It's a new year, and that of course means a new you, right? Looks like I'm going to be stuck with the same old me, unfortunately, but this past month of field trips has got me thinking about resolutions for 2017.
My first December field trip took me to New Orleans to visit old haunts from my time living in that ridiculously beautiful and complicated place. New Orleans is the city where I learned to love riding my bicycle, and I brought my folding bike in its suitcase for a few days of riding all over the place. Like riding here in Baltimore, my rides in New Orleans largely traced the same streets over and over again. Sure, sometimes I have a few hours to ride aimlessly, taking new streets just to see where they go, but mostly I'm riding to get to work, to the bar, to the grocery store, to the same places over and over again that make up daily life. In New Orleans, that meant riding from Uptown to Tremé to visit friends who mostly lived in that neighborhood.
This time was different—gentrification, heralded by my dear queermos, has pushed most of my friends out to other neighborhoods, the oldest story in the books. I was no longer starting my rides in Tremé or other downtown neighborhoods, but much further out in neighborhoods where I found myself mostly only when I was getting myself lost years ago. It's a treat to find myself somewhere new on a bicycle, but it is also discombobulating, a reminder that no, you can't go home again. Cities change, they are changing, and I found myself wondering who is getting pushed further out as my friends make their way into these neighborhoods new to them, old to the folks who've been there for generations.
My second December field trip took me to St. Louis for Christmas with the now-in-laws. I say St. Louis, but this was South County, and that's not quite the same. It's like saying you are from Baltimore when you are really from Arbutus. For me, there without a bike or car, that's a really, REALLY big difference. Fortunately, what I mostly want to do during the holidays is stay in my pajamas all day, sit on the couch, and alternate between my tiny phone screen and a big TV screen while mindlessly shoveling crap in my mouth. South County with the family meets those needs quite easily.
Problem is I mostly think I want to do that, but after about 12 hours of it, I get antsy. And moving around the suburbs without a car just isn't easy. Sure, you can walk a mile or two and get to Panera (called "Saint Louis Bread Co." in St. Louis) or White Castle—two of my Midwestern faves—but good luck getting back if you don't know where you're going. Every winding cul-de-sac looks the same, and once you get into one of them, it's really hard to get out.
Unlike my trip to New Orleans, where it seemed everybody had been or was about to be displaced, St. Louis found everybody exactly where they were last year, the year before, and the year before that. My in-laws have lived in that same house since the ladyfriend was 6 months old. Her grandma lives in the same house her dad grew up in, and Aunt Linda lives by that same pool baby ladyfriend swam in all those summers ago. Suburbanization happened, and it seems to have stuck, at least here. I imagine we'll be back to those same haunts 20 or 30 years from now, same neighborhoods, same people, same laments for the lack of walkability.
That's what I imagine, but what strikes me about my own writing of these trips is how many big judgments I've managed to pack into 500 words. My experiences, and my narratives of them, are just so hopelessly partial. I lived in New Orleans for only four years and was back for four days, but I write as if I understand the social and economic mechanisms that push people from neighborhood to neighborhood, just because my friends moved out to Gentilly. I write about St. Louis and suburbanization after just a couple visits there with one particular family. There are surely as many different lives being lived on those same streets as there are here in Baltimore. I bet if I took the bus around a bit, or brought my bicycle, the suburbs would shrink enough to make my sense of life there much bigger.
And that brings me back to resolutions. I usually make a couple, though I tend not to be too out about them. The last thing I want is to have to be accountable to others for some random commitment I made in the waning days of the old year and waxing ones of the new (but if you want to ask me about my flossing resolution of 2013, please do!). This year, though, I decided to set an intention to carry with me into 2017, and I'm going to write it down and hope public accountability works its magic. Unlike a resolution that sets a single goal, the intention is for me an entire reorientation, and it's going to be a really hard one.
Here it is: This year I intend to acknowledge how little I know and how partial my vision is. I intend to do much more listening than talking about things I don't know much about. I will cede to the voices of those who know more than I do by virtue of study and experience, and I will speak up when I know-KNOW that I've got something to say. That doesn't mean that I won't find myself making quick judgments based on limited experience—what else can you do but see what you see from where you are? But I intend to acknowledge that that is what I am doing. 2017 is going to be a hard year, like they all are for a lot of us. Amidst all the shouting I intend to settle in for a whole lot of listening, too.