My love of Chicago is nothing like yours.
It doesn’t come from knowledge and a perspective of someone who was born and raised here. I come from Peoria, Illinois, which has a love story of its own. This love, the one I speak of, comes from someone who chooses to now call this place home. This place, with all of its beauty and its faults. Embracing all of its messes that I willingly inherit. I love this city with a kind of love that is unexpected, constantly nurtured, frequently tested, and feverishly cultivated. One that embraces the complicated, unapologetic, stubborn, and enduring tangle of it.
My love for this place challenges me to look back while pushing forward. It’s deeply rooted in the nostalgic, pliable, and ephemeral, yet it works tirelessly to acknowledge and find footing in the present and permanent. This love finds purpose in struggle—standing firm on my beliefs, testing comfort zones, and embracing a perspective that evolves through the daily lessons my unconventional, hybrid family teaches me.
I cling to the things I love and try to recognize and see beyond the things I don’t, in hopes that I won’t make a thoughtless decision or say something I can never take back.
I’ll admit that I’ve thought about leaving many times, usually in the wake of...
...thankless shedding of blood, sweat, and tears
...deeply painful and paralyzing injustices
...social circle landmines
...perpetuated assumptions about the areas I call home
... navigating the bone-chilling CTA in February
...the deflating nature of small talk, empty gestures, and artspeak
...frustration with the borders between places and people
...dreams of year-round sunshine and the desire for more stars than your street lights will ever allow me to see
...touching my fingertips to a ceiling and feeling limited
...the rate at which you shrink everyday
...interactions with your shiny, new exterior
...the ways you don’t love me back
...the desire to rest
And just as I unlock the door and reach for the knob, I see flashes of…
...moments when I feel the gratitude for my blood, sweat, and tears
...my dear friends and peers who tirelessly work to address and counter this city’s deeply-rooted relationship with injustice
...the brave ones who never grow tired of pointing out prejudice through constructive, genuine, solution-driven dialogue and deep investment in this place
...social circle goldmines
...silent successes and admirable ambitions
...feeling the heart swell after discovering new stories in my neighborhoods
...aimless bike rides on those perfect days sprinkled throughout the summers
...resuscitation found in rich conversations around diligent work, lingering hugs, and authentic exchanges over homemade meals and whiskey
...moments when the restrictions of borders and boundaries collapse under the challenges of those willing to test them
...the indescribable feeling of leaving and returning, realizing that there are very few places I’d rather be
...reaching out, pushing through, and breaking the limits I place on myself, and those who give me the courage and opportunities to do so
... something new, each and every day
...the reliable and faithful
…the bottomlessness of your love
...the sleep I willingly lose for you. For me. For us.
Our love isn’t possible in any other place. And our love may not be perfect, but it’s ours.
A staunch arts advocate, Tempestt Hazel is the co-founder of Sixty Inches From Center, a Chicago visual arts organization that aims to highlight local artists outside the standard cultural institutions. Hazel is also an independent curator and writer, and the Arts Program Manager for Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago.
Photo courtesy of Matt Austin
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