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Why We Stay: Elaine Soloway

By Laura M. Browning in Miscellaneous on Feb 2, 2011 7:00PM

Elaine Soloway in warmer times, showing off the tattoo she got for her 60th birthday.

This week in our Why We Stay series, in which we talk to notable Chicagoans about why they stay here during the winter months, we catch up with Elaine Soloway, author of The Division Street Princess, a memoir about growing up Jewish in Chicago in the 1940s.

"I spend most of my day in front of a computer. Sunshine makes me feel guilty, because when there's sunshine, you feel like you should be outside, and I don't want to be outside. I'd rather be inside, at my computer.

"I'm not athletic. I don't do any outside activities. So being in a warmer climate doesn't appeal to me at all. If somebody said I could go to Florida or Arizona for a month, the first thing I think of is boredom. What am I gonna do? I'm not going to sit in the sun. I love working. Maybe it's because my work is writing, which I love. I know I could do that from anywhere, but...

"This winter is particularly challenging, but I live in the city, about a block from the Blue Line. As long as you have public transportation, you don't feel isolated. I have a 21-year-old Honda Civic with 48,000 miles on it, which shows that I don't use a car very much—I use public transportation. So I don't feel like I'm trapped by winter.

"I moved out of the city twice. After my two children were born, we moved to Glenview, because that's what we were supposed to do. I was very unhappy. I would take the Glenview Naval Air Station Bus back to the city as often as I could. After just one year, we moved back to the city.

"I got divorced in 1990 and remarried in 1998. I somehow decided that I needed trees before I died, so I convinced my new husband that we were going to move to a small town. I did a lot of research on small towns and then chickened out, but we decided to move to Geneva, Illinois, which would give us the small town flavor but only be 40 miles west of Chicago. I wrote an essay about this, and it starts, 'They all took bets on how long I would last.' I lasted barely a year. I was a fish out of water. I missed the city. So we moved back.

"And now we live in an old Chicago neighborhood in the Independence Park area. I think I've learned my lesson. I have friends who go to Florida, Puerto Rico, Arizona, and not once have I said, 'I wish that was us.' We have our routines here. Neither one of us can sit in the sun, and... do what?"