Born with Nomad Blood.

Bantry Bay, Ireland, on a trip with my mom in 2007. This is very near the area that my great-grandparents were born.

Bantry Bay, Ireland, on a trip with my mom in 2007. This is very near the area where my great-grandparents were born.

Most Americans have roots elsewhere. The people that led to us lived in faraway places, either hundreds of years ago, or for some, maybe only weeks ago. We are adventurers by nature, seekers of the new. Our blood is tinged with the melancholy of the generations before us, the troubles that brought them here, but also with the hope that better things were ahead for them, and for us.

Many, many Americans have stories like these: My Irish great-grandparents passed through Ellis Island in the 1890s. They were born in County Cork, married there, but bore all seven of their children on American soil. My grandmother, born in 1914, was their youngest child. She met and married my grandfather in Wisconsin in the 1930s. They had three daughters, my mother the youngest. In 1949, they moved to Evanston, Illinois from a small farming town in Wisconsin. My grandfather’s family had a farm there, where his mother, father, brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephews lived and worked. Their family, of Scottish descent, had lived there for generations. But my grandfather did not want to be a farmer. He took his family and moved, symbolically, as far away as one can get from that lifestyle. He worked in downtown Chicago, as the vice-president of a gas company. As a very small child, my mother recalls playing at her friend’s penthouse apartment in the early 1950s. There was a sunken living room, and all the walls were windows, where she pressed her nose against the glass and watched the dizzying city lights that seemed hundreds of stories below.

My mom, with her Scottish grandfather on his Wisconsin farm, c. 1953.

My grandparents’ intersecting lives were both touched by the decision to move and explore other options. My grandmother grew up very, very far away from her parents’ homeland in a quick generation. My grandfather exemplified the American dream. He didn’t live in Europe, so he didn’t have to be a farmer just because his parents were. In America, you really can be anything you want.

Today, we are all born into stories like these, families who made their way because of brave choices. But these are different times. Possibilities are even more endless for most of us, leaving us with a feeling of discontent and an unnamed restlessness. Our nomad blood surfaces in us if the gene is turned on. When we have this desire, stasis makes us nervous. Change is how we mark the passage of time. For me? I have always had constant desire to travel, to move, to experience new things. It’s the same drive of past generations, but maybe for more contrived reasons.

At Volunteer Park, Seattle, 2012.

At Volunteer Park, Seattle, 2012.

Yet, even when you feel like a modern nomad, sometimes there comes a point when you just know it’s okay to stay somewhere. Peter and I have both moved around a fair amount during our adult lives, and we are quite sure that the next move, to Seattle, will be the last one for awhile. Getting settled into a city I love with someone I love definitely sounds like a better plan than continuing to be a nomad, especially now that I’m in my thirties. I like to think that each of our moves, and the life changes that led to those moves, were necessary to bring us to this unique nexus of time and place. We know we’re ready to make a real home. And of course, that doesn’t mean we give up exploring. If anything, having a solid home base will lend itself even more to continuing travels and adventures.

Advertisements

Personal Objects, Personal Histories

The almost-empty studio. We are ensured a full security-deposit, yaaaay.

I don’t follow my horoscope, but if Fall 2012 for Leo were to be accurate, it would include something along the lines of: “A great change is in store” or, to be more specific: “You will pack up many old belongings. Including your high school mixtapes. And your eighth-grade graduation dress. And your My Little Ponies. In their stable. And you will also assist your boyfriend in cleaning out his art studio, which is not quite as much fun as it sounds.”

For the past few weeks, that has been my life. Coincidentally, my parents are moving at about the same time as Peter and me, so that means a lot of sorting, giving away, and packing the objects that make up different times of my life. As someone whose education and career path has dealt with objects as markers of history (art history and museums), looking through ones’ own personal belongings as a measure of personal history is something I have been thinking about a lot lately. It’s the organizational, collection-manager in me- always having the desire to neatly record- that longs to use the collections at hand- our personal collections- to tell a story. I want to document it all, maybe if only virtually. Peter wants to do this, too, but as a painter, printmaker, “modifier of found objects (?)” and carpenter, his focus is on 3D, live-action display and exhibitions. In our world, the interpretation of our personal histories would be suspect, tongue-in-cheek, and embellished. Memory is filtered and flawed anyway, so why not exploit its very nature? The labels and text would be an art project, a creative writing experiment unto itself.

The idea is presumptuous; who cares about any of these things we have accumulated besides us? But yet, we are here, now. What is the point of saving all of this, of creating art, of creating anything? We all want to live forever. Maybe this is why we, as humans, hold onto things. We all want all this stuff of ours to live forever, and through it, us.

I found this. It reminded me of a Wes Anderson movie. I am quite sure I performed no special feats as a member of the school safety patrol, but that might not stop me from writing about the object as if I had.

But back to reality. Before any of these projects could ever happen, we are serving as our own collection managers: boxing all this up, we are saving it, for something. And oh, is it boxed up. For better or worse, Peter and I are professionally-trained museum professionals, so our packing standards are pretty high. I worked at a historical society, but he, you know, packed actual Calders and Picassos, when he worked for an art-handling company in Chicago, so he wins. He is a serious packer. It doesn’t mean our things are quite up to those standards, but let’s just say our (his) system would be approved by the Smithsonian.

In the meantime, I can rest assured that our collections are safe and dry and climate-controlled and ready for whatever the next step is. Probably, most of our things will just end up on bookshelves and closets, not photographed, or cataloged, or serving as the subject of half-true personal mythologies on wall text and brochures. But you never know.

My dad, a musician, collects records. Someday I actually, really and truly do want to inventory and catalog them, and also store them in a way that they are happy.

On Treading Water, and Knowing When to Start Swimming.

Let this serve as my attempt at a companion post to Amy’s thought-provoking recent discussion on the importance of participation, and the feelings of negativity that can prevent involvement. My story is similar, but different, in that it’s about knowing when to move on from something that just isn’t working. It’s about living in a place that you have attempted to connect with, but can’t, and how this lack of connection prevents participation. It’s about doing yourself a favor, because as Amy said, life is short, and feels shorter still when you’re not happy with your present situation.

San Antonio, my home for the last year, can be a solitary place for someone not from the area. In many ways, it is very much like a small town even though it’s vast and sprawling. It is an old city with old roots and everyone seems to know everyone else- that is, if you’re from here. I have nothing against small towns- I’ve always loved driving through them, even if it means taking the longer route. But I never wanted to live in one, or anything that felt like one. I wanted access to choice.

This city doesn’t provide a lot of choices. There is a sense of stagnancy, something that a handful of native San Antonians have even acknowledged while talking with me. It is a tourist town, but in very small pockets. The downtown is small and offers very little to locals. An example: there is not one single grocery store downtown, not for miles. And for a supposedly huge city, where are all the people downtown? Not an exaggeration, most of the time it looks like the zombie apocalypse just hit our neighborhood. Excluding the riverwalk, the downtown has almost as many empty storefronts as lively ones. The lack of development is, frankly, depressing. Outside the downtown (except for the very exclusive “09” zip code area), there are miles and miles of (often seedy) strip malls in every direction, the hot Texas sun beating down and slowing the pace to barely-moving. Not only is change slow, so are repairs to roads, neighborhoods, and most other visible social problems. A disproportionate number of neighborhoods are meccas of violence and gang culture. Like other major cities, there is extreme poverty and also extreme wealth, but the dichotomy seems more blatant and disconcerting than in other cities.

And there’s another thing I can’t quite get over: the whole lack of regulations (hello red state), especially with regard to the environment. When living in Madison or Seattle, I didn’t give much thought to being “green.” I was never one of those preachy environmentalists because it wasn’t necessary. Recycling was obvious and easy. I didn’t even have a car; I walked everywhere or took the bus. There were places to walk to. The transit was good. Here? Pretty much no one, including businesses, recycles. Most people don’t walk anywhere by choice. The public transit is severely lacking.  Owning a new vehicle, to the detriment of other life expenses, is a badge of honor. The bigger the gas-guzzling car, the better, in Texas.

The bottom line is, as native midwesterners, both my boyfriend Peter and I feel discouraged here. We get frustrated with the lack of energy, lack of creativity, lack of education (only 24% of SA residents have a college degree), low wages, the snail pace, and the weirdly defensive attitude. And we’re not the only ones. This article, and the comments, really hones in on what I’m trying to explain about the city. It’s a feeling we get here, an undercurrent of an odd sadness and, sorry, but a “lameness” that the city is strangely content with. And maybe most importantly, on friendship or even finding like-minded acquaintances? It’s been next to impossible for both of us.

I know I must sound whiny, and truly, I don’t mean to use this post to complain and badmouth a city. These are simply my musings on living somewhere that is different from what I am used to, and my personal reaction to it. This reaction, for the most part has been negative, but that’s okay. In a way, I think it’s been good for personal growth: it has opened my eyes to different parts of this huge country of ours: different ways to do the same thing, a different set of values. Living here has been the kind of challenge that my grandparents might have called “character-building.” I also don’t mean to make it sound like I hadn’t been provided with any opportunity: I am so glad I got involved with a local contemporary art center, especially working in education, with kids who don’t have a lot of those kinds of offerings in their schools. I am proud of my time here and feel that I’ve made a difference in some small way in the year I’ve been here.

And, of course, the city itself has plenty of positives; I would recommend to all my friends that they visit San Antonio at least once. The history here is OLD by American standards, almost reminiscent of European cities in certain areas of downtown. There is fantastic landscaping on the riverwalk, which we are lucky to live near. Now that the weather is cooling, my morning walks next to the river, in the heavily perfumed southern air, energize me for the rest of my day. At night, the riverwalk’s lights can be truly magical, and it was a lovely backdrop to many of my early dates with Peter. The winter, or lack-thereof, was a welcome respite from the snowy months I’m used to. And one of my favorite art museums of all-time is here: The McNay. If you ever find yourself in San Antonio, their art collection, building and grounds are a must-see. The King William historic district, and really all of Southtown is a little pocket of the city I enjoy, both for walkability and the little strip of bars and restaurants.  Another San Antonio favorite? We go to the grocery store, Central Market, way too much, but it beats any store I’ve encountered anywhere else I lived. Oh, and the avocados (one of my very favorite foods ever) compared to the north? Not even a competition. Consistently amazing here. Another silly little perk that puts a smile on my face: the wild geckos in my neighborhood. They are my new favorite creature, with sensitive little faces and bodies that change color. Here’s one I met while having a drink outside! So yes. San Antonio is a great place to visit, and I don’t regret my time here at all.

I call you Ferdinand.

But the truth is– we know we don’t belong here. We didn’t move here here initially for work, although I am thankful I found an arts-related job here. No, we’re here for family- specifically, Peter’s father, who is ill. But circumstances changed, and his dad, who is now in a bit more stable health, senses our growing frustration. He wants us to start the rest of our lives in a place where we feel comfortable. Of course, we have reservations about leaving him here, but thorough arrangements are being made that puts his dad’s best interests and health care in mind. He’s living in a great place, and is taking steps to receive more home health care that will improve his quality of life. He is excited for us, and as a parent, wants nothing more than to see his son happy. So yes, we have put in motion our plans to move back to Seattle. This is a city that is perfectly “me.” Peter, in his few trips there with me, feels the same way. And luckily, with regards to the move, things seem to be falling into place.

View of the city from West Seattle. And clouds, of course. Clouds love Seattle almost as much as I do.

Of course, we know that moving isn’t an instant solution to all of life’s problems. But we also know that pursuing happiness, in this case, requires living somewhere with more opportunities. We know we don’t want to start career-track jobs in San Antonio, or buy a house here, or do any of the things here that we plan to do in the future. No, we’re not doing a great job at “blooming where we’re planted,” but we’ve given it a try and know that for us, the best thing is to move on. We’re not oblivious to the fact that we’re lucky enough to be able to move where we want. I know, on this earth, there is such a small percentage of people who can just pick a city and start over. We’re grateful, and so we want to take advantage of this opportunity. My hope is that this doesn’t come across as selfish, or entitled. I hope, instead, is that this storyline is viewed more about balancing the needs of others and the needs of yourself, and knowing when you have to do what’s right for you and your own future.

Vent session over. I will lighten the mood ASAP. But still, I wanted to use this early post of Train is Lost (version 2.0) to explain my recent past and my present situation, and also to provide the background for future posts. With that, I will sign off and leave on a positive note: with a stellar example of the Texas art scene I was lucky enough to be involved with. 

Really amazing found-object sculpture by Dallas-based artist George Tobolowsky.