Report from the road: How much does where you live matter when it comes to who you are?

I’m posting this from a library in south Tulsa, where my youngest is screaming and kicking because this library doesn’t have a slide! The nerve! I wrote this post a few nights ago. I have very spotty internet access, so I’m sorry I haven’t been updating at my usual breakneck pace.

May 11th

Interwebz!! I’ve missed you so much!

I’m writing this in my in-law’s living room in East Tulsa. It’s dark: my in-laws have left to go to a dance at the American Legion; the girls are finally asleep after an evening playdate with high school friends and their kids; and for the first time in days, I’m alone. The TV is playing something called Sonic Tap 814: Modern Country. I believe I just heard a song called “Redneck Yacht Club.” I could turn it off, but it’s fitting.

Its only day 3 of our epic trip and so far it’s been really lovely. The girls are great little travelers and have settled into our gypsy life with relative ease. Nothing feels very far away in Tulsa, so we’ve been all over creation, zipping from point A to point B so fast, and with so much to look at! We’re used to long and winding country highways with cows and fields: here, there’s something on every corner and in between. Today, while driving out of midtown on 41st Street, Robin said, “Mom, I love this neighborhood. It is just so beautiful.” We were surrounded by muffler places, shops and restaurants. They’re even sleeping well: snoring all night and not waking once.

I’m not sleeping well. For whatever reason, I can’t settle into deep sleep (blame the beds? blame the snoring?). It reminds me of my Dad complaining about travel and how hard it was for him to sleep in a new place. As a kid I was like WHATEVERZ OLD DUDE but now I get it, and I do think it’s an age thing. I’m slipping into the middle age zone and my body isn’t that spry young thing. I recently started having chronic knee pain, of all things. It’s related to poor posture, even less cool: if only it’d been a rugby injury or something else kickass. I’ve been calling it “blogger’s knee” because I’ve been writing while standing up at the kitchen counter, locking my knees while I type. Apparently, this is anathema to crucial support muscles in my inner leg, because now I’m all creaky and groany and stiff.

I’m not the only one showing signs – small signs – of age. My gorgeous sister has several gray hairs (she’s not even 30! wtf!) and our parents – mine, hers, and Brian’s – are getting older, too. Not old old, but older. Like, arsenal of supplements and vitamins older. Like, multiple prescription medications to manage blood pressure and arthritis older. Investing in a longterm care plan older. Seems like my friends and acquaintances are also hitting new life stages: folks who’ve stayed close to home are ready for change, and all of us who left home are feeling the urge for the familiar. Seems like things are shifting all over the place, rearranging lives on invisible tectonic plates: jobs, marriages, divorces, babies, whatever.

I keep driving in Tulsa asking myself, “How’s it feeling? What would it be like to be here every day? What would it be like to live here? What about there? How about here? Where am I, anyway?” And the answer is…? OK? It feels fine. It feels like it always did: meh, but not awful, and ecstatically lovely in certain spots. The weather is beguiling: rather than blazing hot, it’s been cool and rainy, just like Iowa. I think it’s project what it would feel like on a daily basis: one moment, I’m thinking Holy shit, I love how everything is ten minutes away, it’s so convenient! The next minute, I’m thinking, How many fucking strip malls can one town sustain?? The whole landscape is characterized by retail:  no wonder living in south Tulsa felt like hell, it’s almost a parody of suburban life and parts are downright ugly.

I could go through all the calculus of the factors of which neighborhoods feel right versus which ones cost right or school right. There’s a ton of mental math happening, and it’s all in organized pro/con lists that run through my mind non-stop, especially when I’m trying to fall asleep while my girls are snoring. What I can picture for sure is: hanging out with my sister all the time. Checking out all the parks, going to Driller’s games, going to the fair. Having a house without a freaky portal-to-hell basement drain that occasionally belches human waste. Fretting constantly over the girls’ fair skin, new allergies, and freedom to play outside, unsupervised and safe. Feeling like a super minority in terms of both politics and religion, no matter how cool our neighborhood might be.

The big question I keep asking myself is: why. Why does it matter where you live? Does it matter? I know great people from shitty places and shitty people from Portland. It all seems like a crapshoot, but the stakes feel incredibly high to me. As I shuttle the kids from East Tulsa to midtown to Broken Arrow and back again, and interact with my in-laws and parents, I realize these questions point largely to issues of identity. What kind of people will my kids be if they are raised in a place like Tulsa? Or in a small farm town in Iowa? What if we make choices similar to (or totally different from) our parents: will we end up just like them, with the same tastes, politics, or regrets? How did our parents manage to raise intelligent and open-minded kids when they possess these characteristics only debatably? If we pick the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood with the perfect school, and raise our kids perfectly, could they still turn out to be assholes? Could choosing a place to live make or break how good and cool they can be – how good and cool we can be? What if they end up unrecognizable? What if we do?

Meghan Daum writes about a concept she calls “domestic integrity:” the idea that the place you live in somehow matches the person you feel like you are inside. I am in search of domestic integrity, but I confess I worry about who I might discover I really am as we make these decisions. These are burning questions in my mind, because I desperately want to have a great decade. My twenties were somewhat squandered on the futile pursuit of a PhD. My thirties have so much potential. I want to lead an interesting life, and I want to raise ethical, thoughtful, open-minded, interesting, cool people, too. Where can that happen best? Are those two things mutually exclusive? Or what?

An art project called “Domestic Integrity Fields”

With those deep thoughts, I’m taking myself and my blogger’s knee to the other guest bedroom for some R&R. With any luck, the girls will stay settled without me in their bed, and I can get a solid chunk of rest. Cross your fingers for this old lady.

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4 responses to “Report from the road: How much does where you live matter when it comes to who you are?

  1. I understand completely – WHERE TO LIVE? I’ve narrowed it down to one state (we’re already here), but if my kids grow up living where we are now, who will they become? McDonald’s employees and farmers? On the other hand, if we move near a big city, who will they be then??? Or will there be no difference? It drives me a wee bit batty some days, pondering the possibilities.

    • Thanks for the comment, Charity. It does seem like a “choose your own adventure” where you never know if the road will lead to success or something horrible.

  2. I think your worries sound completely understandable.. but I think the most important factor is the individual family unit, and the values/things you teach your kidlets, geographic coordinates be damned.

  3. Pingback: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to (mostly) Love Oklahoma: A Tulsa Memoir Part 5 | mama nervosa

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