back studio in the wonderful, local wilds of Lincoln Square. That and maintain my treasured friendships and social circle while I’m at it.

I’m blessed with knowing two open-hearted former Michiganders who in no uncertain terms have welcomed me into their home–demanded, in fact, that I move into their spare room and remove myself from another few months of Marina City rent. So until I get things back in order, I’ve traded a view of West Tower for a panoramic view of the northwest Loop and every Metra track out of Ogivlie and Union stations. When I go, the former transit planner in me will miss spending far too much time staring down at the tracks during rush hour watching the trains go by. (But not so much the nonstop candy smell from Blommer’s Chocolate factory across the street.)

With all this change, though, I think I deserve a little consistency, too: none of this means I’m about to run out and learn how to drive. That’s still the most sustainable life choice I ever made, and I’ll continue to make other life choices based around it.

In the end, I suppose I don’t feel a sense of loss at leaving Marina City behind because like the rest of my life, I haven’t felt at home in it for some time. I’ve said good-bye to the place little by little over time without even knowing I was doing it. My unexpected experiences residing there will always be archived here on Carless to remember. The Gary Kimmel Scandal. The building creaking. The incessant noise. The crazy neighbors. The awful maintenance. The notorious board. The spellcheck-shy management office. The lovely couch ladies. The incredible roofdeck. And though I wouldn’t move back, for all the insanity that goes on in those 61-story hair curlers, I’m grateful for my time there.

In a way, Marina City was my incubator. It helped insulate me from certain aspects of life, certain lessons I wasn’t ready or prepared to learn yet, in order for me to be able to move forward in other ways. Now, I’m ready to come down from the tower, get my feet back on the ground, and re-engage with the rest of my life. I’m happy/scared/hopeful/ready…and can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it.

Wish me luck.

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