Place and People Matter
And sometimes, it's excruciating for me to figure out the practicalities.
For weeks now, I’ve been craving a spate of days that are uninterrupted, quiet, and slow. Like many vaccinated people, I’ve been eager to get out into the world, see and hug people, and see what life “on the other side” looks like here in the privilege of the US. I’ve also been exhausted by even minor forays into this rebounded social reality, and I’ve been curious about what choices I want to make ongoingly to marry this desire for social engagement with the stillness and routines I fought hard to create during the last 15 months. This is especially true since I feel like I’ve right-sized a lot of my life during the pandemic and I’m continuing to create a life I feel great about living.
This past Memorial Day weekend delivered. It was deliciously chilly. I had no looming deadlines to consume my anxious tendencies. The people I usually hang out with in Memphis were either gone or otherwise occupied with their own family responsibilities. I got to “free-play” for three full days and it was...everything I’ve been craving for these last weeks and, as all the weekends that have been as quiet in Covid as this one was, it also brought to the forefront some of the stuff I need to confront in my life.
For at least two years now, I’ve wanted to leave Memphis. In part, because I want to push myself to have a new adventure and to discover what my life might be like in a new place after being here for 15 years. In part, because I’m still absolutely heartbroken from the 2019 election and confronting the realities of what a vision of equity and justice are up against here from expected and unexpected players, and I’m not sure that healing that, in this place and at this time, is something I really have energy to do. In part, because I need mountains in my life again and it’s getting harder and harder for the three “hills” in Shelby Forest to fill that hole in my soul. In part, because I don’t really have community here anymore (and, in some ways, I’m wondering to what extent I really ever did, since knowing a lot of people isn’t the same as being in community with them).
With no exceptions, the people I’m closest to in the world don’t live here or are themselves on a ticking clock for their own departures. Some of my closest friends are just a short drive away. Others live in states where, apparently, central air conditioning isn’t a requirement because it simply doesn’t get hot enough (yet) to need it (I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to understand this reality). Still others are countries and oceans away.
Before the pandemic and after the election, I went on a month-long train ride around the country. Years ago, I’d seen this map for a US road trip and always had it in my mind to do it. Except I love traveling solo and driving the country alone didn’t seem fun, practical, or even safe. Once I’d conceived of the trip as a train ride (with some inspo to do so), it felt like the perfect way to see this vast country that, until then, I’d really barely seen at all (conference locations decidedly don’t count on my “places I’ve visited” list). It also felt like a really cool way to try on some cities, catch up with some friends, and reflect on what I wanted next. The election was on a Thursday. On Friday, I went to New Orleans for the weekend with some badass women I love and on Monday, I flew to Vermont to start the train adventure. I wasn’t kidding: that election broke my heart and I needed to goooooooo.
I came home from the trip absolutely obsessed with Amtrak (no joke, in the darkest days of the pandemic, it remains the only thing I truly craved and missed deeply), clear about the role I wanted to play next in bringing about the world I dream about, and still just as unsure about where I wanted to move. I just didn’t feel called to any particular place (I still don’t), and it matters to me to be drawn to a future place rather than to simply run from the current place.
This weekend, these thoughts came back to the surface again after having been quiet all of Covid, but in a wee bit of a new way.
Part of my weekend reflections included really examining my loneliness and challenging myself on what, exactly, I want to do about it. I can, I decided, dissolve the comparison I’m doing with friends who have recently left or are in their own planning stages of leaving, and stop making this mean that I’m being left behind and that it means I’m never going to have close friends here again. It’s also possible for me to, for example, pick a place with at least some of my close friends with proximity to mountains and simply move there (I see you W&K), even if it’s temporary.
At the same time, I’ve begun interrogating this whole exploration in the context of my values and beliefs around the climate crisis. Memphis is about as far south as you can go and expect to still have some hope of livability in the projected future reality in which I will, perhaps, still be alive (though it’s already hot AF here in the summer, I’m not sure I’m really down for even hotter, and you’ll notice that Memphis is also definitely on the border of livability in those linked projections). Any new place I would move to simply has to be north of here.
While there’s a strong argument to move north and close to fresh water, there’s also an argument that asks me - and us - to do the work that’s still available to our species to avoid climate disaster. That work - alongside other political beliefs I hold - asks me to root in the place I am. To see Memphis for the challenge it is, and to engage anyway. To create community for myself here anew. To rejoin the (sadly very few) people here working to create a safe, accountable Memphis that is full of possibility for everyone. To do what I need to be solutions oriented about this place again and really root for it, instead of being yet another Memphian who burnt out here and moved on.
Two years into this question, I’m still not sure what I want to do. It’s funny, because this is a pattern of how I make decisions (contrary to what I want to believe about myself and that is sometimes echoed back to me by others: that I’m decisive, bold, and courageous). The big decisions I’ve made in my life fall into two camps: 1) I did what others around me were doing or asked me to do with not a whole lot of thinking and quite a lot of relief that someone else “made the decision for me” (see: college, join TFA, move to Memphis, get married) or 2) I take an agonizingly long time to deliberate, consider, plan, replan, reconsider, and redeliberate and then, once I’ve made a decision, I take action absurdly quickly (see: my divorce, leaving TFA, and, it seems, leaving Memphis). I suppose I can hope for an external force to decide this whole stay / leave / where to go next dilemma for me, or I can embrace that I take a long time to make decisions when loyalty / connection are involved.
I’m reminded of the advice (that I often quote to others) my therapist gave me when I was in the “should I get divorced” years. She recommended I look at the divorce as a road trip where I know the final destination (divorce), but I don’t have a pre-planned route or timeline to get there yet, so I have the freedom to switch from the scenic route to the interstate, to make unexpected stops to see friends or places I haven’t before, to go to the beach and just rest, or drive all night to get to the destination. She reminded me that I can trust the instincts I have to not act yet while also trusting myself to act when I’m ready and need to. And she quite firmly - as is her style - told me to embrace the trip and have fun on it instead of faffing about that I was on the trip at all.
So, here’s what I know right now: I’m a wee worried about living in a place that I know isn’t mine to contribute to anymore without people I love in it; I’m fearful of being left behind and I’ve got some work to do to keep attending to - and dissolving - that fear; I’m more called to a small town than I am another mid-range city and I’m definitely not interested in a big place; I still crave the mountains; I don’t know if I’m up for the work that is needed here and I haven’t resolved what that means about the concept I have of who I am as a person who hopes she’s actively contributing to building a better world; I also really love my house, my new garden, and the relationships I have and am continuing to build with my neighbors; I also have effectively adopted an outdoor cat that is very attached to this place; and, it seems, I’m just not ready to drive all night to get to the final destination of leaving here yet.
I also know that in every decision that I took my time, I was ultimately enormously grateful for having done so. I exited those relationships with more grace and care than I would have if I had chosen to leave at any other time prior, and my conception of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to grow next was similarly more expansive and more provoking.
It seems, here again, that the universe keeps trying to show me just how important - and challenging - moving at an earth based pace really is, and it seems like she’d really like me to learn this lesson and enjoy what I learn along the way.