Ah, the simple life.
By Lue Bleylhine
I need to get better at being a poor person.
Note: I say this with gratitude for all I've been given and acknowledgment of the fact that my perpetual pennilessness is my own doing. My family helped me go to a really fancy school, and what did I study? Opera. And POETRY. Because before I reached adulthood, living the life of a starving artist seemed romantic. I could subsist on Tolstoy and oxygen. I could pretend to star in my own personal version of RENT (alternate title: HELL). It didn't matter that I could touch my stove from my bed with my right foot, or that I concurrently worked as an arts assistant, a sculpture model and a Chicago Chocolate Tours tour guide (real thing) -- I was livin' la via boheme! You know, until I wasn't... until 525,600 minutes spent not auditioning later, it became clear that I had become less Plath or Klimt or Callas, more James Franco in Spring Breakers (minus the machine guns and cornrows... and grill). Out of necessity, I was not a starving artist but a starving hustler. So it goes.
Nowadays I work in development/marketing for an arts institution, and over the years, I've learned to reconcile the 8 hours a day I spend working in an office with all of the cool sh*t I get to do outside of said office. I no longer have to spend my off hours laboring to keep my bills paid: the one job will suffice. But I still do not know the glories of disposable income. I cannot justify the purchase of three $14 cocktails on a Tuesday. I cannot afford cab rides to and fro... but I also can't afford not to cab fro, lest I be shanked on a CTA platform in the night. Even art-makin' takes gravy: canvasses and Barbie carcasses and soy lattes writing juice don't come free. What I'm saying is: I finally have time for fun, but I can only have fun if it's rul' cheap, you know?
Ahem. Free fun in Chicago:
1. Auditory Fun.The Empty Bottle has free concerts all the time and they don't even force you to buy drinks. Free to dance. Free to teetotal it up. Free for all! And once spring hits, there are free lawn concerts (Millennium Park!), free fests (Wicker Park!) and if you live in Logan Square, fregans playing bongo drums on a nearby stoop. Start following all of your local concert venues on Twitter, and get updates on shows near you!
2. Sweaty Fun. Behold: a calendar of all the free yoga classes in Chicago. Thanks, freeyogachicago.com! And once it gets warm, check out the free classes at Pritzker Pavillion and Lincoln Park Zoo! I'm also sometimes in the habit of signing up for free trial weeks... everywhere. Gyms, studios, yadda yadda. If you live in a city, you could feasibly float from bikram class to barre lesson and back again and never pay a dime. I mean, don't do that forever because it's rude. But do it until you have the means to pay for whichever form of movement best nurtures you!
3. Creative Fun. Oh look, here's a shout-out for Comfort Station! If you're lucky enough to have a cultural center with free programming near you, take advantage! These places need your patronage and support. They often survive via donation, so if you can't donate, be sure to tell everyone you know how much you love your local gallery/maker's space/etc. in the hopes that one of them can spare some $$$. The more patient souls among you might also want to brave the crowds at museum freebie nights... Tuesdays at the MCA, Thursdays at the Art Institute, etc. And for ye performance art seekers, theaters almost always have deals for the young and hip: they don't want just any butt in their seats, they want your broke-ass butt. If you're hankering to check out a symphony/opera/live seance... Gurgle it. You can probably find a discount.
If you want to do the creating, Pumping Station: One has a starving hacker rate, Girl Develop It Chicago has incredibly reasonable web development workshops for ladies only, and Vaudezilla has "Pay What You Can" classes!
4. Fun you may have forgotten about. Have you all heard of a library? It's this place where you can borrow books... for FREE. WUT. Also: window shopping. Or better yet, sample shopping! You can walk into a Sephora barefaced and smelling like a human, and emerge wearing tangerine eyeliner and 7 different perfumes. Best way to spend a lunch break, as long as you don't have any afternoon meetings. Oh! And cocktail parties! (Thank you Jen!)
What are your favorite free ways to revel? Share your secrets with us!