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Here's Hoping For A Better 'Leaving Chicago' Essay

By Stephen Gossett in News on Sep 8, 2017 7:22PM

Photo credit: Jason DeVoll

Back in 2013, when a gaggle of aspiring Joan Didions were pushing the neo-“leaving-New-York” essay to its saturation point, Alex Williams wrote this line in the New York Times, in reference to both Didion’s foundational essay and the cottage industry she hath unwittingly wrought (emphasis ours): “The literature may be thin when it comes to “See ya, Chicago” or “Later, Los Angeles” odes, but ever since Ms. Didion set the standard 46 years ago, the “Goodbye New York” essay has become a de rigueur career move for aspiring belle-lettrists.”

That was four years ago, of course. You don’t need us to tell you that things have changed since four years ago.

The latest entry in the rapidly swelling "leaving Chicago"-letter genre arrived this week—and Chicago social media promptly gave it a full shellacking. We’ll spare you the full blow-by-blow of the author’s grievances (you’re likely all too familiar with them already), but here’s a Cliffs Notes version, save a dozen or so from his full gripe list: San Francisco transplant lives in Chicago for three years, convinces himself it's unlivably expensive, blames his location on the fact he put on the pounds, says some awful things to women, doesn’t comprehend east-west bus service, leaves for New York City.

In isolation, this latest groaner farewell wouldn’t register as much more than that. But add it to a pile that includes Brandon “I’m leaving Chicago and I’m never coming back” Vezmar, and is at least a distant cousin to Rachel Shteir’s takedown—not to mention various other “leaving” letters—and it’s a genuine trend. And most of ‘em are not exactly edifying reads, however much schadenfreude fun they provide.

Now, one of the chief criticisms against the glut of “leaving New York” pieces wasn’t that they were bad per se, but after Didion, that they were beside the point. Why record a cover album of Prince’s Sign ‘O’ the Times when Prince’s Sign ‘O’ the Times already exists?

But at least to our knowledge, the “leaving Chicago” version doesn’t have any such imposing, moot-rendering totem. (Another grumble for the laundry list perhaps?) So that’s why one argument expressed on Chicago Twitter—that our local version of the sendoff letter needs a sharper focus, rather than elimination—makes sense. We are in the midst of a major population shift in Chicago, after all, including a black exodus. Clearly there are interesting perspectives to be mined there. So if you decide to leave Chicago, and you have legitimate beefs that extend beyond the price of Lagunitas—which of course are reasonably priced in spots all over the city—write it down and give us a pitch. Chicago isn't too thin-skinned to handle criticism (this week's essay even had a few valid criticisms), just keep it above belt.