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Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago
December is closing in, and the weather is unpredictable. There’s been one brief snowfall, some low temperatures, and now suddenly it’s sunny and in the low 50s. Kind of like my life, I started to think, but then reminded myself that I’ve done a pretty good job off adapting to my new environment in the space of five months.
I came back to this country with a pretty clear idea of what I was going to do: become a freelance tutor. I’m doing that, but as with any small freelance business, it requires not only shrewd planning but tons of patience. I have to learn how to market myself, a new skill I haven’t quite developed yet. Networking is another problem; there’s no association or centralized database of private tutors, except on dedicated for-profit websites. It’s a challenge.
In the meantime, I’m working part-time for Pearson – yes, that Pearson, the huge testing and education behemoth headquartered in the UK, that has about a 40% share of the standardized testing market in the USA. I’m a Test Administrator, which means that I invigilate candidates as they take computerized tests, for professional licensing, college admissions, and other purposes. It’s a way to pay the rent. I’m a sometimes-substitute teacher for a language academy in Chicago as well.
I’ve reached a plateau, of sorts, which gives me a bit of breathing room and a respite from my intense two-year job search. That process left me exhausted and dispirited, and taught me two lessons: that age discrimination is very real in the education field, and that the market for English for Academic Purposes (EAP) teachers is extremely limited.
In the meantime, I practice gratitude: I landed on my feet in Chicago, sort of; I had an 11-year career in China as a teacher, with its steep learning curve, professional development, and fascinating experiences; and finally, I’ve met each challenge as it presented itself, with self-assurance and relatively clear thinking. My dog and I have a comfortable place to live, and enough to sustain us for the moment. The realities of the shrinking job market, the “gig” economy, and difficulties of finding work after 60 will not defeat me; my survival and adaptive skills are pretty highly developed. Besides, there’s no alternative. It’s all about progress, not perfection, as they say in 12-step programs.
The Arts Club of Chicago is both a private club and an exhibition space open to the public. The 1997 building, designed by Vinci/Hamp Architects, Inc., salvaged this Mies van der Rohe staircase from the Club’s previous headquarters.
Open House Chicago is an annual event sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, offering free access to over 200 buildings across the city, many of which are not normally open to the public. I’d been looking forward to the event for months, and over the weekend of October 14-15 I squeezed in as many visits as I could, in the process getting drenched in a torrential rainstorm on Saturday. I saw only a fraction of what was available, mostly in the Loop and near north / Gold Coast area. Six solid hours on my feet pretty much wore me out, but my camera and I managed to capture some decent interior views.
Fortunately, I’d seen a few of the open spaces before, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House and his home and studio. 200+ buildings, though, is simply too much of a good thing, and I’m now looking forward to next year’s edition of the Open House.
Some of the highlights included visits to architectural firms such as Holabird & Root, successor firm to the designers of many iconic Chicago buildings, and Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture, whose offices were filled with scale models of skyscrapers, including the firm’s 1-km tall Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Favorite interiors included the sumptuous Red Lacquer Room in the Palmer House Hotel, with its long red-draped banquet table set with the original 1879 Haviland dinner service for the farewell banquet for Ulysses S. Grant. I also loved the calm, expansive space of the 8th-floor library of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, with its stunning view of the lakefront, Grant Park, the Museum Campus, and downtown skyscrapers.
Nostalgic visits included my first view of the interior of the H.H. Richardson Glessner House, a house I’d admired from the exterior many times. I’d long admired the Gothic steeple atop the Chicago Temple (First United Methodist Church) downtown, but I made my first (and last) ascent to the Sky Chapel, involving an elevator ride to the 22nd floor and then climbing up 172 stairs to the small chapel. It brought back memories of days when I could easily climb structures such as the dome of St. Peter’s.
Some of my edited pictures are posted here; you can also view Open House Chicago Flickr album by clicking here.
The crystalline glass façade of the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership (Krueck + Sexton, 2007), is a striking feature of this building, which features open interior spaces for study with panoramic views of the downtown Chicago lakefront.
The art deco 1929 Carbine and Carbon Building has been re-purposed as the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. Original lobby details can still be admired.
Another inviting interior space for reading and contemplation is the Poetry Foundation (John Ronan Architects, 2011), on the near north side.
The Red Lacquer Room is one of the stunning function rooms in the 1927 Palmer House Hotel.
On Nov. 13, 1879, the Palmer House was the scene of a grand banquet in honor of General Grant, who had just returned from his world tour. On display in the Red Lacquer Room were place settings from the original Haviland Limoges china service used for the dinner, from the hotel’s collection.
The International Museum of Surgical Science, formerly the Eleanor Robinson Countiss Home, faces Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan. Period photographs show the former appearance of the rooms.
The offices of Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture feature scale models of some of the world’s tallest buildings, as well as stunning top-floor outdoor terraces.
The 1887 Glessner House is the only remaining building in the city of Chicago designed by architect Henry Hobson Richardson.
View my complete set of photos from Open House Chicago in my Flickr album here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/81954544@N00/albums/72157687108662761
among giants: at the Architecture Biennial Chicago 2017
It’s a gray and drizzly day outside my window. October has arrived, and I’m marking my first three months in Chicago. I’m excited, since I’ve missed the turning of the seasons, especially autumn. In southern China, it seemed to be always an endless summer; before that, in Jiangsu and Sichuan, there were summer and winter seasons, occasionally with snow, but I missed the gradual changes as one time of year changed gradually and seductively into another. Before that, seasons in Los Angeles were distinguished only by a slight lowering of temperatures; if the air was clear and you could see the mountains, it was winter; when the smog and burning-eyeball season descended, it was summer.
Officially I’m unemployed, with no dependable, regular working hours and income. I’m working, sometimes diligently and fully focused, but only sporadically. I’m a substitute teacher for Stafford House, Chicago, and my freelance career as a private tutor hovers around 3-4 hours a week, but is failing to achieve lift-off. I’m in it for the long haul, anticipating two years to build my business and reputation, but what do I do in the meantime, right now? I’m applying for any and every job, pride be damned.
The honest truth? It sucks to be 61 years old and unemployed. It sucks to feel the pinch of age discrimination in the job market. Burning through my savings was not my idea of how to spend the time leading to my Golden Years. However, bitterness and resentment don’t put out positive vibes, nor do they lead to job offers. My 12-Step training is very useful now: one day at a time; KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid); and just act as if.
So that’s my current status: “As If.” FYI, in an earlier draft of this post I wrote a Pollyanna-ish, upbeat, rose-colored ending in which I imagined my happy future. I deleted it.
tower, Architecture Biennial Chicago 2017
pigeon over the train tracks, Grant Park, Chicago