A Love Letter to Chicago Winters

It’s February 28 and 64 degrees outside. I’m in Chicago. I know it won’t last long. We can live in denial for a weekend, but if it’s not April, winter isn’t completely over.

You can’t talk about Chicago without talking about the winters, the bane of every resident’s existence, the reason outsiders who love the city hesitate about migrating here. But winter is integral to Chicago and its identity as a city, the way rain is integral to London and its sense of humor. What else would we have to talk about, anyways?

I have daily discussions with friends and colleagues about places we dream, or aim, to live. California. On an island. Anywhere south. Abroad, somewhere. I’ve carried a similar list with me since junior high. But the truth is, once I finally moved into Chicago, I don’t feel like going anywhere else. Blame it on this past season, relatively mild and forgiving, or my desire to actually stay in one place for more than one year, or the past 4 months of traveling for work, or the fact that I’ve only really lived in the city since October. I want to go everywhere in the world; that much isn’t lost. But to stay, to live...and then we go back to all the qualities a place needs to make one want to live in it.

So, winter as the caveat. I always loved Chicago, but I have come to appreciate the winter as much as any other time of the year. It heightens the appreciation for these 64 degree days. It gives me an excuse not to leave my apartment when 80% of the time, all I want to do is stay inside my apartment. When I do leave my apartment, it’s to visit cafes, museums, theaters, bookstores, restaurants (a given), or other indoor havens (AKA all the shit I love). So a few weeks ago, when I took a full day off of work just so I could have a day to myself, I did just that: I slept in, woke up, brewed myself some coffee, worked on a screenplay. I got dressed up and headed over to the Art Institute to see Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit. I visited Cafe Integral for lunch, Alliance Patisserie to pick up a box of macarons, and the Music Box for a showing of Son of Saul in 35mm. I listened to Rihanna’s new album throughout the whole day, and I remembered that my mom’s constant advice of knowing how to take care of myself can and should extend to mental and emotional health.

The Van Gogh exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago meant to portray the artist’s search for belonging amidst his nomadic lifestyle. Between lack of finances and mental illness, Van Gogh lived in 37 different residences throughout the 37 years of his life. His search for a permanent residence was not only inherently human, but due to his belief that a stable home was essential to artistic success. So I considered that, and considered Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own after visiting Women & Children First bookstore in Andersonville, and considered how cabin retreats are a thing, and how I gathered enough random hobbies throughout my 18 years of living at home, because I always stayed at home.

A long-lasting, urban winter forces me to stay inside and accomplish personal projects. It forces me to live with my true self and little distractions, only four walls -- a dangerous endeavor at times, but a worthwhile one when you succeed. Winters are no longer a period of time to disregard or to assume that little can be achieved -- you just have to know how to take advantage of it. Now I find myself, oddly enough, rushing through the next few months to write and create more, to sit inside all the cafes, to catch up on all the movies and shows, to consume all the podcasts and wear out the record player. I will not exit winter with the same bitter sigh of relief, although I constantly await the days of lakeside walks, lightweight clothing, and patio brunches, like everyone else. Those days serve a different purpose. But I admit I’ll always need winter, too.


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