Carl Sandberg’s “Chicago” is not only a love letter to the eponymous city, but specifically one to the hardships it presents. Sandberg makes no attempt to gild Chicago’s grit and terror, outlining the city’s underbelly of murder and prostitution and still speaking of them with the stubborn affection of someone with a bad boyfriend (“city of the big shoulders” indeed).
Sandberg personifies Chicago at the beginning as brusque and capable, listing the blue collar jobs it provides the planet and describing the city as “course and strong and cunning”. Sandberg’s Chicago personification becomes slightly more unhinged as time goes on, ending on the image of the city as young man, laughing against all reason under the smog. The romantic emphasis on Chicago’s less glamorous aspects is not uncommon. One can find an example simply a few steps back on the syllabus for this class in Hemon’s “Reasons Why I Do Not Wish To Leave Chicago: An Incomplete Random List.” Hemon actively demonizes the glamorous by condemning celebrities for living vapid, presumably drug-driven lives and condemning tourists for being tourists. He describes the enduring harsh Chicago winters as “human solidarity enforced by the cruelty of nature” and describes losing sports similarly.
I know that I sound unnecessarily venomous, but I also know that all said misplaced venom comes simply from the fact that I am undoubtably from one of the “little soft cities” that Chicago towers over: Austin, Texas. Austin, where everything is vibrant and vegan and remaining weird. Where the majority of our income comes from music festivals and food trucks. Where the closest thing we have to terror is Eeyore’s Birthday (which is actually sort of terrifying for being nothing but drum circles).
But Austin’s apparent lack of grit has never bothered me, because I am a little soft person to match. I remember the first time I heard the adage ‘if you can make it in America, you can make it anywhere’ and how I immediately thought ‘then I should probably go somewhere else’. How I couldn’t read passed the third chapter in The Hobbit because I had no interest in the adventure and a too much interest in hearing about Hobbit furniture. How no phrase falls more deaf on my ears than “character building.” It’s not that I detest hard work or dedication or organically-occurring tragedy, but I have never seen the point in adding unnecessary obstacles for myself. And now I’ve found that I’ve added many.
Chicago is not Austin. I didn’t grow up here and it’s not the kind of town that makes its nooks known and its charms obvious. The city is a stranger to me and it’s sprawls considerably further than what I can see myself ever comfortably knowing. I spend my time here calculating how to get from point A to point B with the least amount of eye contact and I feel as if there’s no time to really linger and come to love anything. It’s getting colder by the day. I’m trying not to think about it. (Colette Robertson/CoS Student)