By Barrie Jean Borich
Originally published on Advocate.com June 16 2014 5:00 AM ET
Author Barrie Jean Borich's new memoir, Body Geographic, just won a Lambda Literary Award for Best Lesbian Memoir. According to her website, she’s currently working on a book-length essay about repurposed industrial landscapes, urban joy, and riding her bicycle on the mean streets of Chicago. She is also a member of the creative writing faculty of the English Department and MA in Writing and Publishing Program at Chicago’s DePaul University, where she’s developing Slag Glass City, a creative nonfiction and new media journal focused on sustainability, identity and the arts in urban environments.
Borich is no stranger to literary accolades, as her previous book, My Lesbian Husband (Graywolf), won the ALA Stonewall Book Award. Her work has been cited in Best American Essays and Best American Non-Required Reading, and she was the first creative nonfiction editor of Hamline University’s Water~Stone Review. Borich earned her MFA from the Rainier Writing Workshop and lives now with her spouse, Linnea, a few blocks from Lake Michigan in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago, which was recently voted the most "incomparable" gayborhood in the world.
Read an exclusive excerpt from Body Geographic below.
"Cities of Possibility"
THE EMERALD CITY. The alabaster city. Cities of crystal, cities of light, cities as the nexus of the hinterlands, cities as the queer metropolis, cities as the holy grail of immigration. Cities as the architecture of longing.
Frank Baum is said to have created Emerald City of Oz after repeated viewings of the world's fair alabaster city. Whatever his thoughts about Chicago's temporary city of dreams, he also lived in the actual gray city of Chicago, so must have known the difference between the dream and the real, must also have seen the dream city’s potential as metaphor, as the end of an odyssey, as Dorothy’s destination of escape. In the film version of the Wizard of Oz, Emerald City sparkles on the far side of a landscape of poppies. In Baum's novel the dazzle is so bright that anyone who crosses its threshold must wear green-tinted sunglasses. But first the walkers have to cross a plain of sleep-inducing poppies. The danger of stopping short of the dream is a sleep so deep the city will always shimmer out of reach.
As a young woman I, too, knew the difference between the dream city and the real city. In the real city the bus was always late. The old Pinto I owned didn’t start in the winter, and when I wasn’t able to move it after a blizzard it was towed. On some weekends business at the restaurant was so slow the manager let me off early, before I’d made enough tips for rent, or I spent what money I did make drinking across the street from work, at the Rainbow Bar. There had been a brutal gay bashing in the city that winter that had made all the papers. One of the cooks I worked with, a short blond man, his hair cut in a jagged shag, was always nice to me, which in a commercial kitchen where the cooks and waitress spent most of the night screaming at one another mattered a great deal. Then one night he told me he had been one of the guys who had beat up that fag. Why was he telling me this? Was he boasting? Was he lying? Was this some twisted way to find out if I was a dyke? I couldn’t think of anything to say at first, then I started screaming at him to shut-up-shut-up. He stared at me placidly as I shrieked. That was the last time we talked about anything but my food orders. This was the real city.
The dream city was more of a beacon then an address. It was like the song the people of Emerald City sing as Dorothy and her friends approach the great green gates. You’re out of the woods, you’re out of the dark, you’re out of the night. Step in to the sun, step in to the light. I wasn’t out of the night yet, but I believed I would be. That’s why I walked, even after spending a whole night working on my feet. Even on no sleep and eating only what I could scrounge at the restaurant. I kept on walking, my destination the most glorious place on the face of the earth.
Selected from Body Geographic by Barrie Jean Borich by permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 2013 by Barrie Jean Borich. Available wherever books are sold or from the University of Nebraska Press, (800) 848-6224 and at NebraskaPress.unl.edu.