Chicago, Argentina (Kierkegaard Intermission)

There’s a little bar in Rosario, Argentina right by the Paraná River. The Paraná River starts in Brazil, carves south through Paraguay, then makes its way east through Argentina emptying into the Rio de la Plata. It’s the second-largest river in South America, trailing only the Amazon.

I’ve never been to Rosario. Never been to the bar by the river. But, for the sake of this post, let’s pretend I’m there. And I’m having a beer with the great philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. In normal times, that’s a big jump of fiction to make for a blog. But, during Covid-19, I feel like we’re all ready for a break from reality. This is my Argentinian version of Midnight in Paris. 

I’ve got two notebooks in front of me at the bar. One with notes about the Argentina national basketball team. The other with notes from my interview with Paulo Villabona, Director of Bar Operations at Folklore in Chicago. I’ve got a photo of my dad from 15-years-ago in Buenos Aires. He’s randomly shaking hands with the President of Argentina. Three secret service members behind him don’t look happy about it.

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“What do ya got here?” Søren Kierkegaard said. He took a seat in the chair next to me. Made a subtle nod at the bartender. Picked up the photo of my dad.

“It’s a mess,” I said. “I wanted to write this thing seven months ago, I finally post Part 1, and then I missed last week. I’m supposed to post Part 2 in less than an hour. And I’ve got nothing. Just a pile of notes. I’ll probably just skip again. Better luck next week.”

“Bet your editor’s not happy about that.”

“See, I don’t even have an editor. There’s literally no pressure at all to get this thing done. If I have nothing tomorrow, not a problem. It doesn’t matter.”

“Well, it matters to you.”

The bartender put a drink in front of Søren Kierkegaard, put a new beer in front of me. I put down an Argentine peso, slid it forward.

“What’s the story about?” Kierkegaard asked.

“That’s the problem,” I said. “I had this big grand vision at the beginning. It’d be about Argentina basketball and food and the country as a whole. But it’d also be about Chicago. And the family that started the restaurant Tango Sur. And I’d somehow blend it all together. But the more I’m working on it, I don’t know. I keep running out of time. Monday morning comes and I’ve got nothing.”

“You’re in the middle of stay-at-home orders. You’ve got nothing but time.”

“Well, that’s the thing. I’m only good at writing in the mornings. But I can’t get up early right now. My body protests. ‘Why experience extra hours of the Coronavirus chapter? Let’s just hibernate til September.’ When Saturday and Sunday come, I want a break. I don’t want to work on anything extra, even if it’s something I love to do. I feel like life right now is the Monopoly board, Monday-Friday is loaded with hotels, but roll a Saturday or Sunday and it’s still the ‘Go to jail’ space. I haven’t passed go in six weeks.”

“Ah, sounds like you’re having a bit of an existential crisis.”

“I think the whole country’s in one. There’s nothing to do and yet I feel like there’s still a lot to get done. There aren’t enough hours in the day even though the days go on forever.”

“Why can’t you just sit down for 2-3 hours and get this article done?”

“Because any time I spend on this article is time I’m not spending with Ashley. Or catching up with family and friends over Zoom. Or getting some extra work done. Or working on Long Overdue. And then there’s the next book, that keeps getting pushed off.”

“Okay. So then why not decide once and for all you’re not going to write the Argentina article?”

“Well, I can’t do that either. It’s a great story. Just the story of Tango Sur. The Di Sapio family. Their story needs to be told.”

Kierkegaard gave a faint smile.

“I used to say it is perhaps the misfortune of my life that I am interested in far too much but not decisively in any one thing; all my interests are not subordinated in one but stand on an equal footing.”

I nodded my head, pretending I understood and took a sip of beer.

“You have two choices,” Kierkegaard continued. “You write these posts or you don’t. And either choice is fine, but the struggle is in not making a choice. Being stuck in writer idea land. ‘Well, it could be about this, could be about that.’ Sure, it could be about anything. And that’s what holds you up, you’re lost in all the possibilities. Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom. You will actually feel better making a choice because you’re moving forward. Or you can make the choice not to write the article and make that final. Either way is fine.”

“But it’s like, I’ll enjoy doing this post, I’ll enjoy publishing it, I’ll be happy to have the story out there, but then it’s just onto the next story. And I’m not complaining, I just don’t know what I’m working towards. Can a writer ever retire? And not just writing, any type of work. I’ll strive for a goal, some type of milestone, whatever, and when I hit it, it’s just onto the next goal. High school to college. College to job. Job to a higher paying job. Try to climb higher, save more money. And I’m not saying, ‘What’s the point of doing anything,’ I just wonder, does the finish line always keep moving further down the road?”

Kierkegaard held his beer up to the light.

“You know, if anyone on the verge of action should judge himself according to the outcome, he would never begin.”

I nodded my head again, this time understanding a little bit more.

“To venture causes anxiety, but NOT to venture is to lose one’s self,” Kierkegaard said. He stood up from the seat. “And to venture in the highest is precisely to be conscious of one’s self. So you’ve bought yourself an extra seven days, but really all you need is a couple of hours. Write the article. Publish it. Then meet me back here next Monday night and we’ll talk about it.”

Kierkegaard patted me on the shoulder, left the bar. I closed my eyes and felt Rosario, Argentina fading away. The bar disappeared. I opened my eyes back in Illinois, sitting in the writer’s chair, looking at my laptop screen.

Time to get started.

Despite the name, Medium Rare isn’t normally a food blog. But for the next several weeks, I’ll be featuring great local restaurants around the Lakeview neighborhood in hopes that readers support them with pickup & delivery orders now and go in-person later this year. Other posts include:

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