Friday, February 29, 2008

Just doing my part for "awareness"

First, upbeat disclosure #1: I always like Leap Day because it's my half-birthday, and even though no one's supposed to pay attention to their age being whatever-and-a-half after age, say, 5, I still think it's cool.
Upbeat disclosure #2: A segment I was interviewed for is slated to air on ABC Ch. 7's "190 North" show this Sunday, March 2. (10:35 pm). More on that later.
Upbeat disclosure #3: Since I joined Flickr the day after my birthday, I've now been on there six months. It's changed my life in so many ways, cheesy as that sounds. And fixing my photo sizes makes it so much better. Flickr tells you what your top 200 photos are by # of views, # of comments, and # of favoritings, and as of last week 200 different photos of mine have been picked as favorites! (it's more now) This weekend also marks 6 months since I started MySpace, and restarted this blog (8/31/07, before I knew how to post pictures here). I'm feeling pretty good about all that.

The four photos here are the beautiful former theater, turned into stores, currently being demolished in Albany Park (Lawrence & Spaulding). This first shot managed to displace what for four months had been my "most interesting" photo on Flickr (don't ask, no one really knows how that's determined). If only this building could defend itself...I didn't go inside it, but easily could have.

So, the reason for this post: March 1st is Self-Injury Awareness Day (SIAD), and though I can be cynical about "awareness" campaigns for social problems, mental disorders, etc., I've wanted to take note of this one for years now, but as pointed out above, I didn't have much of an Internet presence until the past six months. SIAD comes at the end of Eating Disorders Awareness Week. I don't think that's on purpose, but these problems often overlap, and I wrote a zine about them a few years ago. I've never had an eating disorder, though I may have taken a few steps in that direction. But self-injury, in my case, cutting, is something I'm quite familiar with.

I wrote a lot about it in the past (2004-05), and I wrote about it with as much of an edgy sense of humor as I could muster, because I didn't want to be like all the stereotypical depressed goth or emo teens with their lurid websites about "crimson tears" and their sad poetry. If that's "therapeutic" for them, fine, but I wanted to be the bright, almost cheerful poster child for self-injury.

I don't want to say much about the details. I had my methods and my different supplies (some from dollar stores, some from art supply stores). Nothing I did ever required formal medical treatment, so I can say now it "wasn't that bad." It'd be scary if I was the type who really went out of control now and then and hurt myself terribly, but in a way it's even scarier that it was just an ordinary habit for me, for months, a daily routine, like brushing my teeth.

I didn't have any terrible trauma in my past, and though that's a major trigger for many self-injurers, it's not the only cause, and I wish the otherwise fine book A Bright Red Scream acknowledged that. I just had a lot of built-up misery and at the time didn't have enough people close to me to express it to, which of course made me feel even worse about myself, and...

I got better. Even though this habit can be very hard to break--and of course that sounds improbable to anyone who can't imagine doing it even once--it's possible to stop. I don't have any great triumphant story of recovery, I just found people to talk to, and started to feel weird (though never ashamed, exactly) about what I was doing, and realized it'd be good to stop. And I stopped. And I had relapses. But now it's been over three years since I cut myself, and about a year since I've done anything I'd define as self-injury. As for impulses to do it...more recent than you'd like to know. But this does feel like such a part of my past. You'd have to look at me really, really closely to know I used to do this.

Then why bring it up? I believe in the awareness campaign language of "breaking the silence" and "ending the shame" or whatever. I do think self-injury has gotten a decent amount of informed, sensitive media coverage. Unfortunately, the coverage is still focused almost entirely on teenagers who do it, possibly with a few adult self-injurers who started as teens thrown in. I never did this till I was 27. I felt even worse about doing it, thinking I was having my "troubled teen" years ten years late. So many problems and disorders are covered in a "what about the children?!" way in the media--it felt like once you're in your 20s or older, you're on your own. No one's watching out for you anymore. Happily, I eventually managed to find people who cared. I'm proud of the fact that I beat something that can be so addicting for so many. I'm proud of the fact that I did it without any help from the mental health system, too, but I don't want to sound like I'm "better" than those who do seek "official" help.

There's so much more I could discuss. The media's enduring love affair with self-destructive female celebrities (the novel here is from 1956)--back then, I had an unhealthy fixation on Mary-Kate Olsen's troubles (anorexia and possibly self-injury). Or the fact that the shooter at NIU had a history of self-injury and published a paper on self-injury among prisoners. I still check in on the excellent Self-Injury & Related Issues website now and then, mostly to look at recent news items about self-injury, which are nearly always about teens (there's a new documentary coming up); a good American resource on self-injury is here. I'm not sure what good this little consciousness-raising exercise did, whether it was anything other than "too much information" on a blog that's supposed to be about exploring Chicago, but I wanted to say my piece, and there it is.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

There've been some changes around here

First off, thanks to the reader who alerted me to this post at the Uptown Update blog that made use of the Riviera photo from my "Thriftiness" post, improperly and hilariously citing my blog as "City of Density." I've barely yet investigated the oft-vicious world of Chicago neighborhood blogs...And thanks to the blogs that recently added mine--General Carlessness; Bright Lights, Dim Beauty; reallyboring (who I've added) and the Ecology of Absence blog, the first I know of to actually quote and link to one of my posts. I'd listed the Ecology of Absence site but overlooked the blog; it's blogrolled now.

Also added: EveryBlock Chicago, which is a news feed for, well, every block; The Beachwood Reporter (a sort of newspaperish site); B12 Solipsism (a photo/news/random stuff blog by the guy known as Swanksalot on Flickr); Ottermatic and Shapely Prose (two Chicago blogs that cover weight issues a lot; the latter's founder, Kate Harding, was on the cover of RedEye last week, and the article actually wasn't bad). I definitely overthink the way the links are organized...for the record, everything until the "More architecture..." section in the lists is based in Chicagoland, except for a few in the top "Architecture" category, but everything in there is Midwestern, at least. I deleted the bicycle/transit and "Health and happiness" categories and moved those links. I haven't done really extensive searches of Chicago blogs, so I'm sure I'll have more before long, and there are friends I'd like to promote who have Flickr pages and other sites but not blogs...we'll see.

The biggest change is the addition of several new categories for some of the non-Chicago political/personal blogs I enjoy. Many were old favorites, and others were discovered as I went through hundreds of links on old favorites' blogrolls. I chose blogs that had posted something new in at least the past couple weeks, are well-written (of course I don't agree with everything, and picked several that challenge some of my views), and weren't exclusively personal blogs (nothing wrong with those, they're just not what I want to list there). The lists are here for my convenience more than anything. I don't expect any of these blogs to blogroll me since I don't write much political content here. Nor will I explain right now why these are the particular causes I care about.

So. There's a general category for political/feminist blogs (* = group blogs), and categories for three issues I particularly care about. Adoption: reform-oriented blogs by people who are one or more of the following: adoptees, especially international/transracial adoptees, birth mothers, adoptive mothers. Mental health: by people who've experienced psychiatric treatment. Weight/body image: fat acceptance/anti-diet oriented. Big Fat Blog, Shapely Prose, and Ottermatic fit that category, but since they're Chicago, they're elsewhere. I'd like to be a member at Big Fat Blog (a blog I've known about for years, but didn't realize was Chicago-based till last year). I understand why they don't want diet-talk there, but their "please don't register if" says: "You are interested in losing weight now (or possibly in the future, maybe - like you're actively planning on it)" and well, I would like to...I just wouldn't make a big deal of it. The Health Institute of Nutrition (THIN) and Fascism Advocacy Center are satirical sites that may baffle those not familiar with their respective issues. But I think they're cool.

All for now, though I'll have another, somewhat depressing post up within a day. Soon I'd like to put up "A Walk in Albany Park", because I did in fact get photos of the building mentioned in the previous post, and buy donuts (pretty good) at Donut Doctor. Okay, it's not a bad place...just don't let the orange-and-lavender color scheme scare you away!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Glued to the computer

Sunny day inside Donut Doctor
Originally uploaded by katherine of chicago

I love this photo, but the place I took it in--Donut Doctor, a donut/ice cream place at Lawrence & Kimball--turned out to be quite bleak. I didn't have any donuts. But perhaps I'll check in on them again when I go out today to get shots of a beautiful building a block east. I'd noticed it'd become suspiciously devoid of businesses and now according to this great post at A Chicago Sojourn, it's going to be demolished.

Other than that...well, when I'm not replacing 100s of photos on my Flickr photostream (I'm 1/3 of the way through!) with larger-sized ones, I'm deleting 100s of duplicate photos from iPhoto so I have room to upload new shots to the computer (from a very fun Sunday of exploration...not to mention more of the shots from last Sunday's Gary exploration), or I'm combing through 100s of blogs to add a new non-Chicago culture/politics section to the blogroll. I've tried to take time away from these obsessive tasks to read books, and cook, and go out. But I've also been a little sick (cold, not flu). I'm usually only sick one or two days a year, but this has been five days, though only Sat. and Sun. (the days I ran around cold buildings, and interacted with actual people, not just the computer) felt truly unpleasant.

Yesterday Flickr seemed to go haywire for people using Safari, so I'm back to Firefox, which I'm pleased to see still works on my computer (when I last tried it months ago it didn't). Right after midnight last night the power on my block (just the north side) went out for 40 minutes. When the power came back, my small TV didn't work when I tried to turn it back on, so I had to dig through piles of junk to be able to unplug it and move it to a different place (works now) and when I did so, I found many of my winter clothes I hadn't properly put away last year, and now my winter wardrobe has almost doubled and I'm almost hoping it stays cold so I can wear all these sweaters and velvety pants and whatnot.

I'm sure I could give you many more examples of the bizarre and obsessive things I've been up to, but I'd better get out of the apartment now. Next post will be about additions to and reshuffling of the blogroll.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


It's been quite a good week for several reasons (including the previous post) though I'm fighting off a bit of a cold and it's sad to have to consider above-30-degrees-and-partly-sunny (predicted for this weekend) as "wonderful weather." You were, at some point, promised this blog would mention thrift shopping, so I'll say a few words here. This first photo isn't where Village Discount's castoffs go to die, it's a shot from my second visit to this abandoned factory in Gary, Indiana, last Sunday.

Sure, that's the kind of goofy photo an annoying quasi-hipster would put on Flickr with a title like Perhaps I've gotten a bit behind with the laundry, but it's actually a serious story; a scandal in Gary involving these clothes that were supposed to be donated to the needy, but are rotting here instead. People in poor countries would probably prefer nice new Patriots Super Bowl shirts...

Anyway, thrifting: I've been to every Village Discount Outlet in Chicago (I made a point of that the 2nd or 3rd year I was in Chicago) and I'll try to hit all their Chicagoland stores this year. I started last Friday with Store #12, 4635 N. Elston, as an excuse to visit a nearby 24-hour restaurant; I'll write about them when I've made it through all 12 of their daily specials (a $5.25 dinner everyday, $4.25 soup & sandwich every weekday).

Then, Saturday, after meeting up at the very nice bakery/cafe Flourish (spinach croissant wonderful, hot chocolate just okay), I headed out with Kate, who I hadn't thrifted with in ages, to a VDO she hadn't been to, Store #13, 4027 N. Kedzie. (The Christmas decoration above was spotted as we walked down from the Sheridan Red Line platform.) This store is IMMENSE, possibly the biggest Chicago VDO, but it doesn't seem to have a furniture department. I liked this Barbie doll with a homemade toilet-paper dress but opted to photograph it rather than buy.

My haul at Store #12 was sparse. I pretty much bought the usual at Store #13: a vintage men's cardigan, a flight training videotape, a vintage nightgown that still has its original salestags, a Sri Lankan cricket team polo shirt. I got all that and several actually practical items (pants and PJ tops) for about $20 total at both stores. I felt a little let down at finding so little; I'd once bought so much at the Kedzie store (my only $100+ thrift trip) that I had to take a cab home. But I meant to hit another VDO Monday for their half-off-everything Presidents' Day sale, then woke up Tuesday realizing I'd totally forgotten. I'm amused to see VDO allegedly has a Facebook page, but when I clicked on it from Google I got the message "Sorry, more people must join this network before a page can be created for it."

My cheap thrills for Saturday night were to be a hot drink and reading at Borders in Uptown, but I hadn't anticipated huge concerts at both the Aragon (something Mexican) and the Riviera (sold-out three-night Wilco shows). The Lawrence bus from Kimball to Broadway (22 blocks) took a little over an HOUR. It turned into one of those situations where I just decided to see how bad it'd get, rather than get out and walk. It's easy to do that when you're not in a hurry to be anywhere. I ended up with 10 minutes at Borders, and getting a shot of these dubiously parked cars in front of the Riviera.

The coffee/tea/caffeinated pop fast is going reasonably well. I've discovered that putting Pero coffee substitute, cinnamon, and cocoa in a cup, then adding the boiling water, creates something that's almost a beverage. And the "Mayan" hot chocolate at Moonstruck is my fave of theirs so far, I had to treat myself after two hours at the Apple Store Wednesday working on my photo library (which now seems even more messed up). And it's a thrill to learn that some diner/family restaurant/grill places give you a free second cup of hot chocolate (Cozy Corner in Logan Square, Michael's in Old Town).

In other cheap and chocolately news: I finally went to the Garfield Park Conservatory Chocolate Fest after years of meaning to check it out. It seems to always be held the Sat. and Sun. before Valentine's Day. That Sunday was the 0 degree/negative windchill killer day. I have a certain place that's getting demolished that I'm committed to documenting every single Sun. while it exists. And I'm committed enough to go in 0 degrees, though my exterior shots were cut short when I realized I could barely move my right hand (despite two pairs of gloves). I went into the building for "10 minutes" that wound up being an hour of sorting books that I was sure would be Dumpstered that week (actually they were still there last Sunday). I hid lots of them and took what I could reasonably carry. I'd probably have stayed a dangerously long time if I didn't need to get to the Fest at the Conservatory nearby.

It's only a dollar (suggested) to get into the Conservatory! Going directly from an hour-and-a-half in brutal cold to an overheated indoor garden was not good for me, or my camera (note foggy photo) but I endured, and was rewarded with plenty of free samples for my trouble. A few places were running out by then, and there were many sugar-saturated kids bouncing around, but I liked it. Some samples are wrapped, but at others, the gloved workers just drop a pile of chocolate pieces in your hand--so you have to eat them right away! Here's the link for the Garfield Park Conservatory; when I looked at it they note "The Conservatory Celebrates It's 100 Year Birthday!" and typo aside, it really is one of Chicago's treasures, a place I visit scadalously infrequently for how close I live to it.

The Conservatory/Central Park Green Line station, renovated a few years ago, is one of the cutest CTA stations, so I made sure to get a lot of shots of it. This one with the icicles might be my favorite winter Chicago photo this year (I thought people on Flickr would like it more, but the hand-with-chocolate ended up getting all the views). I went on, despite the horrific cold, to photograph a few other Green Line stations that day.

And that's a few cheap Chicago thrills. I've got to get out now and take care of some library business (I should have given up checking out library books for Lent; it's certainly a vice when I've got stacks of several hundred to-read books I own right here between the computer and the TV) and visit that restaurant for another daily special. (Note: this was written and posted Fri. 2/22 but says 2/21 because that's when I created the draft with the photos. I'm sure there's a way to reset the time and date and I'll learn it eventually.)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Squares and rectangles
Originally uploaded by katherine of chicago

I fixed my photo sizes on Flickr. I fixed my photo sizes on Flickr. I FIXED MY PHOTO SIZES ON FLICKR. I could go on and on...I'm in a state of shock, and ecstasy.

In my nearly 6 months of being a very active Flickr member, my photos always uploaded small and blurry, and if you clicked "All Sizes" they were never larger than medium. There were lots of details people couldn't see, and most agonizingly, certain websites said they'd like to use my photos but couldn't because they're too small. (The Reader, Chicagoist, and Chi-Town Daily News have used some, however.) I'd shoot with the biggest settings possible on my camera, and they came up large in iPhoto, so I couldn't figure it out. Well, seems I'd been uploading from the wrong place all along; now I know to upload from "Originals." I notice this photo shows up the same size as all the other Flickr photos I've blogged, but you'll see it's large if you click on it!

That's the good news. Less good? I have to replace the 1500+ photos I've uploaded already. I intend to fix every single one.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Just doing my part to destroy romance

Oh, but I missed my shot at ruining everyone's Valentine's Day in advance. Sorry I wasn't here writing anything properly cynical. Though I'm not a huge fan of the day, in truth the past few Valentine's Days have been pretty good, far, far, better than the typical disaster that is my birthday. I suppose the fact that I'm not still with my co-celebrators of previous years makes those Valentines a "failure" by dating industry standards, in the way that any relationship that's not currently marriage and/or approaching it, is a failure (or am I supposed to cheerily embrace past relationships as "learning experiences"? Hard to keep up with the experts). Oh, but I won't write the anti-dating-advice-industry manifesto right now. One of the "experts" I caught recently, author of a how-to-date-a-"bad boy"-manual, started off a "dating myths" piece on The Today Show by blathering that "men aren't men" and "women aren't women" anymore, and that's typically a good sign one should turn off the TV, throw it out a window, and flag down a cement truck to thoroughly pulverize it.

Valentine's Day got reclaimed as V-Day, to combat violence against women, a while back, and it's a day to peform that feminist play, you know, the, uh, The Hoohah Monologues? Well, the conservative Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute snipes that “February 14, a day generally recognized for hearts, love and valentines, is now a day that has become increasingly associated with female private parts and the radical feminist agenda," and even has a booklet on how to combat this nefarious presence on your campus. Meanwhile, the Independent Women’s Forum “Take Back the Date” campaign (get it? They turn Valentine's Day into V-Day, we'll turn Take Back the Night into...) has an infamous flyer with a dejected, ball-and-chain-wearing Cupid walking past a Vagina Monologues marquee; as Feministing snarked, “Poor Cupid, tethered to the unreasonable feminist demand that women not be raped.” (By the way, Eve Ensler and Jane Fonda were on The Today Show Valentine's morning, and though I had it on I was more listening to WBEZ, and missed when, as Meredith Viera apologized later, “Jane Fonda said a word from the play that you don’t say on television.” I found it out later. Hint to Chicagoans: it rhymes with the name of a major east-west street that runs through Rogers Park.)

I'll second everything Ann Friedman said here on her 2007 piece on the controversy:
“The idea that a play featuring women's ruminations on their bodies and sexuality is at odds with 'true romance' is deeply disturbing. Personally, I have numerous problems with the Monologues, but one valuable thing about the play is that it communicates to young college-age women, many of whom aren't self-identified feminists or women's studies majors, that it's okay to talk about their bodies, to explore their sexuality. I fail to understand how this -- a frank discussion of women's physical selves -- and romance are mutually exclusive.
Moreover, I would argue that women being knowledgeable and vocal about their own bodies does indeed help curb violence….
…The 'chivalrous' dating practices venerated by IWF thrive on outmoded, restrictive gender roles and an inherently lopsided power dynamic. This type of dating has always placed the onus on women not only to suppress their own sexual urges, but also to control those of their male suitors.”

I've read the play, never seen an entire peformance of it, it's not my favorite...but V-Day seems like a worthwhile endeavor when you've got this quote, said just a few days before Valentine's, from Tennessee state Sen. Doug Henry, “Rape, ladies and gentlemen, is not today what rape was. Rape, when I was learning these things, was the violation of a chaste woman, against her will, by some party not her spouse. Today it’s simply, ‘Let’s don’t go forward with this act.’ ” Wow.

"Take Back the Date" isn't just an anti-V-Day phenomenon, it's also a reaction against the supposed dominance of "hookup culture" among young people, which like everything else, gets blamed on feminists. I've mentioned it before and I'm sure I'll mention it again, the moral panic over Our Slutty, Slutty Young People and Their Inability to Love ™. Eh, maybe I'll read yet more books about it before I do. "Dates" aren't such a bad idea, the old days of "necking and petting" have their appeal, and if you want to be REALLY old-school, bundling sounds charming. I just don't care to go back to the old days when women's reputations and lives could be destroyed for going "too far." about that article on "settling" that's made Lori Gottlieb the current whipping girl of the blogosphere? See Feministing or Pandagon or Shakesville (hey, I finally linked to a piece by a man), or Gawker for extra snark. I have little to add, except I'm sorry Gottlieb wrote such a bizarre piece; her memoir of having anorexia at age 11, Stick Figure, is probably my favorite (and the wittiest) of the many, many, many eating disorder memoirs I've read.

Since I didn't write this piece in as timely a manner as I wanted to (I was partly afraid of jinxing my actual Valentine's, which went nicely), I'm able to mention this piece that ties together Gottlieb, Take Back the Date, and the hookup hysteria, plus includes Barney from The Simpsons: Take Back the Loser! And something (finally) on how feminism enhances relationships (The website ads that popped up when I looked at this on Pandagon included "Married & Lonely?," "Women's Infidelity," and "Asian Girls For Marriage." How sweet).

A few years ago I was flipping through a celebrity magazine and complained about shirts that said "Josh's Girl" and the like, wondering why women thought it was cool to be someone's property. Then I thought, maybe I'm harsh, people will think I'm Katherine the Scowly Romance-Hating Feminist. I mean, just because I'd never wear "Tom's Girl" or "The Future Mrs. Anderson" or use the expression "my man" other than 999% ironically, who am I to judge? Then I saw this in Us Weekly's Feb. 11 issue. (The ones you can't read say "Cali Girls Do it Better!" [eh] and "If found, please return to boyfriend." [I immediately thought "Found where? In an alley? That's creepy."]) Being his "girl" and "Valentine" isn't enough, now you're a "playground" (note the graphic) and really, truly, calling yourself "property?" And now I flash forward a few years, to when I complain about the "Zack's Property"-declaring rhinestone bracelet, you know, the one that goes along with the tracking device that's been implanted so he knows where you are at all times, because "he loves me that much"... Once again, I've failed to understand modern romance.

I've been avoiding the matchmaker hype--apparently several of them have reality shows--but I couldn't resist watching a recent Oprah episode which promised to be full of things "single women could relate to" or whatever, which meant I was mostly baffled. Patti Novak, of “Confessions of a Matchmaker,” went on about how it's great that women are competent and successful but you have to let men choose the restaurant you go to and open pickle jars for you and blah blah blah to feel like a man. Oprah (and talk shows in general, actually daytime TV in general) seems woefully ignored in the feminist blogosphere, so I was delighted to discover a feminist food blog called Little Ms. Foodie taking this on. Still, she's not as bad as Patti Stanger of "The Millionaire Matchmaker," relish this exchange in Time Out Chicago:
TOC: What’d you learn about matchmaking from your mom and grandmom?
Patti Stanger: That the rules have never changed. As long as you give sex away for free, without exclusivity, you’re gonna end up single and alone and unhappy. You’re the commodity and when you learn that, men will gravitate to you. You want to be the female, you don’t want to lead in the relationship. And the only way the men are going to lead and be the hunters is if you sit back, smell good, relax and let the man drive the car.
TOC: Anyone ever tell you that’s a little sexist?
Patti Stanger: No.
(Well okay then, that's A LITTLE SEXIST.)

As noted, I had a good Valentine's afternoon excursion (with someone), and also got to spend the evening in a single-girl way: sitting at Borders on Halsted, enjoying a Cocoa Trio, reading an obscure old book about Detroit. If you'd like a true anti-Valentine's screed, this hilarious one at I Blame the Patriarchy will do quite nicely. I'll have a good story specifically about Dating For Nerds sometime soon...Besides the ad, the other images in this piece are: The front and back covers of a novel I found at Shake, Rattle, and Read in Uptown; a ad seen in Graceland Cemetery Dec. 2007 (cemetery desecration!); a chalkboard in an abandoned Catholic elementary school; all 69 different messages found in an 18-ounce bag of Necco Sweethearts (yep, I sorted them, that's what nerds do for Valentine's Day [Gapers Block linked to this photo on Valentine's Day, thanks!]); a ad seen along abandoned train tracks (in a desolate area where I also spotted a frozen dead dog, and white police harrassing a black man); if that's how you find love, then here's how you find a wedding photographer; and a photo I already used (seen on an abandoned church in Englewood) in this post, but I just replaced it there with a different one and put it here because Chicagoist used it as one of their Valentine's photos, thanks! I hope you all had a decent (or indecent, as the case may be) Valentine's.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Watching the watch lists

Like many things on this blog, this won't be the persuasive, informed essay I'd like it to be, but a few personal notes about something I care about. (I'm saving up my energy for the post about a Certain Holiday coming up next week, but that post won't be too personal except for some of my history with going to Dating for Nerds, and if you're free Tuesday the 12th, you should join me at their next big event [a party at The Spot, in Uptown, for all orientations and relationship statuses.]) But I went to the press conference recently to announce Preservation Chicago's Chicago 7 list for 2008. On the way in they asked if I was "press" or not. I said no, but I should have asked for a press packet anyway. I did take notes.

There are five specific buildings on the list (three risk demolition, two risk alteration). I took another look around the American Book Company building near McCormick place last week; it's got a walkway connecting it to a rehabbed, in-use building. I know the two neighborhoods (Norwood Park and Devon Street) listed as endangered; with Devon, they said there are many historic buildings at risk due to poor maintenance and possible development, but made no specific reference to the ones actually lost last year--a huge commercial building that burned down on Thanksgiving 2006 (torn down months later), and the former Nortown theater (which they did cover in their newsletter, at least).

The plan to move the Children's Museum from Navy Pier to Grant Park, and to dramatically alter the Chicago Athletic Association building, are challenged on the watch list for the precedents they would set: the cherished idea of keeping Chicago's lakefront "forever open, clear, and free," and how the Landmarks Ordinance may save only a building's facade, leaving most of the actual building vulnerable. Both these inclusions seem reasonable enough, though I can't help but think the Grant Park controversy has gotten tons of press already; why not give the space to an obscure building? But that's just my selfish wish, ever since I started using these watch lists as shopping lists for urban exploration.

In fact, I went to the similar event held by Landmarks Illinois last fall, announcing their Chicagoland Watch List, shortly before I began exploring abandoned buildings. I just checked the archives for their lists and Preservation Chicago's, and noted I've been in two of PC's (as well as "factories and warehouses;" they often list types of buildings rather than specific ones) and six of LI's (they tend to list more schools and hospitals); there's some overlap between the groups.

People I talk to who know about these things say the lists don't do much, and it seems they're right. It was far too depressing to actually total up what percentage of the buildings listed by both groups have since been demolished, compared to the number saved. The majority are "still threatened," which means they're at least still there to photograph, outside and possibly inside. I feel that's about all I can do; I feel so helpless otherwise.

I first became aware of Preservation Chicago through their many mentions in Chicago Journal (especially the West Town edition). Both editions of this paper/website frequently cover controversies over historic buildings and development. I went on the tours they offered in 2006 and 2007 as part of the amazing Great Places/Great Spaces weekend of free tours. After 2006's, I introduced myself to Preservation Chicago's Jonathan Fine (and talked his ear off). These photos are from the 2007 tour (on a much nicer day). I think everything pictured in this post was discussed on the tour (except the hot dog stand, that's just my obsession). I don't know why they don't offer this tour several times throughout the year as a fundraiser; it was very popular.

I've gone to other preservation lectures when I can. Of course, I've read Lost Chicago. I'm inspired by Unexpected Chicagoland and Richard Nickel’s Chicago, and I finally got around to reading the Richard Nickel biography They All Fall Down and was unexpectedly moved by it. Of course I knew it was about the destruction of great architecture, especially in Chicago, and his tragic death, but I didn't expect it to hit me so hard. I guess it just left me feeling so...half-assed about the photography and writing I'm doing, wanting to make much more of a real effort.

I joined Preservation Chicago at the end of 2006, and got my friend Mike a membership as a gift, too. (He tends to bring up Richard Nickel at every possible occasion when I'm talking about my abandoned/demolished building adventures...he's not my only friend who does!) I sent along an old photo I'd taken of the Wirt Dexter building (early Sullivan on S. Wabash that burned down in 2006; I'd attended Columbia, across the street, for years without knowing that was a Sullivan building. But then, I didn't actually get into architecture until after my many years there) and a rambling note. I don't know if I used my street address or my now-shuttered PO Box, but I know I didn't get their (very nice quarterly) newsletter in the mail; I didn't even know they had one until I found them on the shelf at Mercury Cafe in West Town.

I feel I should join both these preservation groups because I support their goals, but I'm so frustrated at how little opportunity there seems to be for interaction, for publicizing other buildings that deserve attention, for getting updates on the status of buildings they've put on the lists. All or part of several of the buildings Landmarks Illinois has listed (Washburne and Westinghouse schools; Cook County Hospital) have been getting demolished in the months since I've started really seriously trying to photograph threatened buildings (including the insides, of course), but there's little to indicate this on their website. As far as I know, I broke the story of Westinghouse's demolition online, which I don't mean to say in a bragging way, but in a "why me?" way. Why not the group that put that school on their list in three separate years?

It'd require so little cost and staff time to have interactive blogs, social network pages, and Flickr groups where people could talk about/post photos of what's threatened in their neighborhoods, or anywhere else, and alert others once demolition has started. Any time I see "For Sale" or scaffolds or fencing, I know something's happening, and I get photos. Obviously the groups can't fight to save every building, and not everything I photograph may be worth saving, but I have to document what's disappearing.

It's my great shame of my years in Chicago that I didn't document the unbelievable transformation of the Division Street part of West Town, or Maxwell Street (at least many people documented the latter). And that I let so many "hmm, that's an interesting building, wonder what's happening to it?" buildings disappear. I can't believe how many times I've seen a vacant lot, one on a street that I've passed dozens or hundreds of times, and been unable to recall what that building was. They aren't all irreplaceable losses, and there are even a few old buildings I could admit are eyesores (though they rarely started out that way), but I hate this feeling of forgetting. My tiny stand against this is a Flickr set I started months ago, 1001 Buildings to See Before They Die. Many are gone since I posted them there.

The "...Squander" show that just opened at the Chicago Architecture Foundation looks pretty good, though I didn't get the best look at it; happily, there was a huge turnout Thursday night. I couldn't resist a pose next to Richard Nickel (and I wasn't the only one); this is by a new Flickr friend. Noah stopped by; you should check out his blog post on the Preservation Chicago list. And so did the aforementioned Mike (who's somewhat responsible for me becoming a CAF volunteer back in 2006).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Coffee, tea, or...

First off, in an attempt at timeliness, I'll mention that TONIGHT is the opening reception, 5:30-7:30, at 224 S. Michigan, of the new exhibit, "Do We Dare Squander Chicago’s Great Archtectural Heritage? Preserving Chicago, Making History" at the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Can't make it tonight? The show runs Feb. 7-May 9; there's also a Preservation Perspectives video website; and I'll write more about preservation soon...I've just been busy keeping up with all the people who want to go take photos with me, and my legions (legions = 5 or 6) of new male admirers on here and Flickr, so...Also, going out in the beautiful weather for cheery shots like this one.

So after making it a full month without coffee (late Nov.-late Dec.), on a whim, I thought, why not give it up for Lent? I was going to point out "and I'm not even Catholic anymore" but I just now learned from Wikipedia that Lent isn't only a Catholic thing. Tuesday (which of course was both Super Tuesday and Fat Tuesday, and disappointingly few people called it Superfat Tuesday) I was up north and had my first visit to the super-slick new coffeeshop, The Coffee Studio (people on Yelp like it), which is sort of on the Andersonville/Edgewater border and was filled with stylish, intellectual-ish guys who I don't think play for my team ( championship Scrabble team). Anyway, good coffee, but I suddenly thought, I don't like how I've been mindlessly drinking lots of coffee in the morning, and I did reasonably well without it before, why not try a little longer.

My jar of Cafix nearly out, Wednesday I stopped at Whole Foods. No Cafix, but I bought Pero, which I'm "enjoying" right now. Actually, it's not bad, but Teeccino, discovered during my last coffee fast, is my favorite. Their website even has a caffeine addiction quiz; I've been in the 300-600 mg zone many days recently ("undoubtedly experiencing some degree of mental and physical addiction to caffeine"). So I won't have any coffee, caffeinated pop, or regular tea, but chocolate is okay. If Lent just so happens to coincide with the winter doldrums/perfect hot chocolate weather, so be it. Last week, I tried THREE different kinds at Moonstruck (regular, Mexican, Peppermint Patty; only 7 to go) and right after Whole Foods I tried the hot cocoa at Caribou. Not bad. It wasn't the "Smart Choice" according to their brochure (small hot cocoa w/skim milk and no whipped cream) but the dubious one (medium, 2%, whipped cream), alas. According to the quiz, cocoa beverages are 13 mg. caffeine per 6 oz., so even a large hot chocolate would be under 50 mg, placing me safely in the "highly unlikely that you are a caffeine addict" zone.

I also found this 2007 CNN article about young people giving up social networking for Lent. A 16-year-old "says she spent an average of two hours a day on MySpace, logging onto the site at least four times a day. She's using Facebook as a substitute during the 40-day period. 'Not because Facebook is special -- I think it's boring,' she said, explaining that the site helps her to still 'feel connected.'" Facebook was her Pero! I wonder how it worked out for her.

I would have been glued to the TV and radio Tues. night for election returns, but actually a couple days before, due to MySpace, I got put on the list for a concert for the first time in eons. Aleks and The Drummer were the first (and so far only) band to send me a friend request that I'd actually already heard of and heard, and they had a few extra spots for their show at the Metro opening for No Age and The Liars. I went out in the cold, got that curious shot of the Wrigley Field sign with letters burned out (I know it's the off-season, but still...), and thoroughly enjoyed the show. Aleks sings and plays keyboards and was in a wonderful shiny gold long-sleeved, high-collared dress with gold pants. (If you're wondering, the drummer, Deric, wore a t-shirt.) I never feel like trying up-close/flash shots at Metro so you'll have to make do with these.

I wore my awesome Lego shoulder bag to show it off, but was immediately made to check it ($3, they had to get money from me somehow), putting an insane amount of stuff in my pockets to get me through the evening. (Yes, I even tuned in WBEZ between sets.) I almost left halfway through The Liars' set (they were good, but I just felt like leaving. Hey, I don't have the "it's too smoky" excuse to leave shows anymore), didn't, and got stuck waiting 15 minutes in line to get the bag back. But then the Clark bus showed up almost immediately, so I realized I would have been waiting those 15 minutes in the cold otherwise...I'm sure there's a lesson to all this...

I haven't mentioned bicycles in a while (my back wheel is still stolen and I haven't done any winter biking) but on WBEZ today I heard there are new ordinances proposed by Mayor Daley to the city council; and the Sun-Times wrote this: "He has had drivers open car doors in his path. He has had cars turn left in front of him and had a car pass within three feet of his bike...All three violations were targeted by the ordinance introduced by Daley at Wednesday's City Council meeting. It's designed to reduce the number of crashes involving bikes and motor vehicles...The ordinance establishes a fine for double-parking in a marked lane that's supposed to be shared by bikes and vehicles. And it raises the fine for driving, standing and parking in a bicycle-only lane." I've still never actually seen the mayor bicycling, but apparently he's been hit or nearly hit by car doors? I have many, many differences with the guy, but that's something I wouldn't wish on anyone. These are more ordinances possibly no one will know about or enforce, but I'm still glad to hear about them.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Happy 100th birthday, Leon Despres!

Today is the 100th birthday of one of my heroes (and I don’t just throw that word around), Leon Despres, who served Chicago as alderman of the 5th ward from 1955-1975. A timespan that, you might note, corresponds pretty neatly with the Richard Daley I era. And as you can learn from his 2005 memoir (which I confess I haven't read yet!), Challenging the Daley Machine, often he was the council member who didn't just rubber-stamp Daley's policies, the 1 in 49-1 votes.

As someone who believes Richard J. Daley tended to be on the wrong side of most things and handled any number of tricky situations in the wrong ways, it's thrilling to know someone challenged the racism of the way Chicago built its expressways and public housing and undertook urban renewal. (For a thoroughly researched biography of Daley I (and I HAVE read all 500+ pages of it!), see American Pharoah; for the faster, more entertaining read, see Mike Royko's classic Boss.) A New York Times article from 2005 noted, "Though he is white, Mr. Despres was known for years as 'the lone Negro on the City Council,' leading the push for housing desegregation while the African-American aldermen allied with the mayor were denounced as the Silent Six." (Of course, there were black activists working on these issues outside of city council...)

I went to Depres' recent appearance with Kenan Heise (they've collaborated on a second book) at the Harold Washington Library a couple weeks ago; you don’t pass up a chance to see someone who’s 99. Also, I wanted to finally learn how how to pronounce his name after stumbling over it so many times; say it Leon (some call him “Len”) "Duh-prey." They discussed all these big issues, of course, and told a fascinating anecdote of when Despres and his wife Marian visited Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico; Leon took Frida to a movie while Diego painted a portrait of Marian! I was intrigued to learn Despres had something to do with getting the CTA to finally allow female bus drivers. Imagine, a time when you had only ONE gender of surly, gum-chewing bus drivers who pretend not to see you as you run through traffic waving madly in a futile attempt to not have to wait another 20 minutes...Anyway, I researched this online to little avail. (Googling "CTA bus drivers" quickly turned up “CTA bus driver sued after fatal accident,” “Drug felon recruited bus drivers for CTA,” “CTA bus shooting,” “CTA bus drivers behind wheel without licenses.”) But apparently the first female bus driver here, Mary Wallace, retired in 2007 at age 55 after 33 years.

It wasn't until after the event, hearing a piece on WBEZ and seeing this photo, that I knew Despres also helped found the Hyde Park Co-op. It recently closed (to be turned into a Treasure Island, so at least the neighborhood still will have a grocery). On Gapers Block, Lindsay Muscato and David Schalliol detailed the jazz-style "funeral" for the store; see the accompanying photoessay (with music!). Recent stories on Despres also include this "848" piece on WBEZ and a "Sidewalks" column by Rick Kogan.

Leon's wife, Marian Alschuler Despres, passed away last year; they were married for 75 years. She's considered one of the founders of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (I had trouble finding specifics about its founding, but I know it got started in the successful effort to save the Glessner House.) They were both quite active in historic preservation efforts in Chicago.

Marian's father was architect Alfred Alschuler, about whom I was shockingly ignorant, though I'm certainly familiar with some of his buildings, like the London Guarantee & Accident Building (1922-23) at Michigan & Wacker, the Austin branch of the Chicago Public Library, and the Florsheim Shoe company building at Belmont & Pulaski, now The Shoemaker Lofts. Also, the K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple (1924), built in Hyde Park after K.A.M. moved from the Pilgrim Baptist Church. [NOTE: there's a correction to this in the comments.] Of course, we've lost some of his buildings, including the 1927 Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building, torn down in 2002-03; Preservation Chicago has the enraging story here. And another will be gone before long...the former Brach's candy factory. I know I'll be spending some quality time with this wonderful map of his known Chicagoland buildings and their current status.

In other news, that isn't actually news but self-indulgent detailing of my life, yesterday I had my second visit to the Lake Breeze restarant, right next to the Thorndale Red Line station. I had an inkling, now turning into a full-fledged theory, that the smaller/cozier a "family restaurant"/diner is, the less service you'll get. Unless you grew up on the same block with the owners/servers or something. But that was okay, it's a cheap convenient place much like Standee's at the Granville stop, except they don't have a cool neon sign so no one knows about them; I didn't know what they were until a Chicago Reader section on diners. I'm also a bit cranky about this place because I'm sure it's where last winter I lost my beloved feminist winter hat. What's a feminist winter hat? Well, it was hand-knitted, lavender with the female symbol in pink, and I got it at a feminist activist conference in Asheville, N.C. in 2003. I didn't notice right away that it was gone, then I thought it might be too late to go back for it...

So I finally made it back to the Chicago-Main Newsstand (now on my blogroll) in Evanston. It was a tough trip because I finally had to acknowledge the huge old building across the street (photos here) I saw last summer had been completely demolished. So I guess everyone ran out to get The Next American City after my mention; only 2 copies were left. It's got shocking articles on--are you sitting down?--a rust belt industrial city facing continuing population loss and decline, and a trendy West coast city where racial minorities and artists are being pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods they helped popularize. Okay, snark. It really is a great magazine.

I picked up glossy magazines on a couple cities I'd like to visit this winter/spring, St. Louis (their website is missing right now) and Phoenix. I've got to study up on the matchmakers, lawyers, and cosmetic surgeons I'll need to visit when I'm there...well, that's most of the ads...I've got Arizona links now, there are some historical buildings there, even in Tempe. The Detroit magazines were weird, just a big fashion/rich-people one and one put out by the tourist bureau, so I skipped those.

I got Vegetarian Journal, put out by the reputable vegan organization The Vegetarian Resource Group; I've got nearly all their cookbooks and I'm intrigued by the new one called Vegan Seafood. Musician Ted Leo (a friend of a friend of mine from long ago; I remember him from his days in Chisel!) is interviewed, and there's a cover story on vegan cheesecakes. That's a food where I definitely prefer the vegan version, the “regular” kind is so rich and heavy. And I got Atomic Ranch, "a quarterly magazine devoted to"...well, mid-century modern things I can’t possibly afford, except for the books about them. There's a story on Russel Wright; I saw the show "Russel Wright: Creating American Lifestyle" at the Cooper-Hewitt design museum in NYC in 2001. And a fabulous article on transistor radios; on my second Flickr account I've got a contact, TRANSISTOR RADIOS, who's really, really into them.

I thought I'd grab a few groceries at Wild Oats; I never made it there when that place was still called The People's Market or whatever. I'd forgotten they were taken over by Whole Foods and the store is a strange mix of both stores' signage and store brands right now. Didn't have much cash so I limited myself to my boring Whole Foods staples, probably the top 5 things I buy there: soymilk (the store brand or whatever’s on sale), plain firm tofu, organic carrots (I have no trouble going through a 5 pound bag but I just got 2 this time), hummus if it's on sale, and tortillas (I was unduly excited to buy something that's still the Wild Oats brand). And I asked for a plastic bag instead of paper, because Whole Foods has pledged to eliminate plastic bags by Earth Day 2008.

Taking a slow, scenic way home, I noticed there's a huge condo going up in the spot where half an old terra-cotta detailed building (including its center ornament, boo) was demolished last year. Why just half? Is that common? And if anyone knows what that huge newly vacant lot visible from the Loyola Red Line is, let me know. I have the troubled feeling it might be that weird restaurant-esque building (reminds me of HoJo or IHOP, but not really like either...hard to explain) that I think was an arts building at Loyola. The internet was no help with this one. [NOTE: See comments, yes, it's gone, aww.] Random fun fact: the pink sprinkles you see in the bakery supply photo above are the ones I used on the cupcakes in my previous post!