St. Louis vs. L.A.

On our honeymoon, my wife and I ended up stranded in L.A.  We didn’t see many sights, but we saw the hundreds of miles of sprawl on the way in.  The numbers don’t lie.  There are a lot of people living in L.A.  Roughly 10 million people.  That’s almost 1/4 of the people living in California and 10x as many as live in St. Louis.  A lot of people either choose to live in L.A. or choose not to leave L.A.  But how many are trapped either by circumstance or by ignorance?

It part it was the pushing and shoving, the five-hours stranded in line, but ultimately it was the L.A.P.D. bomb squad evacuating our terminal that forced our conclusion: we hate L.A.  Seeing celebrities and eating expensive food wouldn’t change our minds.  My best friend from 5th grade lives in L.A.  He hates it too.  Yet he stays.  Hollywood has a stranglehold on many innocent lives.  L.A. is big and busy without being the great city that New York is and possessing a certain sun-burnt superficiality that the Big Apple lacks.

And then there’s St. Louis, our some-time home.  It’s the biggest small town in America.  It’s small enough that I’m guaranteed to run into someone I know unexpectedly at most large-scale events.  It’s big enough to have a small, crappy version of whatever you want (as opposed to New York, which has the best version of whatever you want).  This is a great town with hidden glories.  The “City Museum” is an urban playground for grown-ups, with huge slides, a three-story outdoor jungle gym, and two sets of man-made caves.  Forest Park is larger than Central Park in NYC.  The art museum and zoo there are free.  So is the Shakespeare festival and the summer jazz festival.  The Cardinals and the Rams are worth cheering for.  And the gateway arch is the last great man-made monument.  St. Louis is one of America’s best kept secrets.

A friend returned to live in St. Louis after living in California.  He had decent job prospects and great wine, but there were two things that he especially lacked: a community of friends and places to think great thoughts.  Few things are more important in life and St. Louis provides a healthy context for both.

I don’t right this to convince you to leave L.A.  But if you’re already here, love where you are.

Advertisements
Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 9:14 am  Comments (6)  
Tags: , , , ,

Paradise Lost?

The Epic Shenanigans of Adulthood Part III: What We’re Missing

What is it that we have lost? Childhood is a time of emotion, imagination, fun-centered friendships, and awe.

Even though adulthood brings with it physical freedom, childhood has emotional freedom. Only those with a child’s heart have the freedom to feel without limit: laugh, giggle, cry, whine, shriek, etc. No feeling is out of bounds.

Likewise, childhood is a time of boundless intellectual freedom. My heart goes out, too, to those whose childhoods were characterized by restraint. My musings and generalizations here are a reflection of my own upbringing. “You had a magical childhood,” my fiancée concluded, after looking through the family photo album, full of picture of me with gloves on my feet, a pitch helmet on my head, and a sword in one hand. Or the video of me telling my third-grade class that I wanted to be a cryptozoologist. My mind as a child was free to go wherever it desired. How many adults can say that? And how many of our minds, given the choice to go to the heights of the ineffable, go to the gutter instead!

The nature of friendship, too, seems to change. Now I did not have any great friends as a child, other than my sister, with the exception of Nate in 5th grade (whom I still call and email from time to time, though he lives at the other end of the country) and some half-assed friendships in middle school and high school. But let’s be honest, most of us didn’t figure out how to be good friends until college (I’m especially speaking for the guys). Even with those qualifications and limitations, I would still see childhood friends as being drawn together by shared fun, while adult friends, as often as not, are drawn together by shared duty. My friends now tend to be my coworkers. But at the cookout on Friday, four-year old Halsey’s friends were determined simply by who else wanted to play in the dirt pile.

If you remember the joys of dirt, then you can agree with the importance of awe at the world around us. A cardboard box is a source of endless joy and possibility, all the more so if you can fit inside it, as it transforms into a car, submarine, and space ship. When we are born, the entire world is unknown, except for mother, and all of the unknown is a source of awe. As we increase in knowledge, the temptation is to decrease in awe. Perhaps the greatest loss in a human’s transition into adulthood is a loss of awe.

The greatest tragedies of childhood – abuse, neglect, loss of love ones, physical hardship – are those that deprive a child of emotional freedom, imagination, friends, and awe.

Do you remember the joys of simply playing in dirt? If not, the next post is especially for you. Meanwhile, I covet your comments.

The Epic Shenanigans of Adulthood

Part I: What

My long hiatus from blogging has brought with it much writing material. It’s not just an excuse. The “interruptions” in life can be a source of great blessing.

I am engaged and the wedding is in two months. I am nearly finished with my first year of Ph.D. studies. I am in the process of maybe selling a house, which has been complicated by ant number of issues. Unbeknownst to myself, I was without homeowner’s insurance during the earthquake, for example. But I digress.

My question is this: in what ways is adulthood qualitatively different from childhood?

I ask this because I am convinced that far too many adults have not abandoned their childhood selves and that, unless I am careful in the big decisions I face in my present, I will become one of them.

For the purposes of this essay, I will disregard such nuanced stages as “teenager” and “young adult.” I assume that if you are somewhere between 12 and 40, my discussion applies to you, as well as to many people outside that age range, which is simply my best guess at classifying those who are trying to figure out what it means to be grown up.

Children dream of becoming adults. Most of them do, anyway. Their games reflect this. But they do no want to become just any adults. While stereotypical roles reflect this –firemen, soldiers, astronauts, movie stars, princesses, and mothers – I think that even non-stereotypical playtime reflects this trend. My earliest career aspiration was to live in New York and own a costume shop, helped by a giant rabbit. My favorite book, “Busy Day, Busy People,” had somehow given me an inkling of the Big Apple. But I think, too, of my recent summers spent mowing the campus at the seminary. I wore a broad-brimmed hat to protect me from the sun and a bandana over my mouth and nose to keep out the dust and pollen. I heard from several seminary parents that their sons enjoyed “playing cowboy,” i.e., mowing the lawn like me.

Why do children want to grow up? Adults have apparent freedom and endless possibility. They come and go as they please. They stay up as late as they want. They spend money on whatever they want. They have power, beauty, strength, and knowledge to a degree that is barely imaginable for a child. A boy who longs to be strong knows that he will be stronger when he is a man. A girl who longs to be beautiful knows that she will be more beautiful as a woman. All children who long for adventure know that they will have greater means to travel and explore when they are older.

Yet if the standard children’s attitude is “I can’t wait to be an adult,” the standard adult response: “bills! [gripe, gripe] duty! [gripe gripe] if you only knew!” Too fraught with duty to dream of childhood, gripey grown-ups nonetheless know that they are missing something. As to what and why, I will devote my next post.

The Joys of Not Blogging

It has been a while.  I love to blog.  But for everything there is a season and sometimes being a good student means being a bad blogger.  So I sympathize for you, if you love my work, for there hasn’t been much of it up here of late.  I sympathize, but I should not apologize.  My priorities have been elsewhere and rightfully so.

Trying to sell a house.  Trying to read six books a week (because that’s how many are being assigned?!  PhDdom…).  So in order to save a buck and cut off my primary source of procrastination, we cut off internet at the house, which means that all of my online time is compressed into 30 minutes MWF.  Cramping my style.

It is a joy to be online, to connect, to express to the multiverse shades of truth.  And yet, it is a joy to unplug, to breathe the fresh air, to dance with a beautiful woman in the rain, and to get some sleep for a change.

 Not blogging is just as blessed as blogging, sometimes more.  Have you been skipping out on anything in order to blog?  I know I did!  Now, back to the books….

Flex and Flexibility

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)

“Hell is other people.”  (Sartre)

You will not hear from me for several days.  I am going camping.  I will travel for two and a half days, each way, in order to spend one night on the trail.  But if you have to ask why, maybe you haven’t been to western North Carolina.  Or maybe you don’t have friends like I do.  I pray that you do.

I love my friend, but my life is more complicated because of them.  I may say the same thing about my wife someday, if I am ever so blessed.  My life is better, but definitely more complicated.  I remember back when I had no true friends.  Middle school.  There was Nate, but he lived on the far side of town, so other than the once a month or two, I felt like a man without a country.  Then I became a workaholic in high school and forgot to care.

College changed everything.  There are others like me, in mind, in heart, and in spirit.  I am not alone.  And there are others better than me, sharper, purer, saner even, who can make me more whole just by showing up and being themselves.  It is to spend time with men that I will trek across  six states.

 I lost my mind once.  It was a “manic episode,” part of bipolar disorder.  I’ll share the gory details in a later post, but what matters here: my friends helped me get to see a psychiatrist, before I even knew something was wrong with me.  After getting on medication, I spent a few months in rehab with my family.  Home is always a safe place, but not always a healthy one, especially as a young adult.  I had to escape.  Another friend took me in for the next six months, sedated, depressed, and marginally-employed as I was.

Few things in life are more beautiful than friendship.  The joy is sweeter and bitterness more bearable with friends.  Friends make us who we are.  It’s not just a matter of influence.  It’s a matter of context.  I am not my full self when I am not with my friends.  Don’t get me wrong.  I need alone time.  But when I emerge from the cave of my mind, I need brothers and sisters — including you! — with whom to discuss, spar, dream, and despair.  Why else do we blog?

But friendship is uncomfortable, inconvenient, and complicated.  The pay-off is huge, but it comes at a price.  I think of the lengths that God went to to become my friend in the person of Jesus.

My imperfections have grated against my friends’ imperfections, even on this small trip.  Me watching too much Pacino and De Niro, barking logistics on the phone and baffled at the contingencies. A.M. might not meet be in Chicago after all.  “Why not Nashville?  It’s on the way.  You could transfer the ticket you just bought, even though the trip is this week….”  G.K. might have to do work on the house he is trying to buy and skip out on all of the actual hiking.  J.D. has to leave a day early to be with his wife.  And I feel like I’m the only one who owns a calendar and a map.

I have a choice: I can flex my ego and refuse to accomodate, or I can do whatever it takes to make this trip happen.  So I’m getting on a bus tomorrow bound northward, so that I can travel south and east, six days on the road for one night under the stars and one night of beer and pizza.  Their beer, my pizza.  Alcohol doesn’t mix well with my meds, but friendship does.  It always will.