Sunday, August 21, 2011

Canine Stretch Goal

We chanced a trek today to a free outdoor concert on the Square, with dog-aggressive Inez in tow. She was skittish and overstimulated the first half hour, but then she calmed down, rolling over in the grass, snuffing out food scraps, and flirting with any pierced or
skinny-jeaned kid who glanced in her direction. What a thing it must be to have such blind faith in humanity.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Open Your Eyes and You May See it Too

Back in 2003, I worked on a team with this guy to help re-vision a problematic traffic circle in the heart of our neighborhood. I realized then he wasn't your average bear.

John's role was designer, and he painstakingly moved from ink-on-paper sketches to AutoCAD renderings that removed or simplified every last conflict point for drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians. It would've cost about $10 million -- worth every dime -- but it was a tough sell for a cash-strapped ward. Fortunately my role was pest, and I was able to convince the alderman he owed it to the community to do at least a portion. We got our bump-outs at Wrightwood and Kedzie. Within the next two years, we may get the closure of the slip-lane that feeds Logan Boulevard into Milwaukee Avenue. That unsightly piece of asphalt would expand the green space for an apple orchard slated for the site.

In all the ensuing years since our planning, as I've been floundering around trying on new jobs for size, John's been incubating a vision: A zero-waste, fully energy-efficient vertical indoor farm in one of Chicago's own manufacturing districts. With the purchase of a former hog-processing plant about a year ago, he's already started to bring this vision to fruition.

As we speak, an aquaponics program uses fish waste to fertilize indoor organic greens. A craft brewery has taken up residence on the first floor, and discarded barley, hops, and yeast will be converted into energy to help heat and light the building. A timed lighting system for the indoor farm will allow wattage to be maximized at the cheapest hours of the day, and vegetables will adapt to a growth cycle accordingly. All usable materials from the former version of the building will be reused in some capacity for its next iteration. The acres and acres of outdoor land will become raised-bed gardens and hoophouses, farmed by the formerly homeless and incarcerated for a living-wage job-training program. Organic bakeries, chocolatiers, and cheesemakers are already lined up as tenants, and all their waste material will marry with other sustainable energy sources for the building in something called a "digester."

Zero waste. Fully sustainable. A closed loop.

On any given morning, I might pass John on his bike, saying goodbye to his affable wife and kids, as he rides the 10 miles from our neighborhood to his own personal Wonka to the south. He may be hauling drywall rescued from the alley, compost worms, or beer for his army of volunteers for the day.

Somebody get this guy a MacArthur Genius Grant, stat.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Open Books

I've noticed that my blog entries have become a little more personal lately. I've let my guard down a bit, reached my arms out wider, then cursed myself for allowing too much exposure to the sun.

But I'm realizing this all probably means something, and I've been dully but tenaciously obsessed with those signifiers. Why such a short fuse these days for things that should only be mildly irritating? And why such indifference to the things that used to bring such joy: A clumsy but warm exchange with one of my Spanish-speaking neighbors; a piece of funky public art hung covertly in the alley; a poignant moment at the grocery store with the morning produce guy.


In the midst all this ennui, I've rediscovered reading. Lorrie Moore. Miranda July. And people I'd never heard of before, like the incredible Samantha Hunt. Their characters are like friends who, for those generous moments we're together, demand nothing of me.

Maybe it's because I spend so much of my life these days facilitating meetings, delivering talking points, negotiating, fielding people's questions. My voice is in overdrive -- so ramped up in volume and frequency the words are like chewy, marble-sized bits of cartilage I have to break down, atom by atom, till I can swallow them down or spit them out.

So I've rediscovered the library. I've also renewed my verve for movies -- just sitting in an air-conditioned matinee, sometimes all by myself, letting the scenes and minutes wash over a rapt and passive me. Perfection. These days I want to watch, look, and listen. I want to respond privately, quietly, and keep myself from lapsing into the words, words, words that seem to be my habit lately.

It feels right somehow. Like this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my time. Now if I could just find someone to pay me a decent salary for peace and quiet, I might get my pluck back a little.