Clay Kamaleson

What brought you to Chicago?

What brought me to Chicago was a week in 2010 when I was a sophomore in high school I spent at a program called National Student Leadership Conference, which was held at University of Chicago. I didn't know then that that part of Chicago was distinguished as Hyde Park, but even then there was something a little less tangible that was drawing me here. I distinctly remember that it was something that reminded me of the other places I've been, something that gave me a feeling that I could call Chicago home. So that summer I started looking for colleges in Chicago, and then applied and was accepted to Depaul University. I moved here in August 2012. Right now, I am working as a financial analyst for a company called NextLevel Health.

Where are you from?

Well, that's a little bit of a complicated question. I was born in Arcadia, CA, but I only lived there for ten months after I was born. After that I spent six years in Romania, then moved back to US. Spent half a year in Cali (with my dad's family), then half a year in South Dakota (with my mom's family), then a year in Wheaton, then a year in Washington DC. After that, moved to Nairobi, Kenya for five and a half years. Then moved to Budapest, Hungary for 3 years, and graduated highschool there. After that, I moved to Chicago to go to DePaul. The short word for people like me is called Third Culture Kid (TCK), but I'm not too fond of the label. There are a couple reasons for that; one being that if I go into a room full of TCK's, I quickly realize there is little that we share besides the label "TCK" ( It kind of feels like being categorized in the "other" category that you add when something doesn't fit any other logical or natural category), and the second being that I feel as though the label doesn't answer any questions or confirm anything. But for now, it's all we got to go with, so I'm cool with it.

What do you find challenging about living here?

Saving money is hard. Such fun things, yet such slow cash flow.

Slowing down is hard. I find that in the city, whoever you are talking to is going somewhere. I have a destination set out with most efficient route and the most efficient mode of travel. we always know what the next milestones are in life and in our career and we know our plans for getting there. I get panicked when I feel as though I am falling behind or feeling as though I am not keeping up.

I'm not even sure if this is a city thing, a millennial thing, a recent-grad thing, or even just a me thing, but this is a challenge that I face on a daily basis. Usually what I do is I just slow down, I bike slower and take the scenic routes, I talk to coworkers before I start work and before I leave work, I wake up early to not get anything done but just to think and read and pray.

Putting down roots is hard. It's hard to intentionally make a life here in Chicago even though you don't necessarily plan on being here forever. It's hard to go beyond coasting with the current commitments in the city. Growing up, there was usually a given mode by which I would make friends and connect to places, but to make routines and paradigm shifts myself is a new thing to me. I've always made deep roots quick with the places I moved to, but the soil never seems to settle as quickly as I did.

What are some of the reasons you love it?

I love biking through the streets and seeing the life there is block by block. I love getting know the rhythms of the city, the way life flows. I love seeing people walking and doing their thing, I wonder at what point in their life am I seeing them. I love the craft that people have behind their passion and seeing how that aligns with their occupation. Going to coffee shops and seeing baristas make coffee, going to a bike shop and watching a mechanic fine tune and calibrate their current project, watching a kitchen be loud and precise in a packed house. I love it here because there are people here, and with people you have real life problems, but you also got real life potential.

Why do you stay?

I think, generally speaking, there is more gained from staying than from leaving. Any resistance I have met in Chicago, can be counteracted with a hope for that resistance to be overcome. In the day to day, reasons will come up for me to leave, but they usually are really small, really impersonal reasons, like traffic and road rage or just general snobbery and arrogant vibes that I come across in the transitioning of one thing to another. But the deep and meaningful friendships that I have found here are so real and so weighty that I hardly can give you list of such tiny reasons to leave.

How has community affected your time here?

Community has affected my time here immensely, it has been like a ruler and like a mirror. Community has pushed me when my people know that I capable of so much more. Community has reminded me of who I am in God when I have forgotten. We go deeper, both in ourselves and other people when we have others that we go with. My community in Chicago has brought life to a city that I would otherwise ghost through. 

Can you speak into the creativity found in the Chicago community (specifically in the circle of people you spend time with)? How does it inspire you?

If creative is beyond the nominal title of "creative arts," I'd say I see creativity play out in all sorts of shapes and forms in the community around me. Superficially, I know a few artists, musicians, illustrators, and opera singers, some identify through their projects they work on, others identify through occupation. Bethany, my girlfriend, works as a music therapist, combining both her passion and occupation. In my close circle of friends, I see people talking about recipes and baking, I hear about techniques to get the most out your taxes, I hear about travel hacks, productivity hacks, and all kinds of life hacks in general. And then there is even on the street, I see all kinds of creativity in the people around me, in the ways that they choose to commute, biking, reading on the train or a combination of the two. I mean in reality, what else is creativity besides making connections between two things?

Regardless of whether or not it is aesthetically pleasing, the sense of level of creativeness I think comes from how novel an idea is in a certain context, and I see that in everybody all the time. So maybe it's not about tapping into that or unlocking a new level, but rather humans are just creative and we just need to realize that and observe our individual surrounding and humanize it.

When do you feel most empowered and comfortable in your own skin?

I feel the most comfortable in my own skin when I am on the road in the city, riding my bike. But at the same time, that is probably when I am at my most exposed and when my life is least in my hands in the day to day. And in reality, my life is really not in my hands at all when I'm on the road, but in the drivers around me. But at the same time, the life of the drivers is in mine, or rather their sanity and mental well-being. For if I am reckless and make it difficult for the driver to safely drive around me, and a fatal collusion ensues, and I die, he has to deal with the consequence of my life for the rest of his life. On top of that, so will my family and friends. Yes I die, but I'm not the one who is living with that. So ya, I feel most empowered when I am on the road on my bike, responsible for myself, the well being of my friends and family, and the well being of the lives around. I mean it centers on the principle that life isn't very independent at all, more so interdependent than me and my selfish side would like, but that it's good that it's made that way, inherently together rather inherently on my own.

Has living in the city affected your style and the way you approach your day-to-day look? If so, how?

Most definitely! I dress way more trendy and usually like to have some sort of super-saturated color in the mix of neutrals, and I definitely never used to wear sweater or cardigans until Chicago. My theory on that is that Chicago is pretty stylish, and so the whole stock of clothing in Chicago is pretty stylish, I kind of just go around choosing what I like and it ends up looking pretty good. 

If you're up for it, would you share a specific story about an encounter you've had in Chicago that has moved you/stayed with you?

A specific story that has really stuck with me has been this one time that I walked passed the AA church in Lincoln Park. I was feeling pretty low one day, essentially just wrestling with thoughts of worthlessness and such, and I guess it wasn't a much of a secret to other people on the street. At the time I lived in Lincoln Park, and there was an AA church on the block (I am still not 100% sure because I've never been inside, but I think I've seen something written on the wall saying that it was AA). That night, I was walking past the AA church on my way to study at a nearby Starbucks, and a guy hollered at me saying, "Hey man, look up, things look a lot better that way." That absolutely turned everything around, just the fact he was willing to notice me and do something about it was pretty cool.

Anything else you'd like to share about your time in Chicago?

Chicago has a way of crawling up into the nook of my heart and making a home there. I may not be from here, and by no means was I ever raised or born here, but Chicago has made a mark on the foundations of my life. Chicago has written her name on my bones. Her history has become tangled into mine, my story has become part of hers.

Talk about relationships/dating in Chicago

I'm the type of guy that likes to make sure that my own house is in order before I talk about building on to it. I like to make sure that I got the theory down, and make sure that I have considered all the factors that threaten the success and growth of any endeavor. But that's pretty counterintuitive to relationships and dating. It's opening up and inviting, it's ongoing and a process. Any relationship that is new is a kind of growth, and you can't really prepare for growth, you can only start growing. My story with Bethany was so essential in learning that, we met when I was in a low place and the areas where I fell short were so apparent to me from relationships and episodes prior to her. There was a point where we talked and I listed all the things wrong with me, and she was still undeterred, she knew where she was at with how she felt about me, and that won me.