The news is out at ChicagoNow, my blogging platform since the spring of 2011, that our beloved community manager, one Jimmy Greenfield (and honestly, what better name is there for a media guy?), is leaving after nine years. For most of you, this means nothing. For me and many other bloggers who call ChicagoNow home, it means a lot. A whole damn lot.
I had just started a stand alone blog and returned to gainful employment as a social worker when a friend who worked at the Chicago Tribune suggested I move Mary Tyler Mom over to ChicagoNow. I was flattered and excited and scared and timid. In the end I pitched Jimmy and he responded quickly. He loved my pitch and my writing samples and my blog name. Jimmy invited me to join the community.
I hemmed. Then I hawed. Then I hemmed and hawed in quick succession. Looking back, it was silly, as joining the writing community at ChicagoNow was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Jimmy is a very large part of why that is.
Later that same year I pitched the idea of a series of blog posts that would recount the 31 months of my daughter’s cancer treatment. Prior to that, I pretty much stayed in the grief closet on my blog. Again, within moments, Jimmy responded with encouragement and enthusiasm. ChicagoNow had never run a serial format before, but he thought it showed great promise and he would help me promote it the best he could. That idea turned out to be Donna’s Cancer Story, which, like the decision to join ChicagoNow, changed my life.
Before my girl was diagnosed with cancer, I had never written much. A few professional/clinical articles about social work, but that was it. Writing, it turned out, was a saving grace for me as my husband and I guided our girl through her treatments and then in my grief. It’s not hyperbole to say that the words helped anchor me. They were another connection to my girl and the community and readers that openly embraced that girl, my dear Donna, were a salve for my aching heart and soul.
I will never be able to thank Jimmy enough for what he has done for me, as a writer and a human, in my grief and in my joy. He sloughs off compliments like a loofah with dead skin in January, and I can imagine him reading this and becoming very, very uncomfortable, but no one more than Jimmy would encourage me to write it out. Sorry, my dear friend, you taught me too well.
Another thing Jimmy does well is facilitate community. Chicago is a diverse place, but notoriously segregated. White folks and black folks and Latinos and Asians and Middle Easterners too often stay in their own lane. Chicago’s long history of segregation is one of the great flaws of my hometown. The times that I have felt truly connected to the breadth of diversity within my city are rare enough that I value each and every one.
Jimmy, somehow, has created a writer’s community at ChicagoNow that transcends those differences, instead focusing on what brings us together as Chicagoans. Bloggers at ChicagoNow are young, old, black, white, wealthy, homeless, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Christian, liberal, conservative, progressive, libertarian, single, married, gay, straight, urban, suburban, an honest to goodness rainbow of different points of view and sensibilities. And it works. It freaking works and it is glorious.
I love you, Jimmy. I love your bald head and your scruff and even your penchant for dad jeans. I love that your Dad looks like Roger Ebert and that your brother walks through snow to make super cool designs on his backyard ice rink to raise money for charity. I love that you are an amazing father and husband and that you show that love so generously. I love your politics and your capacity to debate and welcome and hold opposing POVs. I love your endless patience with me and others who are, um, well, less tech savvy than we should be in 2017. I love your compassion and humanity. I love your writing. I love that you thought I was capable of learning to use Twitter way back in 2012. I love your humor. I don’t really get your affinity for Heather Graham, but, pffft, to each their own.
Thank you, my dear friend. You saw something in me that I did not see in myself for a long while. You were the first person to call me a writer and hearing that word from your mouth about me has brought enormous blessings to my life. You have changed me in profound ways that I am still trying to unpack and capitalize on. Why? Because I want to be worthy of your respect. I want to make you proud. I want to be the person and writer you see in me.
BAH. I could go on, but here come the tears again and that ain’t good for my keyboard. Long story short, thank you, Jimmy, from the bottom of my broken heart. I wish you nothing but happiness and success and health and joy. You deserve everything, all of it.
You can buy Jimmy’s book about the Chicago Cubs here. Did I mention he was kind of into sports?