Chicago and its western burbs, specifically Wheaton, are complicated landscapes for me. As previously mentioned, I was born out East but ever since that significant event, I’ve been swaddled up and taken back to this homeland. I grew up visiting relatives in the summer. I attended my brothers graduation here. Then I went to college here. I came back to live in Chicago for a few years in my late twenties, starting a theater company that ran summer camps on Wheaton’s campus for two summers before it and I moved onward. But that’s not all. My interest in ancestry over the past decade has made me return and traipse through cemeteries, historical societies and old houses. With friend Karen, I’ve tracked down the location of the farmhouse my Mom grew up in in Aurora, which now is an odd development surrounding an airfield. With Dad, I’ve visited all the houses in Elmhurst he grew up in. And don’t get me started on the mystery of my grandmother Olga’s grave in Niles. I’ve traversed these landscapes many times in my life.
On my drive out to Wheaton, I visited my grandmother’s house in Naperville. The gardens have flourished under the new owner’s green thumb.
I drove around to the back alley for another view. Nothing of note there except that my love for back alleys, I believe, started here by playing here? Perhaps?
Then on to Wheaton College. My Dad proposed to my Mom there outside of Pierce Chapel. My enduring friendship with Ruth happened beneath the trees on this front lawn.
My journey in theater and acting began in the basement of a dorm with the radical Jim Young. My work as a beginning playwright/director began with MUSE in the late 80’s here in this building. I went in and spoke with Andy, a current teacher and production/technical director at the theater.
Onward, I went. Not too many people on campus in high summer. These students caught my eye, building a stacked hammock home.
I went into downtown Wheaton. Sidewalks were being ripped up. The old being ripped out and paved over. The day was burning hot. Tons of restaurants have sprung up since I wandered these streets, a freshman on a first eager date with a potential suitor. I can still see myself walking and talking, nervous and outside my own skin. All of life was before me and Wheaton was the incubator for that journey.
I had dinner with Karen. Afterwards, we walked and talked in Wheaton’s parks, as the skies dimmed and the fountain lights glowed. I could say so much about this conversation, about deep and dear beautiful Karen, but I won’t. I will say that I am grateful for the many chaptered long stories I get to have with her and others over time.
So my day in Wheaton over, I drove back to Oak Park to rest before an early morning departure. A few lingering thoughts:
- My homeland. This truth is complicated. So much happened on this terrain in the lives of my ancestors, family, friends. My roots are here.
- So much of my growth as a theater artist and human being happened at Wheaton College because of a few professors and a group of like-minded seeking students/artists. My creative life, my incarnated spiritual life began here. The seeds for my future path as a professional theater artist and a professor of theater were planted here.
- Current dear friends are faculty here.
- While I am a Christian and a person of faith, I am no longer an evangelical. I shed that skin a long time ago. I am an alumnus of this college but I don’t support it (apart from its’ theater and arts programs). I am disturbed by recent actions of Evangelicals at the university and in the country at large. I know gay Christian peers who did not find the nurture I did while here. Their experience was scarring.
I wonder how I would paint the landscape of this homeland now. Would it be simple and pure like an O’Keefe? Or writhing like a Hartley? Both of these painters painted a New Mexican landscape and interpreted it so differently.
Place. How we see it changes with the light. With our experience of light.