Thursday, December 31, 2015

on loss and writing

(I figured out how to sign back into this blog to post at least ONCE in 2015, sorry for the absence. I'm afraid many of the post ideas I have in my head are even bleaker than this one, but I'll try to balance it out with upbeat posts about what I did in 2015. Also I'm ready to finally update the blogroll soon for the first time in years. The following post was posted elsewhere online and got some "likes" though no comments from the people involved, so I'm a bit nervous.)

A BELATED POST ON LOSS AND WRITING. This is a selfish post. Maybe I'll write a less selfish one later, but here's where I am at now. Two weeks ago the week started with the one-year anniversary of the death of a writer friend, Lee Sandlin. I never wrote here about his passing--which I learned while checking my phone at a hockey game with a friend; I said nothing there--because I was so emotional at the time. I was sad for those close to him, sad I hadn't gotten to know him better, sad we wouldn't get more writing from him, but the fiercest hurt was that...he was there as the person I wanted to FIRST read the personal writing I was working on. Even though I only did this at one lunch with him, he was who I thought of when the many pieces I imagined the past few years (on visiting bars, on a bartender friend, on the horrible events of 2013 [which I have not discussed here] and how I've handled things since, on exploring abandoned buildings, etc.) swirled in my head. Losing Lee was a loss of hope about writing, but I couldn't express it at the memorial events for him because it seemed like a strange, selfish response.

That week two weeks ago ended with learning of the hiatus/closure of the hugely influential, indispensable Chicago website Gapers Block (explained in this much-shared link by editor Andrew Huff,, a website that's in one way or another responsible for how I know so many people and places in the city, a part of my life for over half my years here. They'd used many of my Flickr photos for "Rearview" (photo of the day) and it was thrilling, even if that very day I was cranky none of my photos had been picked in months. (And I don't think any were in 2015, while seemingly every Flickr dude I know had 5 or 10 photos used in that time. I know I'm terrible for pointing this out, but GB was what's kept me posting to Flickr occasionally while I have an almost unusable computer.)

Even more than that, they were a place where I potentially could have my writing published. I'd talked about so many ideas with Andrew over the years and had trouble getting them executed, but GB was always there as a hope. A place I could potentially get my start like so many other Chicago writers (I mean my start to a wider world beyond this infrequent blog). I visited a different bar every day in January 2013 as a project and on the final day, at a Gapers Block bar meetup, they said I should write it up as a story. I still haven't. I visited 100+ other bars that year, many more since, and because bars became such a huge part of my life in terrible ways and wonderful ways, I've been overwhelmed with how to wrestle that into a coherent story. But it was there as a place I could publish. Though I saw how much of the work was carried out by Andrew and how so many other worthy Chicago media outlets disappeared and thought "well, just so I write the piece while GB is still around." Then...the news that Friday afternoon, and again I was stunned, and again I felt hopeless. I definitely wasn't upset at him for the decision, but I was extremely hard on myself for my failure to finish anything. I ended up with one of my drinking-and-posting-too-much-embarrassing-stuff-on-social-media nights.

As with Lee's passing, I took the Gapers Block news personally in a way that felt like a loss of hope about my writing, and in both cases I felt guilty that that was my response, like what's WRONG with me that I make it about ME and my feelings about writing?! There's a downward spiral here tied in with a difficult year and a number of other losses (that week I was also freaking out that my bartender friend who'd helped me so much after a trauma had disappeared, and that I failed to submit to an essay anthology I've desperately wanted to), because in most cases I haven't had replacements for the people and things I've lost. (Photographer friends, road trip friends, friends to talk to late at night, favorite bar, favorite sports team...) I'm embarrassed that this all prevented me from effectively saying the public things I needed to about these writers. The thank yous, the best wishes, the we've been lucky to have you for however long.