Sunday, July 24, 2005

Resident, Alien

The great takeaway from today was a feeling of belonging. Being able to navigate in a city suggests a certain level of ownership. I went to frisbee, parties, stores and wandered aimlessly about the streets of my city.

I remember pretty soon after I moved to Seattle, I was pulled over for entering into an intersection and failing to leave a safe distance. The officer who pulled me over asked, among several questions, if I was a resident. I said, “well, I just moved here.” I wanted to say I wasn't a resident, but only because that's truly how I felt. I'm guessing that doesn't hold up in court. She then asked questions about how long ago I'd moved to my apartment. But that doesn’t really measure your residency. She should have asked me, can you navigate to Ballard? Do you know the hours at the Pike Place Market. Do you have a library card? What direction are you facing? What do you call where your parents live? To me no amount of time in a place can replace a the value of having a sense of the place, or feeling psychologically connected to your surroundings.

I think a big part of this is being able to navigate your city. Being able to give directions, to easily move from place to place. This has always been hard for me. My father can read a map and is at heart, I believe, a cartographer. My mother can, without looking at a map or any landmarks, instantly know what direction she is facing. Though to be fair she grew up in small town Kansas a land bereft of landmarks. However she cannot read a map, and my father couldn’t tell you he was facing west if you spotted him the W and the ST. And so, I am truly my parents’ son--an amalgam of each of their navigational weaknesses. Not great with maps, and I don't have innate directional skills.

That is until I moved here. Unlike my times in Minneapolis and Seattle I feel like a local here. I tend to know which direction is North, I have some vague sense of how to get places, though much of that is the work of the subway system. But it still leads me to wonder if some small portion of my earlier sense of transience came from never really fleeing like I was a resident of the places where I resided. I always felt alienated from the place by my inability to navigate, but I think it was more than that. I’m not sure what, just a sense I had of feeling apart from the ethos of the place. I realize I’m in a city based in no small part on my career aspirations. It’s a company town, and while I don’t work for the company, I’m certainly in the business. So that helps as well.

It’s odd. Before, when I would visit my parents I’d use the term home to refer to Minneapolis and while in MN home indicated Westerville. Home was a place that was definitionally separate from my current location. But not any more. Oh, I'm sure I'd be a lousy driver here, and I still can't give directions. but I have control over my transit. I can get here and there, and no how to move about in my city . This is, for now at least, my home. I’m a resident.

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