You're about to stumble into 25 worlds. They are inhabited by—among others—a dancer, a diver, a farmer, and a filmmaker. They are places where the urge to make art has overcome the urge for comfort—where the need to make a change has triumphed over the desire to shoot up. They are worlds that seldom warrant a headline, but they should.
In worlds like these, a small accident—say, a fractured wrist—might circuitously lead from a futureless job to a career of boundless creativity. A painful shyness could indirectly connect you, through Twitter, to someone you truly love. As @aRealLiveGhost knows, you've got to turn everything down to discover what you're meant to hear: "You've just gotta filter out noise."
The Reader's staff tuned out a lot of noise to find the Chicagoans we felt belonged in this year's People Issue, a celebration of those who quietly follow their passions. Our only real job in the process was to listen—not just to what these 25 individuals were saying, but to what most everyone else wasn't.
We listened to people who believe "my past is my best asset," even when it's a past largely spent strung out. We listened to people who "cannot live or work trying to please everybody"—and instead spend their days soaring through the air. We listened to people whose jobs, at their most difficult—behind the wheel of a cab—"give you such insight into humanity." We listened to people who might not venture out much anymore, but who find that "just having culture nearby and having this massive grid of situations I could explore if I wanted makes a huge difference psychologically." We listened to people who initially seemed to have little in common. But the more we listened the more their worlds seemed to intersect. Much like the cabdriver, the poet who found comfort in the "grid of situations" was older than his peers when he finally applied himself (and ended up on the New York Times’s best-seller list). The cabbie's and the poet's experiences, like the addict's "best asset" (that past of hers), prepared them, like nothing else could, for the work they were meant to do. Or more succinctly: "There is no real deviation from the past." This from the blacksmith who studied medieval metalworking, only to end up inventing vessels nobody dreamed could exist for one of the most innovative restaurants in the world.
While there might not be deviation from it, the past can push you in the different direction you're meant to travel. "Three years ago, I was working at an ad agency and constantly feeling conflicted between not having a lot of expression in my work and wanting to do something for myself," recalled a young gallerist of her life before she figured it out. "I could work in advertising forever. I'd be happy and I'd be paid and I'd be comfortable, but I really just want to try to do something that I feel is true to who I am."
Similarly, a middle-aged woman looked back on her early years: "I had gotten a bachelor's degree. I had the boyfriend and the cat and all that stuff. And I wasn't happy. Then the cat disappeared. And the boyfriend and I broke up." So she ventured to find out what was at the bottom of the ocean floor. "We know more about the back side of the moon than about what's covering 67 percent of our planet, the deep sea."
And that's just one world we discovered—right here in our backyard. —Mara Shalhoup
"I wanna help people from where I come from. I went through what they're going through." — Latoya Winters, the graduate
"Some blocks look like Afghanistan and others look like any other street in Chicago."— John Campos, the organizer
"I just kind of had to find something that I could hold onto."— Angel Olsen, the singer
"I didn't know I was ever gonna DJ for Jay-Z."— Million Dollar Mano, the producer
"You've just gotta filter out noise."— Kimmy Walters, the Twitterer
"I feel a great deal of responsibility as a DJ in this town."— Dave Matta, the educator
"I make you uncomfortable so the contrast is greater."— Alejandro Cerrudo, the dancer
"I loved camp before I knew it was camp."— Dave Cerda, the performer
"I put my life into this and I don't want it to go when my life goes."— Jackie Taylor, the dramatist
"I wanna be a dirty old man and I wanna shoot rock 'n' roll."— Vern Hester, the photographer
"It's getting people really excited about street art again."— Tara D., the gallerist
"I knew my potential. I knew my limits. I knew that I had to work my ass off."— Ehsan Ghoreishi, the filmmaker
"If it was born on celluloid and we can't get celluloid, we won't show it."— Rebecca Hall, the projectionist
"I had no desire to be an artist. I thought art was all ego."— Martin Kastner, the craftsman
"I looked in the face of death. I looked into the face of the poor. I saw my calling."— Keith Magee, the pastor
"Even as a lifelong basketball fan I didn't appreciate how complex the business is."— Kayce Ataiyero, the GM
"I have a real aversion to poetry readings, even when I'm reading at them."— Michael Robbins, the poet
"You can call it a bottom, or you can call it a blessing."— Mitzi Scott, the survivor
"I take wild plants that we find elsewhere and transplant them and just let them go nuts."— Dave Odd, the forager
"I think people have lost some contact with how their food is grown."— Abra Berens, the farmer
"The whole reason of going to school is networking, but I realized I could do that with partying."— Zain Curtis, aka Teen Witch, the DJ
"There was a freedom in jazz and all of the different chances you could take."— Dee Alexander, the jazz singer
"Any person with a strong back and a weak mind can do it."— Roger Sosner, the hawker
"The union guy told me, 'Just be happy you got a job.'"— Tony Bacon, the custodian
"There must have been cliffs 20 meters high and it's dark and you can only see ten feet ahead of you."— Janet Voight, the diver