My old office had floor to ceiling windows on one side of the room. Actually, it was less of a room, and more of a box with modern furniture, but the windows, and the fact that it was on the 39th floor of a skyscraper, made it feel like something more. I lived on the West side of the building, which is the only side without a lake view, but I didn’t mind. I always walk West anyway, like Thoreau*, or Kerouac**, and I figured having access to the setting sun would make late nights at the office more bearable. I grew up in Arizona, and a little bit in Utah. I never considered that the West was in my blood, when I lived there. When my family moved back to Phoenix after a five-year sabbatical in a cool green suburb in central Ohio, I ached for rivers and trees. But when I first returned to the Midwest and planted myself minutes from a veritable freshwater ocean in the middle of the United States, the mirage I conjured up in my daydreams was a desert, with Joshua trees and dust.
For the first few days at my new job, I couldn’t figure out which way my office faced. The old building was North of the river, all glass, separate and apart from the concrete and steel of the rest of the Chicago Loop. The new office is smack in the middle of the historic theater district, and it’s not at the top of the tallest building on the block. I still have floor to ceiling windows, but I can see straight into the three other buildings that surround me. There is no lake view. I’m also closer to the ground, which means I can hear sirens and protests and street festivals. My first days there, I kept stopping by the window to puzzle out my position. Finally, I looked down and caught a glimpse of the fountains in Daley Plaza and realized I was pointed North. The next day, I figured I’d try to catch some of the natural light that flows in through the cracks of commerce. I dragged a chair over to the window, raised the blinds all the way, and looked up. It turns out I’m working in the shadow of the Chicago Temple. Mormons, although Christian, don’t really do crosses, but I think that this holy skyscraper is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. It’s fitting really, because even though the desert still lives under my skin, I think I’m here to stay. And, increasingly, I catch myself looking up, instead of laying great plans to head back to where I came from.
*“When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find, strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and inevitably settle south-west, toward some particular wood or meadow or deserted pasture or hill in that direction. My needle is slow to settle — varies a few degrees, and does not always point due south-west, it is true, and it has good authority for this variation, but it always settles between west and south-south-west. . . . The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the world.”
**“I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was — I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”