Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Joseph Mitchell's "Up In the Old Hotel" got me thinking

On the Brown Line yesterday going home, I looked around at the landscapes whirling beneath me. I rarely look at the rooftops the way I used to. They use to be teeming with eccentricities. I was always mindful of the variety, the life. I used to cherish the visions of Ravenswood, Lakeview, and Wrigleyville. But, I’ve changed. The vista is the same. Still, I don’t see the things I used to. Before, I was more alive because I knew what I was living for. I had a belief and a drive. My dream seemed palpable, realistic. Why did that change? Am I tired? Am I lonely? Am I just in transition? I have to find something new to live for. If I move to another town and don’t have that thing I’m living for, then it’s possible (maybe even probable) that the malaise, the frustration, the listlessness will follow me wherever I go. If I am a storyteller, then why is it I am apathetic about telling stories to Chicago?

I was reading a short story by Joseph Mitchell, On the Wagon. In it the protagonist is alone and fretting about the loss of his girlfriend and it's relation to his drunkenness. He was lonesome because the bars he used to go to were now off limits because he wanted to avoid drink. He in essence was saying "no" to life so that he could survive, in the hopes that if he survived, he would be able to be worthy of his love's return. Of course after six weeks, he finally breaks down. He embraces his vices (whether or not he had a problem or just his girl thought he had a problem is not laid out) and he begins slowly in a small way to enjoy his life again.

I have been staying away from the old spots I used to frequent, afraid that to drink a sip of the draught I once drunk heartily from would result in a personal tragedy that I would not be able to save myself from. Is this position a little too dramatic? too melodramatic? I too walk along the street and do whatever it takes to keep myself away from my apartment, just like Mike in the story. Maybe, I should stop fantasizing about a different place, a more special place? A nirvana, an Eden where I can have my cake?

"Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."


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