I have a confession to make. I have been cheating on my blog with paper.

When it comes to recording the most meaningful snippets of my life, I do not turn to the keyboard but to the pen. I turn not to the screen but to the page. I sweep everything away in a lonely sea of ink in my search for solace or stability, which is hard for a small town girl to find in a big city.

Journal and Such

My three constant traveling companions: My journal, the pen I use to write in it, and my miscellaneous writing utensils.

The quintessential trip to Chicago involves my journal, no matter what my motives for going are. Business, pleasure, a combination of  both: the lined paper I bought at Toguri Mercantile Company on my first three-night trip over two years ago follows me back to the city where I purchased it, and each time I go back, it gets a little fuller.

It isn’t just the city, though. This journal followed me to grad school, and its pages tell a story of myself that I didn’t even realize. Between the two and three-month gaps in my entries, many important things happened. I just didn’t have the time to scrawl them down between reading hundreds of pages and attempting to formulate a literary analysis worthy of an A.

One thing this record of my life fails to chart is my growing love affair with soup, which started with the very first meal I cooked in graduate school. I remember it well, the curry, chicken, and potato soup that could have used more curry and less milk. Cream would have been a nice addition. It was August and probably 85 degrees in my apartment, but I still wanted soup. It was the security blanket that kept me stable in my first few weeks of living alone, combined with the company of my growing number of friends from the Writing Center and the fact that I was too busy to really give much thought to what I was doing, and if I wasn’t thinking about it, how could I possibly write about it properly? Granted, the lines in my journal are frequently incoherent scrawls of nonsensical things that just come to mind, but does coming to mind constitute as thinking? And why should I have to ruminate over a day where nothing out of the ordinary happened? Or perhaps…

Haiku

Haikubes are something I invested in during my last trip to Chicago. Needless to say, we had a lot of fun playing with these. 🙂

Perhaps unusual things happen constantly, but I’m too busy working to catch them.

Last year, while I was writing haiku daily, I experienced something odd… well, odd in terms of my limited existence. I was sitting at the front desk of the Anspach location. There were three writers at the front desk, and I remember one of them was just beginning to speak English. The phone was ringing, and I was trying desperately to finish reviewing an online in the allotted amount of time. But in the middle of this traffic jam, I found something that I seldom find anywhere: one overwhelming moment of peace of mind. The world around me was spinning out of control, but I had this pure comfort inside of me. From where did it spring, and of all the people around, why was I the only one that could perceive it?

I know this moment is unusual because I can’t remember anything else about that day: not the date, not the weather, not even the day of the week. It may have been a Monday, but I couldn’t say for sure.

* * *

This is the sort of chaos that always strikes me in Chicago. The traffic is pure madness to someone used to straight roads and a completely visible line of sky. There is a language to being a pedestrian: a flashing “Do not Walk” light means “run like hell,” not “stop.” And then, there is the overwhelming amount of people. There are people everywhere, mainly aloof. Only the destitute beggars seem to have any interest in talking to you, and even then, their motives for doing so are (in my opinion) more mercantile than affable. Apparently in Chicago, words have a price, even outside of used bookstores and newspapers.

Skyscrapers

There's a sky up there somewhere... unless I left it in "Kansas."

Chicago has lost this chaotic atmosphere in my six-month absence. I did not see my life flash before my eyes while the taxi cruised to the Residence Inn where I spent three nights sleeping on a sofa bed. Crossing the road while a car inches forward to turn left no longer frightens me. But is it Chicago that has changed? Perhaps I have changed. Perhaps I am the one who has finally gotten used to the city. Have I learned the language, and to what extent am I fluent in it?

Leona's Minestrone

I spent ten minutes trying to dissect this soup before I decided to just shut up and eat it.

Perhaps the thing that keeps me grounded in Chicago is not my previous experiences but the same journal that kept me sane during the first few chaotic weeks of adapting to living alone. I wonder… it can’t possibly be the soup. During this past trip and the one before, the only bowl of soup I had was at Leona’s, an Italian restaurant by the Belmont stop on the El’s Red Line. This time, it was minestrone. Last time, it was chicken noodle. In both cases, it left me with plenty of ideas, but it’s hard to eat soup away from home, not simply because I associate it with home but also because it reminds me of social instances. How can I be social in a city that is so aloof? I eat a bowl of paradox in silent contemplation, not sharing the moment with anyone because there is no one to share it with, no one that will quite understand this fascination of mine.

When I went back to the hotel room later, I wrote about things that are no one else’s business. The soup never made it into the pages, probably because soup has a place on a blog and among friends, unlike a lot of things in my life.

* * *

Oddly enough, I went to Chicago for the same reason in November: to prove that I can be happy and successful with a master’s degree in English. In both cases, I leaned on my journal for support. I told it things I would never tell anyone else. When the pen started dying this past trip, I panicked. “I need to go buy a pen,” I stated.

“Why?” one of my fellow travelers inquired. “You have pens in your pen case.”

“Yeah, but none of them are the kind I need.”

“What? I don’t get it.”

“When I keep a journal like this,” I explained, “I always use the same kind of pen. Usually, I stick to liquid blue ink. I switched to a black ball point for one journal, but I used it consistently throughout.”

“Weird. So why don’t you just use one of the pens in your bag?”

“Because this is a liquid ink journal,” I answered. She gave me a dubious look. “I’m very particular about my pens.”

“I can tell.”

“Hey, I’m a writer. If I’m writing about impressive things, I want to write about them with an impressive pen.”

She couldn’t really argue with that.

Maybe I’m also a bit particular about my soup. When I go to Chicago, I refuse to eat at chains I can eat at while at home. I will never set foot in a Subway in Chicago. That blue liquid ink pen with a grip has a time and place, and the only time and place is in the pages of that journal. Soup belongs in my kitchen or at my desk or with whoever I’m cooking it for. It also belongs on my blog, which I didn’t have to worry about in November.

Needless to say, this week’s bowl will be delivered late in light of this trip. When I was supposed to be cooking soup, I was eating a Tikka Masala sandwich at Blokes and Birds, holding a first edition of Bleak House and an autographed copy of Slaughterhouse Five, shopping for my own first editions, and getting a phone call notifying me that if I could arrive by 4:10, I could complete my individual interview before the 6:45 time slot.

Tikka Masala Sandwich

Pip, pip, cheerio! Our excursion to this British-esque pub was totally worth it. 🙂

I opted for going earlier, but my soup this week won’t arrive any sooner because of it. It is positioned to arrive, as the conductor on the train said, “on time… around 12:15, maybe later.”

Who knew spring break would be an unexpected delay?

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