Friday, June 17, 2011

Why I like being not-in-the-city

I consciously choose to entitle this post “Why I like being not-in-the-city” rather than “Why I like not being in the city”, because the later, while more grammatically typical, is indicative of precisely of what I despair: not-being, in the city: a state of nonexistence (in a deadening nullifying way rather than a bodhi way) coming from being surrounded by so much frission, so many stresses, so much unhealthiness, so many forces negating all that is me, that the self retreats, retreats, retreats until it is hardly recognizably there: not-being, in the city. And, rather, when I am not-in-the-city, I swiftly emerge into myself: being.

I have lived in big cities (Boston, Melbourne, Bangkok, New York) since graduating college. I have never wanted to live in any city, but the job/transportation/social opportunities they present have lured me in during each move, and my wife is both charismatically convincing and a city girl, so I haven’t stood a chance. I also do truly enjoy the short commutes, the ability to walk or bike everywhere, the lack of gas money and car maintenance, the compact and efficient living, the diversity of people and food, the access to and profusion of cultural and musical events, and the vantage point on the grit of the human experiment. But it is like poking something dead with a stick, or watching a film, or acting in a play, or picking a scab: while interesting and satisfying for a short time, at some point shortly you have to stop and walk away and resume more meaningfully and completely living.

Then I return home. I feel a homecoming when I step into a green place, when I breathe deep not only to fill my lungs but to taste the sweet liquid pungency of the air, even if the greens are from plants unknown to me and the smells are new and mysterious. My chest expands, my shoulders press back, I stand taller and more firmly, more loose in my knees and more agile. My eyes open wider, my jaw unclenches, and my neck becomes exercised and stretched as I gaze around at many angles, down to my feet and around to my surroundings and up at the lofty heights and above to the skies. I become less hungry, need less sleep, sleep more deeply. My body/mind has more positive challenges expected of it (scaling steep little hills, not-slipping on slick mud, gazing into sun-glinting water, being aware of the wind and clouds, remembering the earlier rain, being aware of the critters and our appropriate relations to them, from awe to run-away) rather than being rattled with repeated identical steps on concrete, gazing always at eye level. Instead of shutting everything out, I become open, soaking it all in, feeling immersed and imbued and saturated, filled up, satiated.

The cabinets of my interests open their doors when I am not-in-the-city (and I say not-in-the-city rather than “in the country” or “in nature” because the city is the aberration, the object, while that which is not-city is to vast and pervasive, the context in which all things exist, that we cannot responsibly designate it as a place). My experiences burnish their accolades, my skills tools sharpen their edges, my memories dust themselves off for contemplation. I become relevant. I become respected, respectable, rather than out of place and an oddity misunderstood. When not in the city, I feel complete and proud, smiling, relaxed. (I dread my departure.)

"Where I live as myself is to others a wilderness. But to me it is home." -Ursula Le Guinn


Lisa Nonken said...

Well said, sis. I miss you!

Lilli said...

Awesome (I first typed "well said", but now see that Lisa already penned that)