More than Moving Cities
Anytime someone visits my apartment, I apologize incessantly for its disorderliness, even when I’ve just spent hours cleaning. I’m not self-conscious about my modest living space, and my domestic standards are by no means unusually high; I do this simply because I grew up in the rural South watching every adult woman I knew do it. The attention to politeness and hospitality and the undue concern about what my guests might tell other people are inherited and ingrained, practically written into my DNA.
No matter where I live or how much I travel, those 25 years of my history are present in all the ways that I understand and interact with the world.
Moving from East Texas to Chicago almost six years ago has been the most significant transition to mark my adult life, and it was filled with tangible reminders of its weight. I sold my vehicle and replaced it with a plastic Ventra card. I went from owning no outerwear heavier than a leather jacket to accumulating a wide selection in an array of fabrics and colors. I learned to use revolving doors without noticeable awkwardness. This move was also my first with no definite end date and a decision entirely within my control, something I badly needed after an unforgivingly tumultuous personal year in 2011.
While it’s easy enough to vividly recall the details of my departure and arrival, attempting to pinpoint my substantial transition from rural to urban is much less straightforward. I believe that this shift was an internal force, already in motion, and that I had been waiting to fully commit to it. I remember visiting New York City and Washington D.C. on family vacations and feeling inspired by their dynamism, the realization that I did not share most East Texans’ conservative views about sexuality, and the persistent inkling that I would be more myself as one anonymous person among millions who were too busy to gossip and wouldn’t care who my parents were or which church I attended.
Because of this, I bristle when well-meaning Southerners jokingly ask when (not if) I’m moving back. Their question and tone suggest that my current life, which I purposefully chose and carefully built, could somehow have been pure impulse or a passing phase, as if it could be possible to make such a significant and intentional change without feeling intimately connected to it.
As I work to finish my doctoral dissertation and prepare for another season of change, I find myself reflecting on these indelible but private transformations that have shaped my identity as a woman.
Just as my conversion from rural to urban was an enigmatic and gradual process, so were many other evolutions now fundamental to my political views, intellectual interests, and lifestyle choices. I’m not sure, for instance, if I could identify one moment when I stopped being an eager language student and began to function as a bilingual citizen. I also can’t map within clear boundaries my trajectory from a teenager who saw marriage as an inevitable outcome to an adult with serious philosophical qualms about the institution.
These transitions are complicated and warrant neither the public celebration of a measurable career accomplishment nor the lexical designations one earns upon becoming a wife or mother. However, these gradual transitions enable levels of understanding and maturity that we might not develop when more stable areas of our lives don’t demand questioning.
I have become a proud Chicagoan, but not one who can listen and nod along when other urbanites use slurs like “white trash” to describe the rural populations that raised me. By the same token, I’m never far enough removed from my urban home to feel disconnected or ambivalent when someone similarly dehumanizes my neighbors by making insensitive or inaccurate assumptions about Chicago’s gun violence.
This ability to navigate between apparent extremes and to identify with opposed positions is a gift that I have become better able to appreciate this year in a climate that has seemingly renewed the determination of so many to anchor and define themselves according to ideological identity extremes.
This New Year’s Eve, I will happily join my friends in toasting the first babies, completed projects, better jobs, and new homes that have made 2017 memorable for them. But I plan to also honor the in-between spaces created by our remarkable capacity to transition partially and privately, becoming someone new without altogether leaving behind who we were.
My hope for 2018 is that more of us can grow to appreciate the elements, as well as the integrities, of ourselves and that we will work conscientiously to recognize and embrace the same dualities and complexities in others.