Friday, October 06, 2006

Take Me Home

I have finally returned from my adventures Out and Away, and find myself settling back into life as a campus-bound grad student. It’s a strange transition. I was gone for three weeks, slept in five states, and drove 4,000 miles. I love traveling by car. Part of it is the joy of the road trip—sealed in my car with the music on or off, my brain has all the space the road affords, unrolling ribbons of thought by the lane markers along the way. Part of my love of traveling by car is in its intimacy. I feel every mile go by, one by one, see the trees, the fields, the gas stations, and feel as if they see me. I can no more imagine feeling intimate with this country and this land without driving its back roads than I can imagine feeling intimate with a lover without knowing the way her skin tastes when it’s salty with sweat. I grew up on those back roads, so perhaps it speaks a language of heart and desire that I understand in ways that I’ll never understand the murmuring secrets of a city. But it’s also just possible that the back roads feel very much like the world stripped clean, glittering city clothes in a pile on the ground, curves and dark places exposed to the glint of the sun through the trees.

I love my small city here, as well, but instead of bare-skinned communion, my days feel very much like a long breakfast with an indecipherable lover. You know the kind—quiet and impenetrable, you’re always trying to push the right button to get the reward, the revelation or smile or sudden chatty exposition on what kind of toast is just the right complement to the marmalade. I’m a sucker for those partners; I think a lot of women are. It’s easy to feel special and gifted when someone so stoic lets you in. Cities feel that way to me, with secrets behind buildings and one-way streets. I often feel anonymous and invisible. Sitting here in my favorite coffee shop, some days I feel like my city lover will not speak, no matter how I prompt. I feel alone in close quarters, crowded and unable to get my brain to seize the moment and work, now, because it’s time. I miss the luxurious hours to linger, the freedom and warmth that comes with dropped inhibitions and room to explore.

Of course the transition isn’t as simple as country road to city street. Back from my research trip, I’m faced with endless tedious tasks that do not promise the discovery of boxes in the archive. I’ve never been good at routine, and this part of research is all about discipline and routine. I’m reading trade journals, and one page after another offers up fact or statistic or dry business shop talk. There’s little promise of excitement here, but, of course, that’s why it’s important I do it. History is lurking, even in world’s most boring trade journal, and I have to wander through, day after day, in case I lift the page that lets it spring to life in my hands.

It’s the promise of those moments that brought me back to My City. Because some days it all unfolds. Secrets well-hidden are revealed, and my inscrutable lover will hum, stroke my hair and dance with me. When things click and words spill onto the page and friends stop by to chat, I can’t imagine leaving it all for a tryst with the back roads. I love my marriage to the busy streets and the challenge of a world that’s not easy or predictable. I know that this is where I belong for now—as long as I can take the occasional road trip.

photo by Hubert Stoffels


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