A few weekends ago, thanks to the immense generosity of a friend, I flew to Chicago. I was there for two reasons: to visit my generous friend, and to visit the boyfriend, who was passing through the city with work. Of course, seeing the two of them was the best part of the trip. But there was another part that I found profoundly enjoyable.
One day, while Ben was at work, I took an Uber from the hotel to the nearby train station, bought myself a one-day pass, and figured out how to get downtown. To be fair, it was a pretty straight shot, but I was proud of myself nonetheless. After wasting some time and no money in Sephora, I walked to Michigan Avenue. I ducked out of the cold and the misty rain into the lobby of a building, and rode its elevator to the American Writers Museum.
The American Writers Museum takes up the second floor of the building where it is housed, and it is delightful. Though the merchandise is at the entrance, it is shunted off to the corners on either side of the sales/information desk. I found that refreshing, because it showed that making money is not the primary reason for the institution. So many museums have huge gift shops, and I cannot blame them for this, as most museums and galleries are not-for-profit institutions and run on donations. But the fact that that wasn’t pushed down the throat of the visitor at the American Writers Museum was refreshing.
The American Writers Museum is every bit as delightful as any writer or aspiring writer could desire. The museum exhibits are arranged around the perimeter of the floor of the building, with the visitor arriving at the entrance upon completion of the circuit. There is a room decorated in the art of classic American children’s books, including The Wizard of Oz, Where the Wild Things Are, Goodnight Moon, and Charlotte’s Web. The museum then moves to a timeline of great American authors. There is a room with books and chairs with informative plaques on the walls, which leads into my favorite room of all: the room full of typewriters. That exhibit allows for the visitor to load some paper into any of the typewriters and type and write away, which I did, for about half an hour, probably to the chagrin of my fellow visitors.
The pleasantest part of my visit to downtown Chicago and the American Writers Museum was the fact of my aloneness. I answered to no one, and no one answered to me. There is a responsibility that companions have to one another, whether they want to or not. Though no one wants to admit they sway the way another moves through space and time, they do, intentionally or unintentionally. If I had been to the museum with Ben or my friend, I would have felt an obligation to them – to keep up, to examine what they examined, perhaps to rush – through no fault or design of their own. They would have felt the same obligation to me, though I would ardently desire them not to be affected by my presence at all. But it was lovely to soak in what I wanted to, to rush past what did not interest me (though this did not really happen in this instance), and to have a long and rich conversation with myself completely in my head, and choose whether or not to talk to someone else. I spent most of my visit in silence, and it was delicious not to make noise for such a long stretch.
If you’re wondering, I cannot recommend the American Writers Museum enough. I recommend it for everyone, but for writers especially. What I left with was two things: a keychain (hey, I loved my visit and wanted a memento, okay), and a renewed desire to write. Not necessarily to write my masterpiece, but to write and practice so that one day, the masterpiece might be written. I’d like to be in some museum someday, I think. And the way to get there is practice.