Frank Lloyd Wright, Ernest Hemingway, and me.

The other day, I solicited suggestions for what a person with writer’s block might write about. My buddy The Grand Panjandrum suggested in the comments that I write about my part of the world: Restaurants. Local music. Public Transportation. Interesting personalities. Museums. Art Exhibits. Parks and other public spaces. Architecture.

The biggest challenge here is that all that is nothing I’ve ever written about! Well, music. I’ve written about music. And interesting personalities! Some of whom have been musicians.

I tend to write very big (Israel/Palestine, the fate of the free world), or very small (missing my babies, wanting to be Marketa Irglova), the latter with the sense that sometimes the smaller you go, the more universal you get. I find tension, and heart, and big questions at the extremes, and these are what I like to write about.

I find myself not bothering with the bits in the middle — I think in part because, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m lazy. The middle bits are where you find messy details that require real digging, and I like either a sweeping drama, or an intimate moment. And I don’t like to have to work terribly hard to get there.

But as a writer without anything that really resembles a job, per se, if I don’t challenge myself, I won’t be challenged. So I’m going to mull this over a bit, and see what my brain turns up — if I have anything worthy to say about something that is close to hand, but not actually inside my gut.

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In the meantime, though, I can relate a little bit about that which ties me to (as GP said) “the part of this small planet I live in”: Oak Park, Illinois.

We moved to Oak Park in 1998, so that I could get my graduate degree on Chicago’s south side, while my husband worked at a high-tech firm in the city’s western suburbs. At the time, I had no idea that my family was bound up in Oak Park’s history, but as time went by, much was revealed!

Oak Park, as many know, was home to both Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Hemingway (two gentlemen who, if you ask me, had some pretty crucial screws loose. But I digress!). Oak Park loves its native sons, though they didn’t necessarily love it back (Hemingway famously described Oak Park as a place of “broad lawns and narrow minds.” The minds have since broadened considerably), and they are feted everywhere one goes.

Well, it turns out that my great-grandfather, Oscar Balch, worked with Frank Lloyd Wright, as an interior designer. Wright eventually designed a house for the Balch family, on Oak Park’s Kenilworth Avenue, where my grandmother spent several years of her childhood. The Balch House is across the street from the home in which Ernest Hemingway grew up (not, all you Hemingway-philes, the one in which he was born) — and Hemingway’s younger sister, Carol, became good friends with my grandmother (whose name was Esther – a bonus clue as to both my Hebrew name and my online username). In the fullness of time, Carol Hemingway babysat for my father, Ted Hauser, and he so loved her that when his sister was born, he asked to name the baby Carol. In Oak Park, these facts render me something akin to nobility!

Balch house.

Typically, though, while I find these connections oddly fascinating, the ones that really resonate are not those, but these: I eventually learned that my father also spent big chunks of his life in Oak Park, apparently in part because his maternal grandparents were here. In fact, after my daughter was born, I discovered that my father was born here, too — in the very same hospital, on the very same floor. And she, it bears noting, was born on the anniversary of his death.

Six months later, after we bought the house in which we now live, I learned further that he spent at least one summer of his college years in a house just six blocks south, on the same street. I have no idea why he was there — he attended Oberlin College, and his parents lived elsewhere at the time — but I’m guessing that he might have been staying with his grandparents.

As the daughter of a dead man (and, since he died when I was ten months old, I have never really been anything but), I find all of these odd hints and shadows and whispers of my father fascinating and tantalizing and deeply frustrating. I think that the latter is why I haven’t “found” the time to answer my questions (why the hell was he living in that house?). Because while the information might be interesting, it won’t bring me to him — and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted.

Sometimes I walk down our street, or go to the movie theater at which he must have seen a film or two, and wonder what it all looked like, then, through his eyes.

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So there! A little something about (let’s see…) interesting personalities, and architecture, and literature (which while not asked for explicitly, I think falls within the general outlines of GP’s request!), with a bonus stroll through my gut. Emily L. Hauser — full service blogger!

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4 Comments

  1. Fascinating! My wife has family in Itasca. They have lived there since some time in the late 19th Century.

    BTW have you ever eaten at Rick Bayless’s restaurant Frontera? If you have not yet tried it I highly recommend it.

    Thanks for the trip through the “hood”!

  2. Hi, I came across your blog and I thought it was interesting reading about the Oscar Balch house. Do you have any further information on this house and Oscar Balch’s life? I would be interested to read more about him.

  3. Thanks for taking time away from your usually talented writing on Israel/Palestine to write about your home! I often find that I also don’t write anything about the DC area that I live in and love so much because I focus on either the big picture or the minute picture in other senses, so it’s interesting to see how you handle writing about things that you don’t typically write about. Has it pulled you out of your writer’s block? It seems like it has.

  4. JoJo Nelson

     /  October 24, 2011

    I came upon your blog and read with interest. I’m going to visit Chicago in a couple of days and would like to explore the worlds of Hemingway and Wright…their minds, their homes, any ways their lives may have intersected…I’m particularly interested in mental health issues, depression, etc. Got any ideas? libraries, museums, films?