Thursday, May 7, 2009

On Location

I don't mean that I am "on location" but that I am writing about location. Well, I guess that means I'm on location for this "story."

I have always considered place to be an important part of self. We cannot remove ourselves from the "environment," from --

Hold on. My boss just handed me a fortune cookie: "The next few days are a lucky time for you. you can take a chance." Hey! That's a real fortune! Don't you hate it when the cookie just tells you something useless like "People like you"?

--from the people we live near, the climate in our state, the rooms we work in, the old or new buildings we wander around, or the smells we've grown used to. These things change with our changes of place, but some of each place sticks with us, making up part of our selves.

Some places are more compatible with the core of who we are, even though they all get through to us a little. Many people are pretty resilient when it comes to bouncing between different types of places, but most of us have one that we miss or one that we think best aligns with who we are. I miss friends in Tucson, I miss growing up in Maryland, I miss riding all over California. I miss all their smells. But I'm not sure if there's somewhere I'm supposed to be now, someplace with a new smell or a different type of friends.

Too many changes of place can muddy this yearning for home or roots or just familiarity. The three places I've listed are not places I can go back to and expect to pick up where I left off. I left Tucson for good in 2005, and as I said I miss the people most. But only one friend is left there. My two best friends in AZ had extreme changes of place -- one went to Germany, the other just landed in Brooklyn. So going back there would be something completely different.

I left California in 2001 (we'd been on and off for a few years, me and Cali) and I miss doing things outside there most of all. Camping, night hikes, road trips, beaches, weird stuff. Those things are still there to do, but I can't just go there to live outside or in a tree or something (well, I could...). I'd have to live there and work there again, and it just wouldn't be the same.

Even earlier, I left Maryland in 1994, and that location is definitely not the place I left behind anymore. "You can never really go back." said Grandma Byrd on the phone from Maryland last Saturday. She had just been down to the Shenandoah Valley to bury her sister, and she didn't feel she belonged in the place where she grew up. Those words hit home (wherever that is?) for me. I know she's not the first person to utter those words, but coming from her gave them new meaning.

Now I am in Illinois. I have been here for four years this July. That's almost as long as my on-off relationship with southern California, which is very much a part of me. But I have not let Illinois internalize. I've resisted it from day one. The suburbs, the flat land, the lack of starlight, the blase sunsets, the not-very-poofy clouds and the terrible winters immediately turned me off, and the suburbanites were just the poison icing on the cake. I had culture shock moving here more than anything! But nature shock wasn't far behind on the list of reasons to keep Illinois out of "myself."

Now I am on the brink of leaving old Lincolnland, and I wonder if my resistance has been unhealthy. I am desperate to get into a non-Illinois school with money or at least in an affordable area so I have an awesome excuse to escape. I'll find out sometime next spring where I'll be going, and I've got enough shitty backup plans that I'm sure to get at least one letter of acceptance to something. So will I run off as soon as I find out? Will I stick around for the summer and mope about another change of place? Will I even miss it here?

I remember the first time I thought of this place as home, as in, like the place I'm going back to that's where I came from. About a half-year into living here, I went to Florida for just a weekend, and it was too cold. I thought, "I can't wait to go home." Then I was filled with mixed emotions about what that means. It was February so it was probably a lot warmer at "home" in Arizona than at "home" in Illinois.

I called my ex-Tucsonan friend yesterday to see how she's adjusting to life as a New Yorker (how long till she gets that title?). She was at the laundromat. She said its not as bad there as she thought it would be, but moving from a medium city to a metropolis probably jarred her as much as my move to the endless suburbs jarred me.

If I try to be objective about where my next place is, I think about what I like in a place -- liberal politics and people, mild climates, outdoor activities, and it seems I should be aiming myself west again. But I haven't. I've been mostly looking east (except Colorado, which appeals to me because I have absolutely no precedent for it), and being sentimental. I think about old things, grass and trees, people who say what they mean, childhood, and family. I guess the key is, no matter where I get to go (because they make the decision), to expect something different, but not too different. And to not to expect to go "back" to anything. Oh yeah, and to leave Illinois for someplace that has some better smells.

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