Ok, so here we go… after waking up to a number of texts and messages telling me that the link I posted previously doesn’t work in the UK or Europe, I managed to screen shot each page and here is the actual article as it appears in the Chicago Tribune today! Hooray! We are all so global!
I recently lost my sense of humour, hence the reason I’ve been away from this blog for a while too long. My humour is a well worn blanket, a comfy pair of slippers, a friend when I’m in need and an asset when a conversation is flagging or steering into the “woe is me” domain. Without my friend, humour, I’ve felt stranded. Here follows a rather dramatic story behind it’s loss and finally, it’s thankful return…
It was a regular Monday morning back in April – school run, quick dog walk with my two dogs (one, Ginger, adopted the day before, quite by surprise, from a photo shoot) and then a car ride to a shoot. I was off to photograph a gospel singer in a church on the south side so I was driving at a snail’s pace as it’s an unknown area for me. For about ten minutes, the roads were eerily quiet and empty of cars. I was ambling across an intersection just two minutes from my destination when WHAM! CRASH! WHACK! SPLAT- I was HIT with horrendous force by a speeding car and flipped over and over.
My life did not flash before my eyes and I didn’t feel fearful. Instead I felt absolutely, indignantly furious. “What?!” I thought “this is NOT happening to me! I’m on my way to a church for goodness sake! I’ve been putting money in the karmic bank of goodness for years and THIS is how I’m repaid?” Well all these thoughts and more were squashed together into one enormous “NO!” and then suddenly, out of nowhere, I was surrounded by a large bubble (not sure how else to describe it) and felt like I was floating in very slow motion. I heard loud and clear in my head “I am protected. I am ok” and then, as I hung upside down, I found myself wondering how big the car was. Yes dear readers, that utterly prosaic observation was what I thought about at my junction with life and death and life again.
Then the car stopped, stank of smoke and the panic began. I’ve seen all the films where, at this point, the car blows up, so I got out as fast as I could (I don’t know how) and scrambled through a broken window to an arm reaching out for me. Once out and surrounded by at least 40 gaping onlookers, I proceeded to spin about and wail very loudly in my very English accent, wearing my neat mac and tidy shoes. I could see people staring in wonder. “How could this happen to me?” I cried. ” I am doing a project for this city and THIS is my repayment. I am so upset! I am furious! I can’t believe this!” I continued for a while until my inner voice interrupted “How much longer are you going to wail you drama Queen? I think it’s time to quieten down- you’ve made your point- be quiet!”. I must say it’s quite odd to have such a loud inner voice and even stranger for it to be so entirely and utterly sensible. I may have heard it whisper in the past but now it had taken charge and it had the tone of a bossy headmistress! I decided to ignore it until two nice ladies with the look of social workers managed to sit me down on the pavement and calm me.
Then, when everyone decided I was sane, out came the endless questions “Do you have insurance? Were you wearing a seatbelt? Where were you going? Can you call your insurance? Shall we tow your car?” I quite fancied a cup of tea and a hug but needs must so I found myself taking charge from my pavement seat. Then came the police- two very cool looking ladies with mirrored shades. “You are lucky to be alive” they said in unison “hardly anyone gets out of these accidents alive- ever.”
With that, I was strapped onto an ambulance bed and rushed off to a trauma unit. Once there, I was surrounded by doctors who told me they needed to cut off my clothes to check my spine. “Cut my clothes?” I asked them incredulously and in a tone as bossy as I could muster whilst lying down. “You will do no such thing. I have just bought this outfit in London and you are not going to cut it.” “Oh” they replied, looking surprised and chastised. They let me take control and take off my own garments. Once checked from top to toe, I was declared ready to go home and took an uber. Yes really. Friends rallied round and my husband was flown back shocked and shaken from his trip in Hong Kong. For a while my sentences came out a bit topsy turvy and I had a few flash backs but my main thought was one of relief, wonder and gratitude.
Three months have passed and my sense of humour has finally returned. It took lots of small steps, love, friends and a very conscious effort to live in the present and really appreciate every moment, to finally get it back.
My neck still hurts but I do have a great place to go where I get my bones cracked into place by a cheerful lady and then a handsome young Physiotherapist gets me to make double chins endlessly and then laughs AT me whilst I do them, which I find quite endearing.
I look back now and feel like my excess emotional baggage from the past that I was quietly dragging about, exploded on that road and I walked into my present life clean , shiny, free and ready for new adventures.
We arrived in the USA and for the time being, we were here to stay. Were we ready for this? No. Did we know what to expect; have any friends, family or ties – No. Yet here we were; every step we took would be a step towards creating our new life. It was a daunting and interesting position to be in. Suddenly we were in a city where people had no preconceptions about us. We could, if we wanted to, literally reinvent ourselves. I wasn’t quite ready for that but I did find myself wondering if there were outdated parts of myself I could eliminate and if fresh parts might emerge in their place.
With those thoughts pinging through my mind we arrived at our air B and B house, where we would be staying for the next six weeks. It was super slick and fancy. The walk in wardrobe was packed with colour coded shirts, post it notes with tiny instructions for us were affixed to every cupboard, a heated toilet seat graced the master bathroom (yuck! Who wants a hot bottom?) plus there were seven television sets scattered around the house including one in aforesaid bathroom… maybe TV watching whilst having a hot bottom was all the rage in Chicago? As if that wasn’t enough to worry me, downstairs in the beautifully decorated reception area were four elegant, orange velvet chairs nestled under a horrifyingly expensive looking chandelier.
Now, we happen to have two very lively kids who quite like a spot of indoor ball throwing (when I’m not looking) plus occasional sofa gymnastics, so I felt mildly nauseous as I pre-empted all the potential disasters just waiting to happen, but my tummy cried out for food, which was a welcome distraction, so off we trotted, Skyla in tow, to find some.
The first thing I noticed was that Chicago was so hot and steamy it felt tropical 🌴, which really surprised me. We were staying in Bucktown, a trendy area bustling with life, people and activity. There were upmarket boutiques, vintage stores, record shops, guitar shops and enough bars, restaurants and cafes to keep us busy for years. It was heaving with strong young couples in fitness gear, some of them racing along with their prams (don’t those kids ever feel dizzy?), bearded hipsters (beards of all shapes and sizes from neat and trimmed to animal like long bushes!) tattooed ladies (I’ve never seen so many tattoos -ever!) and dog walkers – basically just my cup of tea!
A friendly soul guided us to Big Star, the hippest Mexican restaurant in town, packed with humans of all ages, blaring rock music and super cool staff. It was here we ate our first Chicago meal, Skyla sitting comfortably by our feet.
That weekend we explored the neighbourhood, finding ourselves in a street festival, Chicago style. There was great live music, international food and various stands selling everything from clothes, organic toiletries and home made candles to cheeses and bric a brac. Chicago really comes alive in the summer and now I’m experiencing their beautiful but brutal winter, I can see why! Once the sun shines, the restaurants and cafes fling open their doors and dining al fresco becomes the norm. It was this Chicago that greeted us on those first days and looking back, I’m so relieved it was as we had, what you might call, a “soft landing.”
We would spend August acclimatising to our new world before Leo started work and the kids started school. That month (and the ones after) were to prove challenging, in what had already been a challenging year, yet I remained resolutely hopeful and sometimes just a glimmer of hope is all you need.
The Chicago Botanical Gardens
This really is a place of wonder and immense beauty for all the family. You can stay there all day and it has a great restaurant serving healthy food. If the weather is good you can eat on the terrace overlooking the gardens. http://www.chicagobotanic.org
Goorin Brothers Hat Shop, Bucktown
This is the best hat shop in Chicago. They host regular parties here, with food, live music and a great atmosphere. Their staff are well informed, interesting and great to talk to. It’s really worth a visit. http://www.goorin.com
Fun, trendy Mexican restaurant with a large terrace that’s open for as long as the sun shines. This place is packed day in day out and always has a lively atmosphere. Dogs welcome! http://www.bigstarchicago.com
Buzz Killer Espresso
Buzz has the friendliest young staff, great cappuccinos, fresh pastries and is dog friendly – heaven when it’s a brisk -15 degrees Celsius outside and you need a quick warm up whilst out walking your dog!
Next up… Trials and Tricky Tribulations in Chicago…
I photographed Don Gibson; musician, singer, songwriter and bouncer, in Logan Square, a trendy and artistic area of Chicago. I had only been in touch with him by email before we met and I was struck by how calm, quiet and gentlemanly he was. He chose to do his shoot in front of the inspiring wall art in the area.
Here is lovely Don’s interview:
I’m from Brooklyn, New York and I’ve been in Chicago since 1997. I work at Double Door, which is a music venue as security. I have played numerous venues in Chicago, such as Schubas, Double Door, Gallery Cabaret, Old Town School of Folk Music, Elbo Room, Fitzgerald’s.
When I’m playing, I feel a sense of fulfillment that reaches down into my soul, which I rarely feel from anything else, except for a few things here and there.
Music is like a religion to me. I’ve always felt a passion for it. Whether I’m listening to different arrays of music, or playing my own, I’ve always felt that the mysteries of life can be revealed in a well written song.
I started playing when I was around 19 or 20. Always a student of the craft. That’s the exciting aspect of playing an instrument. There’s always something else to learn. I started singing when I was in school chorus.
No one in my family really inspired me to sing, but it was always encouraged to have something creative to do.
I do write my own songs and I enjoy the challenge of writing songs that are very visual in nature, while having a rough acoustic sound as background. I do enjoy singing other people’s songs, but I work more from my original stuff.
Me: What brings you joy Don?
Don: Hmm… Walking in the rain with my headphones on…. Reading a good book with a whiskey at my side…. The feeling of acoustic strings against my slightly blistered fingers while I’m strumming for my life… Finishing a song that has been constantly calling and evading me in my mind for a long time… The Yankees winning the World Series…
I photographed Eli Wilson for my project at his studio in Humbolt Park, Chicago. He is a saxophonist and plays in a funk band as well as hosting his own alternative music night, featuring cabaret and burlesque dancers. The studio was just like an indy music studio should be – a bit messy, old furniture strewn around, a Playboy lying nonchalantly on the floor circa early 90s and a bar filled with bourbon. If you were writing a book and needed a cool, laid back music scene, this would be it. Outside the studio was the purple tour bus – I know, I told you – perfect!
Eli was a thoroughly approachable and lovely person. I am looking forward to dragging my husband to one of his music events – that’s the joy of this project – I am getting to go everywhere and meet everyone and I love it!
“So what brings you joy?” I asked him at the end of the shoot. “Lack of routine and structure. I thrive on putting myself in crazy situations and figuring out how to make it work and have fun with it. That’s probably the biggest joy in my life.”
For more information about Eli’s future performances, please see these websites:
Here is Ben Mackey, singer and songwriter with the band Faux Co. I photographed him for my Chicago Stories exhibition. He has lived in Chicago for three years and originated from California.
The best part about photographing a singer is when they play for you. Out came his guitar and he sang me a lovely rendition of a Bob Dylan song as I took pictures of him on his porch. I love it when photography allows me to enter someone’s life and become a participant for a few hours and not just a passerby. This project is giving me a snapshot of people’s lives all over the city. As a thoroughly inquisitive person, who loves knowing about my fellow humans, this is both enlightening and very satisfying.
“What gives you joy Ben?” I asked him, “Music,- music and love” he replied.