birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Excess Baggage

Home and hometown are really two different things.

And the age and stage when you recognize that distinction, I think, says something about your worldview.

Chicago was where I was born, and it's still a place I look forward to visiting with regularity. But it hasn't been home to me for more than 20 years.

Partly that's a reflection of when you stop returning as your parents' kid, when your old room maybe isn't preserved as it was when you lived there and they've converted it into an office or a crafts room, having boxed the remnants of your childhood or yard-saled your old furniture and (accidentally) a beloved artificact of your youth.

But it's also a reflection of your own planting of roots in a place of your own, often by purchasing a property or committing to a relationship that anchors you to another geographic location.

And then there are the smaller bits of delineation, the ones that one their own don't necessarily seem decisive but which add up to a break with the past.

Old haunts aren't must-visits but "hmm, I'd forgotten about that place."

You still love favorite foods from the old neighborhood, but you realize that where you live now is increasingly home to more of what you crave.

The mental maps that let you autopilot through the familiar digs of your childhood are replaced by Waze and Google Maps on return trips.

It's healthy, too, to mark that separation.

For me, Chicago always conjures that sense of "city" in a way that L.A. never really has. I love its architecture, its skyline, its lakefront profile. My heart stirs when circling for a landing at ORD or MDW, and when driving into the city navigating the grids in search of vastly overpriced parking.

I've always loved seeing those brown-background signs in Chicago that identify cultural landmarks or, especially, the boundary of a neighborhood: Little Italy, Chinatown, Greektown. Those always signaled cuisine: great pizza, fresh Italian ice, Polish pastry, gyros sandwiches.

Over time, though, those signs and their promise of diversity and exploration also increasingly remind me of the divides that seemed peripheral when I was a kid but which now still mark tensions: racial, wealth, lifestyle.

No place on the map is free of such contrasts, to be sure. But the home I've chosen is a place of inclusiveness and openness. The hometown I left behind has grown measurably in those regards, but those divides are still there, and palpable.


One stoplight town