Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The #Midwessay: Eileen Favorite, Three Lunatic Misunderstandings of the Urban Midwest

The essay, as we all know, is an attempt. It’s a way of telling about, relating to, examining, delineating, and explaining things: big things and small; elephants and moths; individual human lives and families; a neighborhood, a whole city; a state or a whole damn, glacially-ironed region.   

The Illinois essay, and the essayists who call Illinois home, are concerned and consumed by delineations, with explaining themselves and the state(s) they now find themselves in: Northshore vs. South Side; Chicago vs. the ‘burbs; Chicagoland vs. Downstate; corn and soybean futures vs. the actual plants themselves; mile-long parcels of flatness vs. many-storeyed city blocks; staying vs. leaving.

The Illinois essays that follow are indebted to many that came before (Chief Blackhawk, Eliza Farnham, Honest Abe, Upton Sinclair, Carl Sandburg, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Studs Terkel, Mike Royko, John Hughes, and David Foster Wallace, to name a few) but are trying real hard not to live in the past. 

The essays that follow are curious about how many minutes it took you to get here. They are here to warn you that if a white boy in a Patagonia fleece tells you he’s from Chicago that he’s actually from Oak Brook or Highland Park. —David Griffith, Illinois #Midwessay Coordinator


Three Lunatic Misunderstandings of the Urban Midwest

Eileen Favorite


And here occurred one of those wild, almost lunatic misunderstandings which are part of the daily experiences of childhood. —George Orwell

1. I grew up 13 miles from Gary, Indiana, and I thought that if I danced well enough in front of my living room window, the Jacksons might drive by my house and see my mad moves and ask me to join the band. 

2. I believed that the news anchor for WLS Channel 7 news, ABC, Fahey Flynn was the mayor of Chicago, Richard J. Daley. Both men had jowly, Irish faces. Both men were balding with white hair wisping over their pates. Both men wore suits, but Fahey preferred bowties, which I considered an easy costume change. And it worried me, I thought it might be a little unfair, for the mayor to be part of the Eyewitness News Team. I didn’t say anything to anyone. I just watched and I worried. Fahey rhymed with Daley too. Fahey Daley. By 1976, when Fahey Flynn reported that the mayor had died suddenly from a heart attack, I had long figured out that they were two different men. But I have to say, from then on, as his hair and skin grew ever more white, Fahey Flynn always looked like a ghost to me, as if he might be reporting the news from the beyond.

3. I wanted to live in the Robert Taylor Homes. We’d drive down the Dan Ryan, on the way to Grandma’s apartment, and I’d think how cool it would be to live in a big apartment building with your friends on the same floor. How great it would be if you didn’t have to cross the lawn or street to go visit them, if you didn’t have to hop a fence or push through the fir trees to get to your friend’s house. Instead, you could just walk across the hall and knock on a door and there would be Marguerite. There would be Kitty. You wouldn’t need boots or umbrellas because your friend lived right in the same building. 


What is the #Midwessay? What is the Midwest? What are the characteristics, if any, of the #Midwessay (the Midwest essay)? What gathers us together? What pulls us apart? Springing from a twitter conversation, we started asking writers and readers what they imagine (or would like to reimagine) as the Midwest and the Midwessay. The #Midwessay is a series of reports from the Midwest (whatever that is) by and/or about Midwestern essay and essayists (whatever those are). Essay Daily will be publishing these, sorted (loosely) by state, in February 2021 and beyond.  These #Midwessays will be collected here and on a separate site at a later date. If you'd like to submit a report / essay, send it our way. Details and coordinators for each state are listed here. You can also ping Ander (link at the upper right) if we don't list a coordinator yet for your state. —The Editors

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