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Diane Marshbank Murphy, Writer

December 13, 2010

Diane Murphy

Part 1: The Real Chicagoan

Mediation, painting by Alexa Meade

Some artists wear their artistic identity like a scarlet A, albeit proudly. Some wear certain clothes and hang out at certain coffee shops just to make sure people know who they are. Some don’t. Some may know they are artists somewhere inside even though the rest of the world has no clue. Perhaps, as in Diane’s case, their identity is already so tied to other things (e.g. “she’s a go-getter in city government”) that people would assume that is the extent of who they are. But every human has the capacity for infinite creativity, no matter how hidden. What we see of another person is so little of who they really are–who they are in our mind is the tip of the massive iceberg that’s underside can reach miles down into the ocean.

In the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico there are dark pools of water called ‘cenotes’ that you can find hidden in the jungle or associated with Mayan ruins. The cenotes are sinkholes that connect to much deeper underwater caverns–entire river systems under the rocky surface. Diane is like a cenote. She seems like a really fun place to go for an afternoon swim (no inappropriate connotation intended), and then you realize there is a whole world you could explore with some snorkeling or scuba equipment, a world that could bring you back to the surface far away from where you began, perhaps in the middle of some ancient Mayan temple. But she is so modest and unassuming, you may never get the chance.

More than anyone I have talked to in a long time, Diane is from Chicago. The city’s blood runs through her veins like the hum of the highways and the bustle of the pedestrians and the wind through the skyscrapers. She and her mother and grandmother lived together in Hyde Park, and her mother taught in the public schools. Besides living in Iowa for a couple of years during college and some travels, Diane has spent her life in various corners of this big city, getting to know its various nooks while serving the people and working to make it a better place for some two decades of her adult life.

After going through the Chicago Public School system on the south side in settings where she was almost always a minority as a Caucasian, Diane went to Drake University in Des Moines, IA, a school where everyone was white. Before applying to colleges, however, Diane had the idea that she could get a good minority scholarship since she had always considered herself a minority, the definition being, “when there are less of you than someone else.” The push to go to Drake had come from Diane’s mother’s desire to expose her to a different social environment. But after two years at Drake, Diane was done: “I lasted for two years; it was too much culture shock for me.”

When she came back to Chicago to finish up her college education, Diane’s boyfriend at the time helped her apply for an internship with Mayor Daley’s Green Streets Program, where she was given more responsibility than she bargained for. From there, she was propelled through various departments of Chicago government, from the Mayor’s Department to the Environmental Department to the Department of Streets and Sanitation (“dees, dems, and dose kind of guys”) to the Budget Department. At some point, one of Diane’s bosses, someone who truly cared about her happiness and future success, recommended that she take the time to get a graduate degree.  “She said, ‘you need to go to grad school. It’s never going to get easier.’ So I got my Master’s of Public Service at DePaul night school. To be honest, I really wanted to do public policy, but none of the public policy programs did part time… When I got my degree, I got a job in the budget office.” Fortuitously, for her job with the grants program in the budget office, she would “screen the grants and get them approved,” a process that led her to Heather Treadway, who happened to be seeking grants for the Cultural Affairs Department. Diane and Heather would eventually team up to begin actively pursuing a church community together.

Part 2: The Seeker

"Ann," painting by Alexa Meade

Diane had not been interested in Christianity or faith in past years, but that was meant to change. “That was when God was showing up in my life ferociously. I started asking questions.” While looking for a new housing situation and ending up with a Jewish yoga teacher in Bucktown she had not known previously, Diane became cognizant of God’s presence. “I wasn’t in that God zone yet, but it was that first time of being fully aware of the higher power telling me everything was under control. That’s where the awareness of who God was really started stirring in my life.”

Diane ended up becoming great friends with her yoga teacher roommate. “I was asking questions, and she definitely asked questions, and she encouraged me to go to a psychic. On my way to see Joriann the Coffee Psychic, I heard this voice in my head that said, ‘You know she’s gonna tell you you’re psychic,’ and I thought, ‘huh, that’s really weird.’ Of course I never thought of myself that way before… Sure enough, she said, ‘You know you’re a psychic?'”

Over the next months, and Diane’s first and second psychic experiences (the second one being the last), she says that light and dark were battling for her. While trying to meditate and empty her mind of thought one day, she threw up a question about a romantic relationship in her life at the time. She got a very clear answer back, which took her by surprise. “I did this meditation thing, and I heard the universe speaking to me. And then I decided, well I guess God created the universe. If the universe answered me and I believe God created the universe, does that mean God spoke to me?” After thinking about it more, Diane began to wonder, “Why wouldn’t he speak to us? Are there other people who think God would speak to us?” And so she determined, “I need to figure this out. I need to find people who think God would speak to them. And I found someone [Heather] who had a framework for it, which helped.”

A friend had given Diane the gift of visiting a psychic again (the second time), and though she had mixed feelings about it by that point, she decided she would go. Heather tried to convince her otherwise, but in the end, Diane went. But the power of darkness over her life had already lifted. “I  have no idea what the psychic told me. God already had me. I was on this other path already.” By the end of the session, the psychic asked if Diane had questions, and after a distracted pause, Diane said yes. She continued, “I was thinking about joining the youth group at church. Do you think I should do that?” Recognizing Diane was, at best, only vaguely engaged in the experience, the psychic said, “Yes, that is exactly what you should do.” And in Diane’s words, “The dark was defeated at that point.”

Part 3: The Finder

"Curated," painting by Alexa Meade

Back at work, Diane had been put on a short list of people to lose her job, but for no clear reasons. “I felt like the only thing I really had was my reputation. I was someone who got stuff done in city government, and this guy ruined my reputation.” During that period of insecurity, Diane felt God telling her, “It’s not even about your reputation, it’s about me.” And that was a turning point for Diane, a time when she would begin to concretely rely on God’s provision. With her identity as a city government go-getter in question, she realized that God wanted her entirely, underwater cave system and all.

“I was feeling scared and financially challenged, and then I told God I would really like to go to Europe before I ever get married. I asked, ‘Can you do that God? Can you get me a free trip to Europe?'” The next week, Diane’s friend called and asked if she would like to come as her guest to Amsterdam and London, first class.

Meanwhile, another friend got Diane’s Chicago dream job at the library. I kept wondering, “Why did our boss recommend her and not me? I was so jealous. In my mind, that job was meant for me.” A year later, “I was ‘pressing in,’ saying [to God] I need a different job.” She felt God telling her, “Just wait, I am preparing it for you.” And sure enough, “My girlfriend who had the job ended up moving, and I applied for it and got the job.”

God’s presence was becoming undeniable for Diane in other areas too. She describes it this way: “I had just started the job [she had been wanting for so long], and God was clearly moving in my life, kind of in crazy ways.” Someone close told her, “I just have this feeling that the guy who is meant for you is going to drop out of nowhere.” Not long after, it was Thanksgiving morning, and Diane was taking the bus to her mother’s house. “I was for some reason saying I was so tired of being single. ‘I am ready for whatever you bring me, but just bring it on.’ And God said, ‘He’s gonna be cute too.'”

A few days before, Diane’s mother had called and told her that a cousin was bringing a friend for the holiday dinner, which was a rare occurrence since her grandmother was uncomfortable with strangers in the house, but Diane had not thought twice about it. After arriving at her mom’s house, “I am in the kitchen cooking, no makeup, wet hair… He walks into the house and we saw each other across the room.” You can imagine who he turned out to be–Diane’s future husband. “I heard God say he was gonna bring him, but I didn’t expect it to be three hours or less. It wasn’t love at first sight, but it was knowing at first sight.” God had also told her, “[This guy’s] gonna sit down and talk to you, and I really need you to be open.” When Mark arrived, he told Diane, “‘I feel like I need to tell you who I am,’ and I was ready.”

Diane continues, “On our second date, he was cooking dinner in my kitchen and he said, ‘This is weird, right? It feels like I have been here forever.'” Diane and Mark were married only months later, and have been together for a few years now. Though he has lived in Chicago for over twenty years, however, Diane still has not granted him Real Chicagoan status. According to Diane, she is willing to call him a Chicagoan if he can pass “the final test,” which would be to “get around the city on public transportation without any help.”

Part 4: The Artist

Photograph of Alexa Meade painting a subject in an installation called "Blueprint"

Diane continues to serve the city as the Director of Acquisitions of the Chicago Public Library, and at church she has been leading the Facilities Team, which is searching for a new worship location. Though Diane is exceptional at all her endeavors, her art has not played a prominent place in her work or any other public arena in the past. Perhaps this is, in part, because, as Diane describes it, “I always listen to others; I don’t speak up.” But recently, Diane says, “I put something on paper, and I shared it with people,” which is a bold step for someone who is afraid to speak up and feels like the artist inside has been hiding. This new venture took place after take she took a writing class through the Newberry Library .

But before that, three years ago, Diane joined an “Artist’s Way” group after a friend’s prompting. She explained that as a “completely repressed artist,” the experience “raised her awareness.” She found that sharing the class with the other participants who were also seeking to ’embark on their creative journeys’ had positive results: “being around the creativity helps breed the creativity.” And after 17 years working for the City of Chicago, she had realized that “city government doesn’t really breed creativity.” Very honestly and with profound self-awareness, Diane also admitted that she had experienced envy of others who were practicing and succeeding in their artistic endeavors, which was also an eye-opener. “If you ever experience jealousy [about art], look in the mirror. It means it’s something you wish you were doing.”

So Diane is a writer. In addition to Diane’s plans to write a mystery series, she says she has “a musical/play, maybe a tv series, and some chic lit books inside me somewhere as well.” I do not believe it is coincidence that timing has played such a profound role in Diane’s life. Everything has unfolded in a time and way that could not have been anticipated or manipulated by Diane herself. And this newest phase, of writing and being open to sharing her work, is no exception. Don’t underestimate the underside of this iceberg or where this cenote could take you.

Books Diane would recommend to the aspiring writer:

A Broom of One’s Own by Nancy Peacock

The Right to Write by Julla Cameron

One Comment leave one →
  1. July 14, 2011 2:01 am

    you sure are a cenote. what a perfect description of you. you are such an amazing soul.

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