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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.

Categories: Backstory Marina City

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Mike Doyle

I’m an #OpenlyAutistic gay, Hispanic, urbanist, Disney World fan, New York native, politically independent, Jewish blogger in Chicago. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I write words and raise money for nonprofits. I’ve written this blog since 2005. And counting...

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21 replies

  1. Nick, my ADHD brother, all will be revealed in time. But for now, I am putting my real life ahead of my cyberlife. New content will come, I promise.

  2. Mike, good article…. BUT…..
    Write another damn new article for Pete’s sake!! there a lot of chicago die hard readers waiting for you to write more again. We miss you’re writings bud, step it up….

  3. Hi Mike-

    I enjoyed your post.. You really are a good writer. If intrested I may have some work for you.


  4. Best of luck to you, Mike! You will be happy, after all, this is Chicago. You know that! It will require some change, and some adaptation, but good things take time, as mom always said. Well said, and well written 🙂

  5. Thank you, Anna! It’s not like this is a Chicago Carless swan song or anything (Devyn thought that, too.) Just a Marina City swan song. And you and I are linked no matter what–for better or worse?–on Twitter! 😉

    Sue, Camoes is doing fine in the interim share–I’m not in Lincoln Square yet. He’s made a best friend with one of my friends’ two cats–and knocked the other from his alpha-cat perch, unexpectedly. So, go Camoes!

  6. Glad you made the move Mike i am sure you will thrive in your new neighborhood.
    How is your kitty liking the new location ?

  7. Mike, I’ve only now gotten around to reading this and I’m glad I did. I’m a sucker for self-analysis and reflection; I do it a lot myself 🙂 I want to echo what Megan said and wish you good luck with everything going forward. I’m sure you’ll do great at whatever you put your mind to. And Lincoln Square is great! I think you’ll really like it there. Stay in touch, ok?

  8. Thank you both.

    Megan: I hope your career is moving now in the direction you find most appropriate. Living a life based on the expectation of others is never as good as living by your own heart.

    Charles: I never thought Marina City would lose you, much less Chicago. Of course, there are still a few more months to buy longjohns and gore-tex gloves and reconsider your options 😉

  9. Good luck to you.

    I, too, have grown tired of living in Marina City — the constant drama, the lack of direct sunlight, the suicide jumpers. In fact, I finally made the decision to move a couple of weeks ago when, after being awakened by the police banging on my door, I walked out on my balcony and looked down — only to see the body of our latest jumper splayed across the top of a badly damaged delivery van.

    Unlike you, though, my move (planned for autumn) will be back to warmer climates. My Louisiana blood has had enough of the long, cold winters. I’m not a wimp by any means — I think I tolerate the cold better than most people who have lived here their entire lives — but I much prefer sweat to frostbite. And blue skies to gray. Southern California beckons!

  10. Hey there Mike –

    I really loved this post and everything in it. It was really touching to me, very vulnerable and sweet. It sounds like you have been having a tough year, but that what’s come out of that has been real and life-giving. I’ve had a similar year, ever since I quit Chi-town and realized I didn’t want to be the kind of journalist everyone thought I should be. I just really identify with the emotions here, and I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability.

    I wish you the best of life here here in our fair city – great relationships, friendly neighbors, affordable rent, good coffee, fulfilling work and a life that’s not only sustainable for you but nourishing you as a writer and as a person. You ARE more than you give yourself credit for, and you deserve a life that makes you happy. So glad you’re finding it, and while I’m not glad for the trouble you’ve been through, I’m glad to hear you’ve worked through it and grown as a person.

    Again, thanks for the beautiful post.

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