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Filtering by Tag: middleouest

The Unexpected Outcome of Googling Yourself (and Other Adventures in Modern Technology)

Bree McKenna

By Bree McKenna  |   Illustrations by Leah Roszkowski


A few years ago, a concert alert arrived in my email. It said Tacocat was coming to the Empty Bottle in Chicago.

This is standard inbox activity, since I get alerts like this all the time. This one, though, was different. Tacocat is a Seattle pop-punk band with quirky lyrics and a bassist named Bree McKenna. That's my name, which makes her my name twin.

In my world, she is the other Bree McKenna. 

Oddly enough, a few months earlier, I actually had reached out to her. After Googling myself and finding out another one of us existed—someone who's way cooler than me, it appeared—I had emailed her, via her band’s website. I wanted to see if she had ever Googled herself and found me—or if this was simply one-way curiosity on my part.

I never heard back.

But now her band Tacocat was coming to Chicago. Here was my chance. It sounded stalker-y, I admit, but I decided to go to the show, introduce myself and see what happened. I was on a mission.


When the day arrived, I dragged two friends to the show. It was energetic and great. Bree was up on stage, rocking the bass guitar like only a badass lady musician can. During the last song, I beelined it to the side door where I had a chance of meeting the band and introducing myself. 

I was more than prepared for a blasé reaction. An, "Uh, oh, hey." Or a "Cool, nice to meet you." I was sure our meeting would fall short of the dramatic buildup I had constructed in my mind.

I wasn't going to let that stop me.

Bree was there, to the left of the main stage. I walked up to her and said, "Are you Bree? Bree McKenna?" She nodded yes. I responded earnestly, with my hand on my chest, "I'm Bree McKenna.” And then I waited nervously for her to respond.


I GREW UP WITH AN UNCOMMON NAME. Not long after my parents found out they were expecting a second child, they went to see the 1971 film Klute. In it, Jane Fonda portrays a prostitute named Bree Daniels who gets involved in a police investigation of a missing executive. If you’re connecting the dots right now, yes, I was named after a prostitute. My parents didn't share that detail with me until I was older. 

At the time, Bree wasn't in the realm of normal names. Nothing had my name on it. As a child, I longed to buy one of those cheesy personalized bike license plates when we vacationed in Florida. Or a key chain with my name on it even though I had no keys. Thank God for a custom nameplate necklace my Godmother gave me as a gift. I still cherish it to this day. 

As I grew up, I encountered a few other Brees but never another Bree McKenna. Mine was a truly original name . . . or so I thought.

Then one day, I Googled myself and discovered another Bree McKenna.

If you've ever Googled yourself, perhaps you understand how it feels to stumble upon your doppelganger and be hit with the feeling that, well, your doppelganger is way cooler than you. Maybe it's because I've always loved music and am quite the rock star in my own mind, even though I’ve always lacked any real musical talent. In the artists I've always appreciated most—the Breeders and Juliana Hatfield when I was younger, and more recent favorites such as Waxahatchee, Courtney Barnett and Bully—I could always see my alter ego: the badass chick who doesn't give a fuck.

In reality, though, I always have given way too many fucks. In high school, I toed the line between arty and mainstream, balancing my Doc Martens and Kool-Aid dyed hair with good grades and lots of sports. Even now, I'm pretty much the same. So when I looked at the Google images of the other Bree McKenna, I saw a rock star. So she had reddish hair and bangs, like me. But she had an edge.


STANDING AT THE SHOW, MY INTRODUCTION HUNG IN THE AIR. Then her eyes widened with excitement and she yelled out to her bandmates: "Hey, guys! It's the other, more successful, Bree McKenna!"

I was in shock.

"What? No! You're the cooler Bree McKenna!" I protested.

She admitted she had gotten my emails but didn't write back. She had “so many feelings” about it, she said. Then she told me to wait while she ran back on stage with the rest of the band for the encore. There, she grabbed the mic and shouted, "This goes out to the other Bree McKenna that's here tonight.” Beaming, I cheered and woo-hoo’d. I did not expect that reaction. At all.

After the show officially ended, we chatted some more. She told me that she, too, had been Googling me for years. She thought some of her former art school classmates might have mistaken the two of us. I introduced her to my friends and we snapped a picture together. Then the night was over.


SINCE THEN, I'VE PLAYED THE NIGHT OVER IN MY HEAD. I think that's because the whole idea of another “me” out there in the world is weird. We spend so much time—our whole lives really—being in the bubble of our own minds. We know our own hang-ups, worries, strengths and desires, and we measure ourselves in certain terms, eager to be a little more one way and little less another. We believe that if we were just a bit more “fill-in-the-blank,” we would be more interesting and appealing.

And then there she is, a twin in name, filling in those gaps. As I write this in a Starbucks, I even consider how the other Bree McKenna would probably have chosen an independent coffee shop to work. Here I am again: mainstream, pedestrian.

THEN RECENTLY, I RECEIVED AN IPHONE ALERT FROM VENMO, one of those payment apps where you can easily send money to people. Someone was sending me money. The note attached simply said, “Christmas Trip.”

The name attached to it wasn’t familiar, so I wrote the sender, telling her she'd sent money to the wrong person. She messaged me back, explaining that she was trying to send money to her daughter. Her daughter shared my name and even resembled me in her small profile picture.

I asked: “Your daughter isn’t from Seattle and in a rock band, is she?”

The answer: “Yes, she’s in a band called Tacocat. How did you know?”

I told her to say "hi" to Bree for me.

I’ve come to accept that there are two Bree McKennas in the world. She’s the rock star, traveling the world playing music, going to bed late, living out of a tour van—and borrowing money from her parents to visit for the holidays. I’m the responsible one living here in the Midwest, working a day job as a designer, practicing yoga a couple times a week and generally going to bed by 10:30 p.m. My only connection to music is getting concert alert e-mails and being in the crowd.

For rock star Bree, maybe there will be a day when she settles down to a more quiet life.

For me, well, there’s always karaoke.



Two Art Nomads Take Off in a Bus Named Towanda

Bree McKenna

As told to Middleouest


Instead of sinking their meager monthly earnings into rent or a mortgage, the multimedia artists Troy Chebs and Austin LeMoine bought a 35-foot-long bus. Where other people might have seen the scrap of metal as junkyard bound, they imagined a home and art studio with warm, wood-worked interiors and state-of-the-art solar paneling. “The bus would eliminate our big monthly costs and be a huge challenge, and we’d actually own the space as opposed to an apartment—so it would be an investment,” says LeMoine, who studied business economics and public policy at Indiana University. “Once we started daydreaming and sketching interiors, we were hooked.”

Deciding to create a solar-powered art bus is one thing; cruising the open road without a breakdown is another. A few months ago, the pair—who’ve known each other since high school in the Chicago suburbs and now create multimedia and sculpture under the moniker Noblesavage—decided their experimental ride was ready to make a journey out West. They chronicled their first big adventure, and a few misadventures, for Middleouest.

From Illinois to Idaho with a few stops (and hiccups) in between.

DAY 1:


Being on the road does not feel real after so much planning and construction. Two plus years of work have finally come to fruition, and we are headed towards Paonia, Colorado, where we will turn a 35-foot bus into a photovoltaic-powered workspace and home.

Spirits are at an all time high as we roll away from Chicago. And then . . . at an all time low when the bus unexpectedly dies and coasts to the shoulder near Towanda, Illinois. We have made it a whopping 128 miles from our starting point.

We will spend the next four hours on the shoulder trying to diagnose the problem and avoid a tow with state troopers lurking nearby. After considering, and disproving, many mechanical theories, we manage to limp the bus up the nearest exit ramp, park behind a gas station and buy beer just as the sun sets. The quote, "Adventure begins when everything goes wrong” floats in the back of our minds.

We sleep uneasily.

Left: Diesel Joe working by lantern light to change all six of the bus' injector lines. Right: Austin on his way back from the nearest gas station with six quarts of transmission fluid.

Day 2:

Bikes are essential for bus living in many ways, especially when you break down. The next morning, Austin takes his to find six quarts of transmission fluid.

We decide to make a go at a repair shop seven miles away. We can only get the bus to move at idle speeds; any load on the engine shuts it down immediately. We make it three miles down a country blacktop road before the vehicle croaks and will not start.

Our biggest fear of calling a tow truck become a reality, as we watch the tires slowly sink deeper into the thin, hot road between two cornfields.

Ed also lives on a bus that is outfitted with solar, and he has a soft spot for helping ‘young hippies do weird shit.’

Day 7:

Five days later, we are equipped with a new Electronic Control Module and back on the road. Repairs have been costly, and we’ve lost a significant chunk of time. But after stagnating, the forward progress feels great.

We pull out of Bloomington, Illinois, grinning, with the bus running like a champ. We make it another 120 miles before smelling diesel and pulling into a rest area near Galesburg, Illinois. Fuel is gushing out of the back like an open hydrant, and we both damn near cry.

Illinois does not want us to leave.

We have broken an injector line, and, upon closer inspection, on the cusp of breaking three more. We cannot afford a tow and have no way to get into town. We also do not have the specialty wrenches needed for swapping injector lines. But, luckily for us, we have incredible friends. "Diesel Joe” volunteers to drive the parts out Friday after work and help us make the line swap.


Day 10:

We waste the next three days getting poison ivy and falling into rivers. Finally, Joe arrives, and we work by lantern light in a parking lot from 10:30 p.m. until 4:30 a.m., changing all six injector lines and polishing off a case of mechanic fuel in the process. We are slaphappy, buzzed and riding an endorphin high as the sun starts coming up Saturday morning. In a way, the experience feels like a weird, road life initiation ceremony. After four hours of sleep, we sign our souls over to Joe and continue heading West for Paonia.

Day 12:

Having paid our dues, the bus runs perfectly as we head west. We link up with friends a few days later in Denver who swiftly escort us via bike to a bus parking spot they’d scoped out on the southwest side of the city. Now more than a week behind schedule, we scrap all plans of seeing family and make a break for the mountains the following afternoon.

Waiting for nighttime temps to cool down the radiator in Evergreen, Colorado.

Day 13:

It’s 95 degrees, our radiator is on the back corner of the bus and we’re climbing up one of the most consistently steep portions of I-70. Watching our water temp closely, we pass a handful of hot trucks and even see a radiator cap explode before joining the overheated engine club three quarters of the way up the grade.

Having limited options, we decide to go to bed early and wait for the cool mountain air before making another go at it. At 3 a.m., the air temp sits around 53 degrees, and the bus—we’ve now named it Towanda—cruises beautifully towards Western Colorado.

A cool mountain morning on I-70 in Colorado.

Day 14:

We touch down in Paonia late in the afternoon. The repair-free driving has given us much needed peace of mind, and we are thrilled to finally be on the cusp of bus completion. We park up on a hill—not far from downtown but still somehow secluded—in a lot that slightly resembles a junkyard in Mexico. On one side of the bus is a workshop topped with solar panels and filled with batteries, and on the other is a railroad, used by the local mine to ship coal down the valley. An energy face-off. We will be enlisting in the renewable camp.

Uncle Ed’s solar emporium in Paonia, Colorado

Day 15:

The next morning we finally meet Uncle Ed: a sun drenched, upbeat social butterfly who has been on the front lines of photovoltaic advocacy and solar cooking more or less since its creation.

Ed also lives on a bus that is outfitted with solar, and he has a soft spot for helping “young hippies do weird shit.” We hit it off immediately, and start planning out our now crunched work week from the comfort of his swamp cooled bus.

We decide on the following setup:
    •    (5) 100 watt solar panels
    •    (6) 6V deep cycle batteries (we already had these)
    •    (1) charge controller
    •    (1) 1000 watt pure sine wave inverter

Left: Panel install day at the shop with Ed, Kristen and Troy. Inset: Ed/Sensei and his most recent bus from an excerpt from “The Sustainable Underground."

Our basic plan: build tiltable aluminum racks for our solar panels, and mount them to the roof of the bus. These solar panels will charge batteries stowed below the bus, which will then provide electricity in the form of 12V DC directly to appliances like our chest freezer, and 110V AC, via the inverter, to wall outlets installed inside.

Thanks to Ed, the next week and a half in Paonia is a blend of work and play. Days in the shop are sprinkled with stories, lessons, shit talking, beers, jokes, solar wisdom and the occasional "field trip." Despite being faced by a  large amount of work in the short period of time, stress is almost nonexistent. Viva la Ed.

On weekends, or when the sun makes it too hot to work, we spend time swimming in culverts, picking cherries, drinking at a church-turned-brewery, hiking the Black Canyon and even spinning a few soul 45’s late night at the local radio station.

Ed and Austin splitting wires, tug-of-war style.

Day 27:

With the help of some new solar-skilled friends, we finish installing and wiring the complete 12V DC and 120V AC photovoltaic system at 10:30PM, only four hours before we need to leave town and drive I-70 back to Snowmass.  As a celebration of our new power source, we sit back and soak in Del Ray Wilson’s LP “Feel Good All Over.” Ask any audiophile: Solar powered turntables just sound better.

We are a bit emotionally torn as we pull out of town around 3 a.m. Feeling incredible about our two-year project being complete, we feel, at the same time, a bit of separation anxiety as we part ways with a town and group of humans we’ve become deeply attached to. See you soon, Paonia.

Bus, meet Ranch. Finally, we're parked outside of Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

Day 28:

No time for showers. One long drive and three bus transfers later, we make it to the ranch. We’ve both been awarded sculpture scholarships and given the opportunity to work under two artists we really admire—Andy Buck and Tom Loeser—at the gorgeous Anderson Ranch Art Center, a mountain art mecca.

ARAC truly lives up to its reputation. It is run by a kind and passionate staff who inherently see through the dirt, grime and stench we’ve accumulated during the solar install sprint.

Nestled in the heart of the Roaring Fork Valley, the ranch is surrounded by a conifer covered range and bordered by a small stream that runs along the west side of the property. The shops and studios are constructed from sections of old homestead-style cabins, gathered from the surrounding range, and outfitted with electricity, plumbing, and bay doors.

Day 33:

Wildlife rumors ring true. A black bear smashes a window on campus our second night.

Day 34:

After saying our goodbyes and making future bus plans with new friends, we are ready to decompress. We spend our last night 12,000 ft up, camping with a small group of friends and family near the top of Independence Pass.

Now that we have a battery bank to take care of, our next road objective needs to be food. A freezer full of frozen food requires much less energy to stay cool than an empty one, so we reach out to Cody, a friend-turned-fishing guide and start heading northwest towards Idaho in search of trout.

Perfectly parked: We're five miles outside of Ketchum, Idaho.

Day 36:

Neither of us has ever set foot in Idaho, and after being in Colorado, we are fascinated by the smooth, dune-esque shape of the mountains in the southeastern part of the state. After a few reunion beers at Lefty's, Cody leads us out to a perfect cliffside spot overlooking Trail Creek. The sun is down when we parked, so we don’t notice the treehouse feel of our vantage point until the next morning. Choice.

Left: Troy in the Ketchum Kitchen, looking down on our fishing spot while prepping dinner. Right: Enjoying roof tacos in Stanley, Idaho.

Day 37:

The next morning, we scramble down the cliff and fish the creek. Apparently our spot is a wild one—deer, elk, coyote, wolf and moose tracks are everywhere. We catch two rainbow trout and only fall in the river once. It is a complete success, and it feels great to not to have any pressing time obligations.

We spend the night having an impromptu bus party and meeting friends of friends, many of whom work for a local startup called First Lite. Beer-fueled negotiations lead to coffee-for-game swaps the next morning, and before noon, we have a freezer full of duck, venison steaks, elk sausage, wahoo and ahi tuna.

Cooking duck in Wallowa Whitman National Forest, Oregon.

Day 39:

We head out on I-75 and spend a night along the Salmon River soaking in the Sawtooth range. The bus climbs the pass without incident and our newly-mounted solar roof racks feel solid despite the high winds. Thanks to the sun, our new food cache is thoroughly frozen by morning, and we break camp after an egg breakfast.

From Idaho, we continue to camp our way towards the northwest, heading towards a wedding in Olympic National Forest. Post ceremony and celebration we will have a completely open schedule for the first time since leaving Chicago, which means it’s finally time to put that mobile studio to use.

Although it’s been the topic of many brainstorm sessions, creating art and finding work on the road is still an untested theory. But that income adventure excites us. As they say, “variety is the spice of life,” and we feel the same way about work. More variety, more learning, more challenge, and more fun. It’s time to get busy.


Austin LeMoine and Troy Chebs are multimedia artists who do projects for hire. Drop them a line at


Moving Back to My Big Dumb Hometown

Bree McKenna

by Claire Zulkey


I had a great childhood. But like most kids, I didn’t know it at the time. I knew, of course, that I had it better than the proverbial starving children in China, than the kids in war or natural-disaster-torn places I saw on the 10 o’clock news. But it wasn’t until I became an adult, and then a parent, that I understood the actual cost—money, time, planning, emotion—as well as the extraordinary good luck that goes into making a happy childhood.

Until I reached the stage of understanding and gratitude that marked the end of my adolescence, I took a flippant, even resentful, attitude toward the place where I grew up. And toward the parents who gave me everything I needed and held back just enough to teach me how to work for the rest. When I graduated high school and moved away to college, I thought bitterly, I’m blowing this pop stand. The pop stand in question is Evanston, Illinois.

I conflated the drama and angst of being a teenager with my hometown—blaming my location, not my age, with the growing pains that accompany a growing frontal lobe. I was ready to move on and start a new, exciting adult chapter in my life. I would forge a new identity outside the walls of my dumb high school, where I felt wronged for not receiving the awards (literal and otherwise) I secretly craved. I proudly wore a Georgetown t-shirt under my graduation gown to advertise the fact that I was noisily leaving (nobody noticed because it was under my gown.)

It took only a few weeks to realize that maybe Evanston wasn’t so bad. Georgetown has very nice qualities, but it wasn’t until I went there that I met true snobbery. I grew up in a place that’s home to thousands of privileged children, but it was not cool to brag about it, even if you lived in a legitimate mansion. But at Georgetown I met young adults who carried Louis Vuitton bags and laughed about crashing their parents’ luxury cars. Also at Georgetown, the black students and the white students didn’t mix very much, whereas Evanston has “Portlandia” levels of self-congratulations, deserved or not, about its own diversity.

What’s strange is coming home and reliving the childhood I originally wanted to escape.

After graduation, I moved back home because I received precisely one job offer, one that didn’t pay very much. I butted heads with my parents and squabbled with my high school best friend because while living back home felt familiar, it wasn’t the same. It was like trying to suck your thumb again after quitting.

I eventually escaped a few miles south to Chicago. I allowed myself to come home to Evanston to do my laundry at my folks’ place and to get my hair cut, but that was it. I was a city girl.

But gradually, I became a city woman and then a city mom. Over a span of 13 years and three Chicago addresses, I acquired a husband, two cats, a mortgage, a dog, a baby, and then the due date for a second one. I wanted a back yard. I wanted schools that would be good, yet not tremendously challenging to get into. I wanted the lake. I wanted to be close to my parents. I wanted diversity and community.

I wanted to go home.

For a lot of people, moving back home is something you do with your tail between your legs, or with a hands-thrown-up, minivan commercial embarrassed grin—what are ya gonna do? But the fact was, I suspected I’d move back home pretty much since we had our first child. My husband and I went through the motions of discussing raising a city family, but it was fated—in part because of the schools, since Evanston’s system is drama-free compared to Chicago’s, and because of all my former classmates whom I saw living back home and loving it. They made no apologies. They didn’t seem like they had given in. If I could sacrifice nothing and make life easier by moving to a place where I could enjoy an active suburban life—with the built-in knowledge of where to go for beach tokens, pancakes or Fourth of July fireworks—and still stay adjacent to the city, why wouldn’t I?

And now here we are, and I love it. The city teems with well-organized events and opportunities for community-building. There are beautiful houses and the lake and a lake path featuring conveniently-placed recycling bins. It feels like a community, which is a funny thing to care about all of a sudden.

Even though 25-year-old-me would never give a crap about this, I appreciate knowing my neighbors and that there are free events at the nearby park on the Fourth of July. The 25-year-old-me still is alive inside, just a little bit. Sometimes I read the community newspaper or peruse the catalogue of senior computer classes and think OK, we get it, you're a suburb

What’s strange is coming home and reliving the childhood I originally wanted to escape. I take my son to swimming classes at the same Y where I learned to swim. There I see women who I once attended preschool with; now they’re with children. Newly postpartum, I saw them at the very same beach where I so self-consciously used to try to suck in my belly. When we put our dog down, I cried on the breast of a high school friend who now works at the vet’s office. I still feel 18 sometimes, and yet I relish the fact that I am not.

I graduated college in 2001. My friends and I were the cool older sisters and brothers of millennials. We invented moving home after school. Then, we moved away. And now a lot of us are coming back. We’re putting our children through the very same pipeline we went through, and we feel good about it, too.

The key will be trying not to feel hurt when they turn 18 and get the hell out of here.



Claire Zulkey is a writer from Evanston, IL.


21 Signs of Life in Detroit

Bree McKenna

By Jeff Myers

“Detroiters are prideful people,” says Jeff Myers, who should know. Born in Detroit in 1974, Myers has lived in and around the downtown for the past 16 years. His day job as a facilities manager at a digital agency doesn’t interfere with his near-daily hobby: chronicling his troubled native city’s slow rebirth.

On his walks to and from work, he captures on his iPhone snapshots of architecture old and new, signs, intersections, even spring tulips—a mix that could be summed up as the hopeful and the historic. “I see a beautiful city. In all its grime, as well as all its glitz,” he says. “It’s complex. It's like no other city in the U.S.”

Asked by Middleouest to show us his Detroit, Myers delivered these 21 images. “I feel like I'm letting people in on a secret I've known for a long time. I want other people to see the beauty I see.”

1 | “This ‘Nothing Stops Detroit’ neon sign is on Woodward in the heart of downtown. It’s kind of the ‘new’ Detroit mantra towards moving the city forward. When I first moved downtown, in 2000, living around here was way against the norm. But there was real hope at the time—the Tigers had built a new stadium, the Lions had a new stadium. Then the housing market crashed and everything . . . stopped. There was a long, uncertain time, but in the past 24 months everything has snowballed. Downtown is now full of people in their 20s. Folks, like me, who've been living here a while—we call ourselves Detroit 1.0. We've made a joke of it for those who talk about Detroit 2.0. ” 

2 | “The lobby of the David Whitney Building, which was built in 1915. It’s now the Aloft Detroit, a hotel. So there's beautiful original architecture paired with stylish modern rooms. This building had been vacant for decades and reopened just over a year ago.”

3 | “Standing in Grand Circus Park, the view of the David Broderick Tower (left) and the David Whitney Building (right). These buildings are now restored and occupied after decades of decay.”

4 | “The historic Fox Theater marquee, recently restored and updated.”


5 | “Construction of the new Red Wings Stadium, which they’re going to call Little Caesars Arena. People here are not very happy about that name. It sits just a block north of downtown in what is to be called 'The District,' connecting downtown to the trendy Midtown, which people used to refer to as the Cass Corridor.”

6 | “The beginning of the new M-1 Rail (recently named the QLINE), a line that will stretch 3.3 miles north from the core of downtown through Midtown and up to New Center. At one time, Cass Corridor was the skid row of Detroit—a really rough area. Now they’ve re-branded it, and it’s this hip area where Shinola is headquartered.”

7 | “Lower Woodward, just off of Campus Martius. Campus Martius is now the central gathering point in the city. There are food trucks, and people play live music in the summer, and there's ice skating in the winter.”

8 | “Griswold Street facing south towards the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario. It's unique to have another country right across the river."

9 | “The John Varvatos retail store in the historic Wright-Kay Building (also called the Schwankovsky Temple of Music) now also houses the popular Wright & Co. gastropub on the second floor.”

10 | "This crane game sits at the entrance to Green Dot Stables, one of the most popular new restaurants in the city. It’s a major success story considering its location.”

11 | “Looking into the Guardian Building in the early morning. This Art Deco masterpiece sits within the rapidly growing Central Business District. The dim light of the coming day accents the beautiful warm interior of the lobby, which is magnificent."

12 | “Also in the business district sits the historic First National Building, which is now full of tenants like Roasting Plant coffee and Central Kitchen, a restaurant.”

13 | “In the Central Business District, office space is suddenly at a premium for the first time in decades.”

14 | “The inside of the recently renovated Cobo Center, where the North American Auto Show takes place. The Penobscot Building is at the top right.”

15 | “Many of these hand painted murals and signs are disappearing from the downtown landscape, and I'm trying to document them before they're gone. The salsa photo is just one of the old painted wooded signs that's still there, on the outside of the old Loco Bar in Bricktown. I just like the folk art aspect of it.”

16 | "The '8 Mile' photo was from the drivers side door of a tow truck. I thought it looked cool, and 8 Mile has always been known as the great divide between the city and suburbs. That line is finally starting to fade a little."

17 | “The bobble head chess game was set up outside of Comerica Park for the Tigers Opening Day festivities. Opening Day is still an unofficial holiday here in Detroit. It signals the beginning of spring after the long Michigan winter."

18 | The Stroh’s photo is from the Garden Bowl, one of the oldest bowling alleys in the U.S. Stroh’s was brewed in the area for 135 years before the company left Detroit in 1985.”

19 | “This view from the restored Campus Martius really hits the Detroit 2.0 vibe. It’s what you see looking up at the Soldiers & Sailors statue.”

20 | “A stadium construction sign on Woodward just north of downtown. You can see the Fox Theater in the distance. Downtown Detroit hasn’t experienced this amount of restoration, new construction and upgraded infrastructure in 30-plus years."

21 | “A sign on the window of one of the many new businesses in downtown. Detroit was always here, waiting. Now it’s being discovered and shaped by a new generation—a generation that has cast aside the stereotypes and stigmas of the past."



Jeff Myers is a Detroit native.


Coming Back from the Wild

Bree McKenna

By Esther Kang

Just over a year ago, before K was born, I imagined that I would strap her into a baby carrier and ride the L everywhere. In my mind, I would read a magazine while baby slept beatifically on my chest—on our way to doctor’s appointments, to Maggie Daley Park, to summer music shows, to friends’ homes in various neighborhoods. I imagined that my husband, Zach, and I would take baby on our travels: We booked Hawaii for a friend’s wedding; perhaps Korea, Argentina, Lebanon would soon follow. Baby would fit seamlessly into our life. I imagined I’d be the kind of mom everyone wants to be—going with the flow, taking baby anywhere, finding time to shower and work and host fabulous dinners.

It turns out I am not that kind of mom.



When K arrives via Caesarean section at Prentice Women’s Hospital in downtown Chicago, her cries pierce the quiet of the operating room. Zach and I are overcome with emotion at the sound of her entering this world. K sucks her fingers, and we do skin-to-skin with her because we were told by the nurse in the breastfeeding class that it will help her latch on and feed better.

Our third night at the hospital, a friend advises, “Send her to the nursery so you and Zach can get some rest.” After nursing her, with Zach fast asleep on the pull-out cot next to the window, I hand K over to a sweet nurse. She wheels away baby, who is swaddled tightly like a burrito. Instead of using that precious time to sleep, I walk the halls and make my way over to the nursery.

Peeking through the glass, I expect to see K sleeping soundly. But I spot her in her little cart at the end of a row of babies, next to the waste bin, her face scrunched up. She is crying, while all the other babies—babies that look bigger and healthier—sleep soundly. I burst into tears as I watch a nurse pick her up and put a pacifier into her mouth.

Spotting me, another nurse asks if I’m OK. Still sobbing, I lie: “My baby is in there crying and waking up all the other babies. I feel bad. I can just take her back with me, it’s no problem.” The nurse reassures me: “They all take turns waking each other up, and we love holding them! Don’t worry, we’ll take good care of her.” I shuffle back to my room and sob some more as Zach snores a few feet away. The image of my crying baby is seared into my mind, and I am certain that if she were in my arms, she would be dozing snugly. I don’t understand or recognize the intensity of this feeling. Motherhood is wild.


ELEVEN DAYS LATER, the day after Mother’s Day, I’m back downtown, at my ob-gyn’s office across the street from Prentice. I have, quite literally, a hole in my stomach. Thinking myself some sort of superhuman, I’d sprung into action immediately after K was born—lifting things heavier than baby, climbing stairs and stepstools, driving. Now an infection from an opened staple has rendered me unable to walk. Zach drops me off in front of the building and waits in the car with baby; she’s sleeping, and he will need to keep driving around the block so she doesn’t wake up. I hobble to the door, wrapping my scarf around my neck. It’s May in Chicago—windy, gray, cool.


Albany Park, Chicago

We’re home. We’re always home. The only time we’re not home is when we take K on walks in her stroller. We walk to Kedzie Avenue and polish off ice cream cones from the paleteria in two minutes flat, before rushing back home for the next feed.

For the first three months of her life, Zach and I sit on the couch from 7 p.m. until about 10 or 11, or whenever baby goes down for the night after alternately nursing and snoozing for hours. She has acid reflux from an underdeveloped flap over her stomach, which means we have to hold her up for at least 20 minutes after each feed. Each time we think she’s in deep sleep, we swaddle her and gingerly carry her to the Rock ’n’ Play. Should she wake during this process, we start the cycle all over again—nursing, holding her up, etc. We have no idea if this is what we’re supposed to do; we just know this is what works for us.

Parenthood, so far, is a huge pain in the ass. A black box, Zach calls it. “People disappear for a while at the beginning, and you think they’re happy,” he says. “But it’s hard. Then they come back.”

Most days, it seems, Zach and I take care of K out of love for one another—not so much for her. We don’t know her yet, but we do know and love each other.

I TAKE PHOTOS—LOTS OF THEM. This baby is the most photographed child on the face of the Earth after maybe Suri Cruise. One of my favorite shots is a poorly-composed iPhone selfie of the three of us in our bedroom. Zach is lying with his head at the foot of the bed with his T-shirt hiked up, revealing his belly, and he is reading an article on his phone. I’m splayed out on the other side, nursing a face-planted K, my legs paler than they’ve ever been. Our bed is covered with pillows and bags and clothes. The indignity of it all makes me chuckle every time I see the photo.  

Zach, whose job requires some travel, goes back to work after his paternity leave. I begin flying solo just as things get really hard. The hormones, my brain, the lack of sleep, the drastic life change, the isolation, the baby’s reflux, an acid elimination diet that means no milk or soy, the lack of control over anything K does—these swirl into a potent postpartum maelstrom. I don’t know if it’s anxiety, depression, or a combination of both, but I cry—a lot—almost every day. I try to do it when she’s asleep, but sometimes I can’t control it, so K sees me cry. I worry that I’m traumatizing her. I have trouble resting even when baby’s sleeping, and disturbing nightmares haunt me for days. I hear phantom cries and wake up anxious about nursing, about tummy time, about the weird noises K makes, about whether or not she’s developing as she should.

One breezy summer day, while walking K in my carrier around our block, a car speeds by me and clips a curb. A thought pops into my head: It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if we got hit by a car. I don’t dwell on the idea because it’s stupid and scary.

On another occasion, I am sitting on our living room floor while standing K up. This is her pooping stance. Her eyes begin to water, and her face turns red. She sneers like a bull and strains. Zach is finished packing, and he brings out his suitcase and grabs his jacket; the cab is waiting outside. He comes over to kiss me, and tears start streaming down my face. “Oh,” he says, with sad eyes. I don’t want to cry, but I can’t help it.

THERE IS NO RATIONAL THOUGHT LEFT AT THE END OF A LONG DAY where baby has cluster-fed and not slept more than an hour. That evening, with Zach out of town again, I concoct a brilliant plan: “I’ll check myself into the emergency room. Someone there—yes, one of the nurses!—will watch K, and they’ll let me get some sleep.” Somehow I have the presence of mind to run this idea by a friend. She texts back, “???” It occurs to me that if I proceed with my plan, the Department of Children and Family Services might come and take K from me. I call another friend, and she offers to come spend the night—to give baby a bottle of pumped milk and hold her to sleep while I string four or five hours of sleep together for the first time in months.

The next evening, Zach comes home from his work trip. He unpacks his suitcase, changes into a T-shirt and shorts, and joins me on the sofa, where I’ve been nursing and waiting for K to fall into her deep sleep. Holding her with one arm, I reach for his hand. He squeezes mine tightly, and I begin to cry.


MAGGIE IS MY FIRST FRIEND TO SPEND THE NIGHT WHILE ZACH IS OUT OF TOWN. Jane comes the next week, and then Monica, who is in her third trimester of pregnancy but cheerfully offers to help like it’s no big deal. And during the following month, as K sleeps longer stretches at night, I don’t so much need help with a late feeding as I want the company when Zach’s gone. Being home alone with a baby terrifies me, and having a sleepover with a friend helps. So other gracious ladies get acquainted with our couch: Markeyta, Diane, Megan, Dawn. Some weeks I even make dinner for them.

In parenthood, I find, every cliché is absolutely true. It takes a village, truly. And in the absence of blood relatives living around us, I am thankful for the village Zach and I have cobbled together here in Chicago—and through the web, around the world. Friends bring us food, watch K while we go on dates, offer invaluable advice, listen when I call them panicked, sobbing, desperate. They email and text me regularly, with choruses of “I love you.” “Let me know how I can help.” “We are praying for you.” “It will get better.”

I begin flying solo just as things get really hard. The hormones, my brain, the lack of sleep, the drastic life change, the isolation, the baby’s reflux, an acid elimination diet that means no milk or soy, the lack of control over anything K does—these swirl into a potent postpartum maelstrom.

Ravenswood, Chicago

With Zach regularly out of town, I grow desperate enough to call a hotline for postpartum anxiety and depression. The young woman on the other end of the line kindly gives me names of counselors covered by my insurance plan. I search them all and find the one nearest to me—a woman who also appears to be the most stylish, which is a plus.

Every Wednesday afternoon, I strap K into her car seat, and we drive to the therapist’s office. The baby nurses and naps while I talk about the dread I feel, the sense that this harrowing slog will never end. I talk about the bad dreams and the worst-case scenarios in my mind. I describe the fear that comes over me when K stirs in the morning as I watch through the baby monitor.

My therapist, Lisa, is reassuring: All this is temporary. She tells me she loves how I talk about Zach, that I have great support systems in place, that she can tell I love K by the way I interact with her. I ask, more than once, where I fall on the spectrum of postpartum anxiety and depression; Lisa tells me I’m on the milder side, and somehow that’s enough to help me get through each week. She says I can pursue meds if I want them, but they won’t be a cure-all, and they’ll take some time to kick in. I’d rather not. I’m not a patient person, I tell her. “They’d have to be some magic-ass pills.”

I can never find parking in front of the therapist’s office. And on street-cleaning days, I walk four blocks carrying my heavy car seat with my even heavier child in it. She has catapulted from the 20th percentile in weight to the high 80s. It doesn’t help that I’m short, and the car seat barely clears the sidewalk when I carry it. I know someone somewhere in this neighborhood is watching me and thinking, “Why is a 12-year-old lugging a fat baby down the street?”

A couple of months after my first counseling session, Nashville actress Hayden Panettiere announces that she is receiving treatment for postpartum depression. She had a baby with an older gentleman twice her size, a world champion boxer, and a few months later, she checked herself into a treatment center. There was a time, I’m ashamed to say, when I was skeptical about women’s claims of postpartum woes. But not anymore. I find myself relieved that a B-list actress is raising awareness about the issue.


Evanston, Illinois

Friday of Independence Day weekend, we drive up to the lakefill on the Northwestern University campus in Evanston. It would be easier to stay home and go from feed to feed, nap to nap. But Zach thinks we should venture out for some fresh air. And I want to take photos so I can look back someday and say that I tried—I really tried.

Zach gives K a tour of my old college campus—an abbreviated version of one that I gave him when we were dating years ago: “This is where Mama fell asleep during lecture….” He is trying to get me to smile, but I am stressed out: Where will I nurse her? Am I wearing the right shirt to nurse her? What if we don’t have enough wipes? What if she doesn’t fall asleep in the car and cries the whole way back?

Thankfully, we make it through the day. It’s nothing like the dozens of other times Zach and I came here. Before K, whenever we had a free Saturday, we would drive up, walk along the lake, take a nap on the grass, and watch the sailboats. I loved our former life so much, but there is no time to mourn it properly. We are sprinting just to keep up. As Zach puts it, even trying to have fun is stressful.

I look back on photos from that day and see two kids who don’t know what they’re doing, but trying. We’re in our mid-30s—hardly young—but we are definitely making it up as we go. Maybe years down the line, I’ll see those pics and think, “Oh, that was a fun outing.” But today, I know better.

When I watch a Nora Ephron documentary in which she describes her young son as ‘a dish of ice cream,’ I feel jealous that she came up with that phrase. K is a dish of ice cream.


K is four and a half months old. It has been a particularly difficult week: Zach has been dealing with stresses at work, and K has been staging a nursing strike, a deathblow to my already fragile psyche. We are sitting, again, in the dark on our couch. We can’t go to Hawaii. We just can’t. K’s nursing strike, the logistics of pumping and washing bottles, jetlag and living out of a hotel for a few days, then returning home and adjusting back to life here—it’s too much. I am disappointed in myself yet again. But when Zach himself agrees it would be too much, that our little family needs time to regroup, we cancel our trip to Hawaii and breathe a sigh of relief.

Zach still takes the next week off. We sell my beat-up Corolla and buy a more suitable family car. We sleep-train K, who takes to it quite well, and we agree that not spending a week on beautiful Waikiki Beach is the best decision we’ve ever made as a couple.


North Kenwood, Chicago

With more sleep, therapy, the passage of time, and help from those around us, the fog begins to lift. The things I wrote in my journal during those traumatic early months start becoming unrecognizable. I begin to delight in my daughter: her protruding, smooth forehead and receding hairline, her little diapered butt, her downturned lips, her peachy jowls, her funny personality, the bizarre babbling, the propensity to summon her tears on a dime—then turn them off as soon as she gets her way. I find her so exceptionally adorable. When I watch a Nora Ephron documentary in which she describes her young son as “a dish of ice cream,” I feel jealous that she came up with that phrase. K is a dish of ice cream.

The second half of Year One flies by; I jot down a few notes each month about how we’re doing, and the entries get shorter and shorter. Almost daily, I experience times with our daughter that I can only describe as moments of grace. It’s as if the wasted early months are being restored.

I feel balanced enough to take on freelance projects—an exhausting but much needed addition to my schedule. Zach and I begin hosting dinners again. I go out with my girlfriends. We are back at our church regularly. I’m singing and playing the guitar; Zach is back on the keys. We fly to see my folks in D.C. one weekend; then to Florida for our niece’s birthday. We visit both sets of parents for Christmas—an eight-hour drive to Columbus, Ohio, (including breaks for feeding baby), another eight hours to the D.C. area, then back. We are OK. We still don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re doing so much better. Doing well, even.

Our little condo in Albany Park, which I bought when I was 25, is bursting at the seams. On days Zach works from home, he does so on a makeshift desk along our bedroom window ledge because K occupies his former office. When family members visit, they stay at an Airbnb nearby. So we go house-hunting and put an offer down on the first condo we see—a duplex in a South Side greystone just a few blocks from our church. I take pics of Zach and K that morning at the property because I have a feeling this will be our home.

We close on the condo in April. We start making repairs and hope to move in soon. As I write, K is babbling and rolling a soccer ball on the floor with Zach. I imagine them kicking the ball in our building’s yard. I see us riding bikes along the lakefront trail, walking to church on sunny Sundays, riding the bus up Lake Shore Drive to visit the Art Institute, getting a membership at the nearby Museum of Science and Industry. And when she’s old enough to remember, we’ll take her outside of the country to someplace cool.

I can’t be certain we’ll do all these things, but I think we will.


Esther Kang is a journalist in Chicago.

Becoming a Full-Time Illustrator (Gulp)

Bree McKenna

By John Kenzie

I am lying in bed, pretending to be asleep. It is about 4 a.m., and it is my daughter’s cat that I am trying to fool. The air in my apartment is very dry, and as the cat walks across my comforter, I can see arcs of static electricity flashing off her feet. I don’t really understand the science of it, but I know that if I touch the cat a much bigger shock will get both of us, and she will take it as betrayal.

I slink deeper under the covers, pulling all my exposed skin in with me. I fall asleep quickly, and the next thing I know, I am waking up in pain. The cat has returned: I feel her claws find me thru the comforter as I spring up in bed, and she rockets away. It is now 4:30 a.m. I just get up because I have drawing to do.

I call it my apartment, but it is my building. My wife lives upstairs. We are divorcing. It is her building, too. We have a daughter who moves back and forth between us. She has a bedroom in the same location on both floors, and the difference between those rooms is stark. Upstairs is tightly organized, and filled with reminders of what she likes and what she has done. Downstairs is kind of a poorly formed grouping of media she has consumed already and clothing looking for a proper storage solution.

My daughter is 11. She has a computer in both rooms, and if she is in that space on either floor, that is where she is. This living arrangement seems to have taken most of the sting out of the impending divorce. For many reasons, things will probably stay this way for awhile. It makes sense, and seems best for our kid. I try to imagine myself explaining things to a woman I don’t know yet, and I don’t really have the words. It seems like this situation can’t be entirely unusual, but I also can’t think of anyone I know who has lived anything similar.

I have recently made plans to leave the job that I had for 25 years. I am 48, which is not young, but is young to have been in one workplace for so long. I am very proud to be leaving by my own decision, because I spent about 20 of those years worried that this would not be the case.  I have done illustration on the side prior to—and during—my employment, and it seemed like it might be my last best chance to make a go of it. I say by my own decision, but it was part of a voluntary layoff program. Once it was offered, I became set on it. There have been other non-voluntary layoffs in the past few years, and the worry of being culled does not dissipate when you turn into one of the people left behind. I figured 48 is a better time to start again than 55.

I am not sure why these are such clear distinctions. I know that if I were still living upstairs this would not be happening. I would not be able to cast our shared fates into uncertainty. Downstairs, it is just one of many changes we are all going to roll with. My daughter is thrilled because it will mean we can spend a lot more time together. This always makes me smile, but every time she says it, I worry that I don’t know what am doing.

I keep adding small things to my new life docket and, as a list, it all sounds really good. I am going to eat less meat and give up soft drinks again. I drink a lot of those and have stripped the enamel from my teeth. I listened to a podcast where a man who survived cancer talked about drinking a Diet Coke afterword and could not finish it. He said something akin to “Why did I just go thru all of that, if I am going to return to drinking a chemical slurry?” That was all paraphrased, but the words chemical slurry were there. That is what I call it now. I am going to miss it.

Through word of mouth, I have gotten a lot of illustration work lately. It is very gratifying and takes the edge off leaving the old job. The timing is not perfect, though. I am still burning the candle at both ends, and now I am worried that the illustration part is not as good as it would be if I had more time to spend on it. This was never a concern before—but it was also nothing I could have done anything about.

Now that it is going to be the center of my work life, I am feeling a lot of pressure to improve. My hope is that the people giving me work will return again, and I will be able to give them something profound. This is not something you can tell people, but I am thinking it at them very hard. My other concern is that this flood of work will taper off, and I will wake up on my first morning at home with nothing to work on. I am near obsessed with making a little bit of money on that first day. Just to set the tone right. I have some things lined up. It should not matter, but it still does.

In mid-December, just as I began my plans to escape the office, my father came back to life. I have no memory of him since he was gone before I remember anything. Then I heard from an aunt that I do not know through Facebook. She tracked me down thru LinkedIn somehow, which is more use than I have ever gotten out of LinkedIn. I knew of her existence because it was one of the few details I ever got from my mother. I was drawing at my computer, where nearly all drawing is done now. My daughter was watching Netflix on the couch just a few feet behind me, and a Facebook message pops up from a stranger. Simple as that.  

Within a few minutes I found my father’s Facebook page. Hidden in plain sight.  

I can look him directly in the eyes in his pictures, comfortable with them being unable to look back. He is bald, and I am very much not, but I recognize my features. He has all of the ones I have instinctually disliked, and now I am wondering why. His Facebook page creeps me out by proclaiming a love for me and my mother on his “about” page. There are pictures of my mother and me that I had never seen before on there. It all depresses me.

Nothing has come from it, but my original thought was that he wanted my kidney or something. He apparently does not know my aunt found me. She appears to be a very nice woman. I am just putting this all aside for a bit, fully aware that time could end many possibilities at any moment.

I am great with that.


I HAVE BEEN FREELANCING FOR A MONTH NOW FROM HOME. Pretty busy even. I have not looked for work yet, or even had time to get a portfolio together. One job just seems to lead to another. I gave up my Cokes without much effort. I thought I was going to taper them off and be miserly with the last few, but in practice I just guzzled them. I switched to lemonade and seltzer, and now I drink two liters of seltzer and a quart of lemonade everyday. My stomach is an acidotic crucible. I get up in the morning and write something for 15 minutes because that wakes me up. I look at the new sketchbook I bought, and I decide not to draw in it. I exercise for a half hour with a dancing video game that makes me feel ashamed, and then I sit down and draw. I take breaks and watch YouTube videos where people explain how to use the software I already own, or the software that I want to own. The day is broken up when my daughter is able to visit.

The things I want are becoming better as they become smaller.

Right now I want spring to come, so that I can open the window behind my desk and get a particular cool breeze on my neck. That sounds trite, but I think about it every day. I worry about my eyes. They are a bit blurry close up now. I make a point of going out on my porch and looking at stuff further away. I just need glasses, but I have not done anything about getting some.

I know a guy from England. He now lives in Japan. I have not seen him since the early 90s, and we have not talked actively ever. I typed his ancient email address into my messenger program and sent him a note thinking he would not get it. He responded and has now become someone to whom I send non sequiturs every few days. He says things like, “I'm almost double what I was when we met. But still a sickly pencil” and I say things like, “Dang! That sounds very glamorous.” My thing was not a direct response to his thing. It is just an example. I am using him to indirectly solve problems. I say things, and in advance of his reply, I determine that if he answers one way I will do this, and if he answers in another way, I will do that. My desire for things to happen randomly will never be satisfied. I always feel like I am putting my thumb on the scale.

This is everything I know about freelance illustration. I hope it helps you in your future career as a freelance illustrator!


John Kenzie is a freelance illustrator living in Chicago.