I made a lot of mistakes.

21 May

Preface: Language consists of placeholders. In the same way that money is an almost universally accepted placeholder for value/worth, words are placeholders for thoughts, images, and emotions. Words and phrases mark what people who share the same tribe, village, town, city, culture, class, lexicon or beyond hold in common understanding as to definition or value.

Cliches and stereotypes exist for a reason. Both definitions overlap with the word “truism” because a cliche or a stereotype is “true-ish”. We use cliches and stereotypes as placeholders in our brains to help us to operate more efficiently as we travel through the world. At their best, cliches and stereotypes help us to read or communicate a situation quickly; on the other end, of course, they foster sloppy writing, ignorance, or sometimes transmute into slurs, hate crimes, or worse.

A self-conscious writer, one who’s just begun to consider the craft in the context of all who’ve written before, soon learns to disavow cliches. Although they communicate meaning quickly and efficiently, relying on cliches can hinder the development of a writer’s unique style. More sophisticated poets or satirists sometimes return to cliches to play with these notions after they’ve gained confidence in their own voices and feel they understand well enough the framework these placeholders set up.

When you announce to people you’re moving somewhere or traveling somewhere, most respond in cliches. The first time I traveled to Guatemala alone, as a woman, and knew no one there, whenever I told people, everyone who’d been told anything about the country said, “Be careful. Guatemala’s dangerous.” Likewise, when I told people the naturalist and I were moving to the Bay Area after graduating college, people said, “Well, it’s expensive.”

In both cases, I ignored the talking people, but in both cases, the talking people were generally correct. Guatemala definitely can be dangerous, if you don’t pay attention: as in many Latin American countries (and many outside the US), the CIA’s meddling (read: assassination and conspiracy) disrupted the country’s foundation 56 years ago, just as it was coming into its own as a democratic nation. I haven’t been to Guatemala in eight years, and I’m not the most observant person, but when I went, the fissures were obvious. You could see it in the broken infrastructure, and yeah, it sounds cheesy, but you could see it in the eyes of the people who lived there. And you knew where you were supposed to travel with back-up, because folks warned you where to go and not go alone. Our government annihilated something integral to that place, and poverty and despair breeds violence. But the place is in no way overrun by that fear. So many things we forget are still alive there.

Because few of us (US citizens) travel often, people tend to have overblown stereotypes when it comes to places. When the naturalist and I moved to the Bay, life was expensive. Very, very expensive. The rent was astronomical compared to what I’d known living off-campus in Massachusetts for a few semesters. The food was much more costly. Rent was obscene. And gigolos were charging $150 a quickie? As if. *snorts* Not like I have to pay for it. But I told the naturalist the same thing I told myself: We can exist here. There’s a way. There must be a way, or else no humans would be here at all. The Bay was and is habitable. But it was much more expensive than I thought, in the end, in ways I hadn’t imagined.

The major Chicago stereotype I’ve encountered thus far, having lived here for six weeks? “You’re coming to Chicago at a good time,” this from the natives or residents. Folks who don’t live here say, “…but the winters…” Hearing the same thing over and over gets boring, but I suppose I’ve grown old enough to listen to the truisms others spit. I’d like to live here, but I’m not at all interested in braving a full winter with full wind chill nowadays. And if said coldness should have a double meaning the way “expense” does in the Bay? *shakes head* I’m not into that. I’d rather be the one who feels than the one who doesn’t.

Right now, this city is gorgeous enough to shatter me. The buildings and bridges and parks and rivers and people… It’s a special place. I live in Albany Park, a quiet, family-oriented, leafy,

Dandelions and shit.

multicultural neighborhood in northwestern Chicago. Yesterday, my excellent Aunt Lee took me to lunch downtown, where tall shiny buildings sprout,

very shiny.

and we talked family and life in general. She dropped me at the Bucktown/Wicker Park Library and I browsed the stacks like an addict, then sat for a few hours reading graphic novels,

This one made me sad, which makes it good, right?

nervously avoiding families (I was reading in the children’s section). When my time was up, I walked to the Young Chicago Authors hideout in the East Village and worked with the Speak’Easy Ensemble for a show we’re putting up next week.

I work with crazies.

So far, the balance feels good here. I think I have, at the most, two more years of semi-city living in me. My guess is I’ll live in the heart of a major city when that hourglass runs out, but the potential of farm or country, or mostly transient life stays possible for me. We’ll see.

Yesterday I got an email telling me I’d been accepted to be a Cave Canem poet. I still don’t know what that means, really. And it’s beginning to look like none of my close friends will be there. Grateful, but sad. Maybe that’s my default. Working on owning aloneness, and happiness. I love you. I’ll see you soon.


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