Chicago is the Michelle Branch Video That Nurtures My Soul (Or, How We Project Different #Feelings onto Different Locales)


Specifically, the title refers to the eternal classic, “Breathe”—no disrespect to the also great track that is “Everywhere.” The latter applies here only as it relates to the omnipresence of my higher anxiety levels when in New York City, which tend to do some serious jiu-jitsu on my sanity. I’m sure the song has a slightly darker tinge for me than the singer would have expected mid-creation—so, apologies if I’m corrupting your intentions, Mich.

But back to the far-fetched metaphor-ing re: Chicago and “Breathe”! There’s something (and not just the, shall we say, looser diets) about being in the Midwest that allows me to unbutton the tight top button of my emotional jeans (dark washed, Rag & Bone) and relax a bit more than I’m capable of doing in New York City—land of go-getting and the relentless orgy of self-promotion that constitutes the city’s special brand of career-meets-social climbing. Ultimately, everything here operates at maximum capacity, which can be great, but also destructive if we big-applers don’t take the occasional refuge.

I can only imagine what it’s like for the truly important Manhattanites, whose complaints about being busy are based much more in reality than my somewhat exaggerated whining. But, hey, someone once told me that we all have our own “shit,” and just because someone else’s shit is well, shittier, doesn’t mean our shit is less worthy of the title. So, as the week before my vacation involved juggling a crazier combination of exciting, scary, and downright dull events than I was used to, it took everything in my power (denial, ignorance, blind hope) not to simply retreat to my bed and give myself up to Netflix and other virtual cocoons.

Having an impending trip to Chicago on the horizon—where I would get to indulge in a week of no obligations other than seeing great friends—definitely helped protect me from self-sabotage. As I’m sure is the case for all you other brothers, specific places are symbolic for me (some comforting, others less so), and can ignite particular moods  via the simple fact of their existence. Chicago (despite its often frigid weather) is my geographical equivalent of a giant hug, or perhaps that counterintuitive relief we feel after a body-rattling cry.

It lived up to this impression once again last week, as my brain quickly cleansed itself of larger worries in order to make room for its long lost relatives: relaxation and fun. There’s a sense that these luxuries come easier to Midwesterners, who walk a bit slower, make more eye contact, and appear to revel in casual conversations over coffee orders and mass-transit riding. In New York, we tend more towards a duet of speed and intensity that can render such modest moments (say, bonding with your barista) extravagant and, more important than that, inefficient. You could say that New York is perpetually lacking in social niceties, and if you are maybe just a little aloof yourself (ahem—me?) that’s not always awful. But occasionally it’s fun to play pretend, and dabble in the alien concept of kind strangers.

Of course there’s the fact that I was on vacation, free to do as I please and, so, naturally radiating with vibes of the more chill variety—though I felt this way when I attended school in Chicago, too. Regardless, I know this Midwest idyll is not everyone’s reality—nor is New York’s intensity as grating for some as it is for me. The only fact here is that we all conceive of these places in very personal ways, furnishing the different avenues that we stumble upon with self-selected decorations. Life then, its landscape, is not unlike a dollhouse, where we project different feelings into different rooms, usually depending on whatever character action has taken place within each: getting fired in California, perhaps…a first love in Colorado. [For the record, my dolls had a penchant for cheating in powder rooms—but we can unpack that later].

Chicago is simply where I’ve met a good portion of my favorite people, and it’s a city that, with its wider, easier-to-navigate roads (most notably the beautiful sideline that is Lakeshore Drive), has always hit me as a nice aesthetic holiday from the more labyrinthine and cluttered corners of Manhattan. It’s also less familiar to me—like a mistress, if you will—which naturally renders it more exciting, and allows me to idealize it without much harsh interruption from reality. This is really the essence of travel, isn’t it—the reason why we continuously drop dollars on brief escapes or longer journeys into worlds so unlike our own? It’s like Playing Pretend, Volume Two—geared toward the imaginative and carefree impulses so prevalent in childhood that now often get trapped within our adult concerns.

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