by Britt Julious
You either risk it, or you stay here and accept your losses. I’m talking about the risk of “someplace else.” It no longer involves “making it” so much as attempting something new. Losses here are losses of opportunity and chance. The city is less structured for successes and so if you want them, you must pursue them, aggressively and actively and endlessly. It’s a different kind of pursuit, one that is not as clear cut as the idealized idea of New York City.
Chicago makes you do the work. I’m not talking just about the concept of “hard work,” although that certainly applies. And I’m not saying that Chicago is not great, or that it does not exceed stereotypes. But it makes you do the work. It makes you find the the things you want. And it makes you build these things, if you want them to happen, little by little. Chicago to me has always been a working class city and it is because of this idea that so much of what happens here feels like the result of a million hands digging deep into the work, getting dirty, and leaving worn out yet satisfied.
I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life and like a lot of people I know, I have dreamt of living in New York City as a means of accomplishing the dreams I had yet to articulate. I enjoyed writing, but what did that mean in 2005, in 2009, or right now? An abundance of resources can only go so far. And that is what New York was to me: internships, job opportunities, new mentors, and people striving for those same things. It was also a source of legitimacy. I could work on my writing here, but people would only take me seriously if I was living in a city that people took seriously in the right ways. New York City is a place of mythology and legacy, and story is fuel for the young heart.
People take Chicago seriously in other ways: its violence, its crime, its segregation, its weather. But when it comes to the arts and other creative pursuits, why is it so difficult for Chicagoans to stay here?
If living here has taught me anything, it is that to make it here is to make it anywhere. Or rather, to make it here is to understand what making it means in 2013. We are no longer in the world of the New York City of old. To make it here in Chicago for the world at large is to make it without an abundance of “legitimacy” or opportunities or connections. It often means making something out of nothing. To grasp the level of success that comes more easily to a New York artist is to work twice as hard for perhaps half the rewards. In the end, you are still a Chicago artist and for a world that mythologizes New York, it is difficult to promote the value of a city that “works.”
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