Our time with family yesterday, my recent walk down memory lane, and my current read (which I have a very difficult time putting down and find it very easy to think about during long car rides), have all come together in my mind to a few realizations.
Thus far in my thirty-odd years, I’ve noticed a common thread through most of my experiences: the constancy of transition. Here is the particular instance that weighs on my mind today. I was born in a city with a dearth of people. As a young child, I lived in that vacuous space and imagined ways to breathe new life into what was left. Presumably my father, with his love of architecture and tendency to dream was also engaged in a more tangible and adult version of this exercise (this is purely speculation, mind you). I left that city, upon which I’d laid so many dreams and hopes. I left and I often missed it terribly. But it seemed that I had to go. There were not possibilities for me there. I was facing a mismatch within myself and the easiest thing to do was to go. Now, truth be told, my parents left. One and then the other, while I was still a child living with them. So, to be fair, my departure wasn’t so much a departure, as a lack of returning once I was of the age to choose for myself where exactly I would begin to work on making my dreams reality. But to me, given the heavy burden of being part of the small community that stayed back in the 1970’s it felt like I’d left. And in the past few years, as returning would be a very cost effective choice compared to continuing to live where we do, the possibility to return has been considered and discussed. But always with the decision to stay put, for now.
Living in Oakland has felt like a good compromise because there are so many characteristics that Oakland and Detroit share. But my husband doesn’t agree. He grew up as an only child out in the country, he’s used to considerably fewer people and, in tandem to me, he holds on to the possibility of returning to his roots. And so it seems that someday in the future I may have to venture even further from my home, to a different sort of place all together. I must admit that while I can conjure up a romantic version of such a life, it is not nearly as appealing to me as staying here or going all the way back home. I find myself engrossed in this element of Weiss’ story and wishing that it could be so simple for me (the beauty of reading another person’s story, right?).
I’ve got my coping mechanisms for urban living all set up, but there is an underlying philosophy that guides me through my days in the city. Living with my country mouse of a husband has brought this philosophy more to the fore front of my mind as I am drawn into debates about why things are the way they are here. But being amongst family members living a small town kind of life, and thinking about my childhood now with the analytical capabilities of an adult, have left me wanting to clarify this mental approach to life in the city a bit more.
There is a complexity to urban life that I really enjoy. The way that so many different people share a small space and in so doing are forced to improve upon themselves is stimulating and interesting to me. I like how life in the city forces me into change. I have my introverted tendencies to be sure, and I think that is why I like the city. Because I’m surrounded by people, the environment sort of makes up for the gap that my personality would tend to create. More specifically, I like that I’m forced to compromise, have patience, empathy, and compassion. And in the midst of all that work, I can put in a hard day (or decade, is more like it) of dream work, and end up with something approaching the life that I’ve always envisioned for myself.
In a smaller kind of place, be it a town, the country, or a less populated urban area, there simply aren’t as many options for who to be, nor so many challenges to be more of who you are. In order to have a reasonably peaceful life, a person has to pick a way of being that fits into what others think of as acceptable. And while there may be more of a tendency for everybody to know everybody else’s business, there simply is more room to hide away with oneself. Put another way, there are not nearly the opportunities for personal growth and expansion. (Embedded in that notion is the assumption that personal growth and expansion are most easily won through relationships, perhaps there is another way of which I am unaware.) While I’ve chosen mostly traditional ways of life for myself, I have enough off-beat tendencies and interests to lead me into too many awkward social situations in a place where people are used to a lot of personal space and a lot of sameness. I much prefer to be in a place where abnormal is the accepted normal.
As I reflect on my Detroit memories, and draw more adult conclusions about what was probably going on for the adults who were shaping the life that I was so fond of, I realize that in their own ways, they must have been grappling with these issues. Clearly personal philosophy, broader trends of culture and society, and personal desires all meet up uniquely for each of us individual humans. But there is also the magical something that only comes together through our joint efforts and intentions. I’d venture to say that every populous is thriving or declining as a result of its mojo reserves. (It seems to me that Detroit could use a big shot of that kind of mojo.) And furthermore, that each of us, everyday, wakes up to our place on the planet and makes a choice about how we are going to contribute. Shall we throw our hat into the ring, or throw in the towel? Shall we stay and do either? Or shall we go and do neither?
I feel like I’ve been walking this line most of my life and while I seem to do okay with the level of uncertainty that comes in hand with such a predicament, I am beginning to have the feeling that maybe someday it would be nice to know for sure and for good, where am I really going to give it my all for the long haul? Perhaps this is just a passing notion given my current mental dabblings. Perhaps not, and at some point my husband and I will have the sort of collective reckoning that Zadie Smith so artfully described in White Teeth (remember the scene between the two boys once they were back in the same city? Perfect! I’ll never forget what she conjured up).
I suppose for now I can take comfort in the fact that Detroit taught me to be careful where I call home. To be sure that I’m in it, 150% and that I’m willing to go long mile after long mile for my little spot of comfort on this big planet. We each have different things to learn in life, perhaps this is one of my things. For now, I have plenty to keep me occupied, a home that I love with a family that I wouldn’t trade for anything. For now and I suspect, for always, transition reigns in at least some corner of my life.