Thinking About Chicago

culture, music, spirituality, writing


This is an except from something I wrote a few years ago.  Below it is a Spotify link to the song.

It’s possible to encounter O’Connnor’s stories (you never really just read them) without explicitly discerning her deep, abiding belief in literary art as Christian vocation or her mission to show, as she said, “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.” Clear as day about these motives in her essays and letters, she’s almost never so obvious in her fiction. Perhaps because she uses the evangelical cosmologies of her neighbors as Tolkienesque proxies for her own traditional Catholic systems it’s easy to infer a sort of distance between O’Connor’s art and faith where she in fact saw none. In the same way, it’s possible to listen to Stevens’ biggest hit, “Chicago,” without immediately sensing the plaintive Christian hymn at its core, but “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “Oh God Where Are You Now?,” “The Lord God Bird,” “To Be Alone With You,””God’ll Ne’er Let You Down”… well, these and others comprise a body of work that, like O’Connor’s, raises and answers questions about what makes art “Christian.” Like O’Connor, Stevens operates outside of expectation: his confessional work is among his best, but you’d never call him a Christian artist the way, say, Amy Grant is a Christian artist.

My Intellectual School Yard Crush on Camille Paglia Continues


It’s not just because she’s an Italian-American from a rusted-out industrial town and happens to live an hour down the road in Philadelphia.  It’s always been because her missives are so full of things I agree with, things I don’t, and things I’ve never really thought of before.

Matt Drudge linked to Paglia’s new WSJ piece today with a pull-quote about the iPhone’s dearth of spiritual import.  But the ever-awesome first lady of Libertarian Democrats was also talking about a million other things.  She nails the intellectual-political orthodoxy of the upper-middle class liberal establishment.  She doesn’t go this far, but that’s the stuff that allows people who called George Bush a war criminal to gloss over Barack Obama’s illegal, indiscriminate drone campaigns abroad.   She’s too easy on capitalism (it has more than “weaknesses”), but she’s right about some of the social goods it has helped produce, and she’s right that we artists need to continue developing ways to move or supplement our work.  If I’d learned the skill of book-binding in college, I’d handcraft a story collection myself instead of outsourcing.  Everyone my age and social-ethnic caste (we Clinton teens*) was made to believe being smart + working hard in college = everything.  We should have spent more time doing art.  Yes, they taught us how to silk screen in junior high, but none of us were old or poor enough to see the revolutionary potential in things like that.  I wish we had.

Paglia is the best kind of contrarian: supremely intelligent, obsessively thoughtful, naturally eloquent.  When I get a little smarter, I’d sure love to meet her.

* (white, lower-middle class, benefiting, at least for a while, from the economic upswing of the 90s.)

Mid-Sized Cities As Reverse-Frontiers: Why You Should Move to Allentown, PA.

Allentown, art, community development, culture, development, politics

At about 118,000 people, Allentown is the third-largest and fastest-growing city in Pennsylvania. It’s a city that’s fallen from its place as a national commercial and industrial leader and a city in transition, with a downtown redevelopment project poised to renew the economic vitality of the urban core.  Big plans are afoot, but they’re not without controversy.  Suburban townships unhappy with a recently-passed state law creating a 130-acre redevelopment district partly funded, in theory, but Earned Income Tax money from wages made in the City by suburban township residents, have filed a suit against Allentown and other parties they believe have done them wrong.  Until that’s sorted out, “poised” is the best way to describe the situation.  Poised for the kind of failure jealousy has often wrought, or for the kind of success we’ve been waiting for for thirty years.

Allentown is a mid-sized city.  I realized today after some regular meetings with civic leaders precisely what mid-sized means to me:  big enough to be burdened with great responsibilities and blessed with great potential, but small enough that people — and partnerships — can make real differences.  Small enough, then, for me to take the success of my city personally.  There are real opportunities to be part of the change.  That also means there are real opportunities for territorialism and silo-building, and real opportunities to have a personal stake in the subversion of those things.   I believe those things are bad for my city, and I can be given to take that personally.

The opportunities in Allentown mean specific things for young Gen Xers and Millennials.

Creative class: we need you.

Come here.  Move here.  Create here.  Advocate here.  A hundred more of you could be the tipping point that creates thriving art and green scenes that you’ll build with the people here who are working hard at connecting around those kinds of issues even now.  If developers and litigious townships assert that Allentown is up for grabs, I’ll assert it with them.  And if it’s up for grabs for them, it’s up for grabs for us.  We need you to help us chart the course of Allentown’s civic identity in the 21st Century.  Help us see our iconography anew.  Help us celebrate our history by building a future together.  Join the good work being done here and stake your own claim on this reverse-frontier.

Someone found my blog today by searching the term “Generation X is broken.”  We’re not, and neither is this place.  We are poised to make a difference, to create and lead the change.  Come back from the hinterland and be part of something real.

For reference, Allentown is bigger than fellow mid-sized cities like Springfield, Illinois; Athens, Georgia; Lansing, Michigan; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Green Bay, Wisconsin; Berkley, California; and Burbank, California.  Like most of these cities, Allentown is part of a larger metropolitan area.  And we’re uniquely positioned within reasonable distances from Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and DC. We have unique colonial, consumer and creative heritage, an institutional art scene and an emerging network of eager independents.

See you soon.