I moved from Brooklyn, New York to come to Columbia College Chicago. I liked the idea of increasing my focus on school by moving somewhere new. Still, leaving a lifetime’s worth of friends and family behind on the east coast was tough. Leaving New York itself was hard. It’s a city that fancies itself to be the center of the universe, and to an extent, it is. I had moved there for culture and opportunities, and got them. So, I was worried that going anywhere else afterwards would feel like a step down.
At the same time, the five years that I spent in New York felt like five years dating a woman who was slightly out of my league. I was always hustling, always feeling a little behind, and always wondering Who is that other guy that she’s smiling at? All that hustle lead to me bettering myself, but after a few years, I was spending too many Friday nights in my tiny apartment, recuperating from my workweek, instead of going out and enjoying the city. It was time for a change.
I got clowned for moving to the Midwestern “fly-over states,” and when I got here, I was like, “Why are all these people wearing flip-flops?” But, by the time school started, the city had grown on me…even if the hot dogs are bogus.
Here are five great things about Chicago:
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1. The Independent Arts Scene Is Very Supportive
This is kind of a blanket to cover the whole list, but it needs to be stated. The creative people that I’ve met here have been friendly, noncompetitive, and sincerely seem to enjoy each other’s work. They aren’t all chasing grants and gallery shows in Chelsea because they’re busy opening their own spaces and starting their own presses.
2. The Cheap Food Is Delicious
I live on the edge of Uptown, a Far Northside neighborhood that is one of the most diverse areas in the country. And, aside from “Place where a six-foot-tall mulatto with a red ‘fro feels comfortable,” you know what diversity means: Good food! Within a fifteen minute walk of my apartment, I can choose from two 24-hour Mexican restaurants, amazing falafel at a Lebanese place, some of my favorite pub burgers ever, Ethiopian food that rivals the stuff in DC, Ban Mi Vietnamese sandwiches, and top-notch Pho. The most expensive of those options is the Ethiopian, at around $12. And the vegetarian sampler is enough food to ruin your weekend.
3. Rent Is Low Enough That People Have Access To Cool Spaces
Off the top of my head, I can think of four independent cinemas where I’ve seen art movies, three big houses or lofts where I’ve seen bands, and eight comfortable bars where I’ve seen readings, and this all took place this past summer.
4. Public Transportation
The CTA is great. It goes all over the city and runs all night. Sure, sometimes the bus is slow because fifteen old ladies decide to shuffle out the front door before anyone can get on and pay, but it only costs $2.25 a ride and trains don’t get caught in traffic. How much is the note on your car? How much is car insurance? Won’t you get arrested if you stumble into the driver’s seat of your car and decide to text all of your friends during the trip home? Can you read while you drive? Please don’t read while you drive.
5. Things Feel Do-Able Here
This ties into numbers 1 and 3. Since New York is such a cultural hub, the city’s artistic output arrives with the assumption that it is the definitive version of that art. Famous novelists live in New York and are published by the major publishers, most of whom are located in Manhattan. Hipster Runoff has a running joke about “Brooklyn-based” being a necessary descriptor for cool rock bands. I don’t know jack about painting, but from what I understand, the big galleries are in New York. It’s great to be there as an observer, but those big leagues are hard to break into. In Chicago, if you don’t like what’s going on, start your own thing. This city is full of people doing just that, and it’s a big enough city that there are a lot of us.
Special Grown Folks Bonus: The Apartments Are Bigger
My girlfriend and I bought a TV after we moved. It was the same size as the TV that felt really big in our Brooklyn living room. When we set it up in our Chicago living room, we noticed two things: 1) We couldn’t sit on the couch and rest our feet on the TV and 2) The TV wasn’t that big. This illustrates a point: If you’re an artist, you’re going to need a workspace. In Chicago, there’s a good chance that you could find that space in your very own home. Also, if you’re grown like me, you don’t go out and party all the time. Sometimes you like to stay home. That’s a lot more fun when you don’t have to put your feet in the tub when you sit on the toilet. ’nuff said.
Helping prospective grad students get a feel for the department by sharing links to published student work since September, 2011.
Melanie Datz was a couple of years ahead of me in the program. One of those people who showed up at events and was – GULP – getting back into the real world while – !!! – working on her thesis. Here’s her story “Swan Song” in Monkeybicycle, a journal with strong Chicago ties.