Gabi came to Chicago to do something she quickly found out she didn’t want to do after all. When she returned from the arts program Atlanta in 1996 she took a secretarial job.
My big skill, for years, she tells me, Was to do the same thing over and over again at the exact same pace for 10 hours a day. I would call people and be like, Did you answer the survey? Oh, You didn’t answer it? Oh, You don’t know where the survey is? Let me fax you another copy. It was a crazy job.
It was also a frustrating one, as I recall, and Gabi and I had several six-packs worth of discussions about the nature of feminism at the time.
When I moved here, she explains, I worked for a lot of super strong women who—it was like, I couldn’t square it. Strong women who weren’t running work places that were very empowering. That’s my most diplomatic way of putting it. I had a host of jobs where I was like, Wow. I respect you as a strong woman, but I really can’t deal with the way you’re treating me. She laughs.
What’s amazing to me, I tell her, is that you stayed here.
Here’s my logic about Chicago. I’ve got it worked out. I work it out every year around mid-February. I think for me, Chicago—it allows you to change. You can keep on. You move to a new neighborhood, you get a new job, you get a new corner bar, you get your groceries somewhere different, you go to a different El station, and you know what? It’s OK. You can actually sort of change your life without having to leave. I think that has allowed me to grow.
Some cities, you’re like, I gotta get out of this city in order to change, I gotta get out of this town in order to be somebody different. I haven’t ever felt that way about Chicago. It’s allowed me to be a secretary, it’s allowed me to be an artist, it’s allowed me to be unemployed [laughs], it’s allowed me to open my own non-profit, it’s allowed me to go to graduate school. There’s always somewhere I haven’t eaten before, and there’s always somebody I haven’t met before, and there’s green space at the same time as there is urban space. Then I think over time what happens is you develop community, and the older you get that becomes a pretty valuable thing. That’s the thread that keeps it all together, then. You have a place in the world.
I own this house now. I mean, it’s a weird thing to do. I’ve never had a particular need to own. I think some people are like, I just want my acre, but I had the opportunity to do it. I guess I should belong to block clubs or something but I’m trying to maintain the renter anonymity. I’m thinking maybe everybody just thinks I rent, and that’s good [laughs]… .
You know, I’ve never not paid my rent, I’ve always made it work. I guess I always thought if I can’t make the rent, I’ll just move somewhere else where the rent is cheaper. But there’s something about owning a place: everything is expensive. Why does it cost that much to move a radiator? It just doesn’t make any sense. And then you might ask, Why do you need that radiator moved? There’s a different kind of pressure to it. I feel like, if I don’t make the mortgage, strangely it would feel like a bigger failure than if I don’t make the rent.
It’s an identity thing. It comes with a different set of expectations. I try not to indulge that, but it still creeps in, and I still feel … I have a tenant living upstairs and I feel like it’s my responsibility to make this space livable. You know, if the toilet doesn’t work I can’t just be like, Oooooh. And I don’t have a lot of fix-it skills. I guess I’ve always dated people who are into fixing stuff and into being the person who fixes stuff, so I’m like, OK, honey. And then here I am and I can’t fix shit, so I have a bunch of ex-girlfriends who come over and fix shit for me [laughs].
Oh, Edgewater. I actually never had any intention of moving over here. I lived in Albany Park for years and I loved it and then I moved in with somebody and moved out with somebody and ended up renting an apartment in this neighborhood temporarily and then saw the house for sale and bid on it. There wasn’t any big search for the perfect neighborhood, but I like it in a lot of ways. It’s got everything I need. Maybe that’s the renter in me: I don’t see myself as an Edgewater community member. I don’t feel strongly identified with Edgewater, but I guess I do find myself caring about weird things like whether they’re gonna open a new restaurant around the corner. When people get married, they say something shifts, and as a person who’s not married and never will be, I’m like, what’s the diff. You know? What’s so different than yesterday.