During a conversation regarding places lived and loved a co-worker posed the question, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?” I went through the list of places I lived for months at a time, the cities I’ve visited on vacation, and the assumed utopias of places I’ve never been but know to be of good culture and better weather…but nothing resonated. Maybe it is a sign of aging, or resignation, but the usual allures that greener grass held as a younger individual offered no degree of persuasion. No considered locale stirred my interests. They all just seemed like…places. Places with buildings and restaurants and people and, well, just about everything that exists where I currently reside. There are differences, yes, but only by degree and not concept. Everyplace is every place, to simplify.
What absolutely can’t be found in these other places are people, as in the people that reside where I currently live. There are people everywhere, of course, too many if you ask me, but these are different people than the ones I know. And yes, of course I could get to know these people and they would likely be great all the same, but it is that GETTING to know that seems an obstacle that I’m just too tired to overcome. The people I know now are fantastic, and many, so to imagine living somewhere else wouldn’t just entail experiencing a new environment, but rather starting over, completely, in getting to know a whole new set of people. And it is people, ultimately, that make a place.
I don’t pretend to claim a community, but maybe only a SENSE of community. My parameters of community are defined by a genuine dependence, not the ability to come and go as one pleases as comprises our worlds today. Still, the associations I have made where I currently live have been crafted with the tools of time and hardened into a solid edifice of relationships that is seemingly unbreakable. It is the associations and the ability of call and response that makes where I live so fantastic, so known, so comfortable.
To answer the question, if I could live anywhere in the world, where would it be….it would be right here. Truly. But not “here” as in a geographical boundary, or a State association, or a political climate, or a cultural association, but here, as in the area that surrounds my body, that moves through a space in concert with friends, associates, and individuals of varying familiarity, crafted and joined over the time necessary to overlap our movements, to facilitate conversations, to become known to each other. It is the associations with others that fulfill us as individuals, and it is the time spent that allows for the associations.
I run, in part, to be alone. For at least an hour a day I go inward, to feel the meditative experience of a body firing all systems in an attempt to keep going and nothing more. The concentration involved allows for little intrusion to break the space. And yet, while I run in a state of solitary effort, people surround me, in cars, on foot, on bikes, in chairs. In a capital city of over a million people, pressed into a density that borders unavoidable, wherever I run will involve people, passing or being passed, but our inescapable and continuous overlapping necessitates a sense of strangeness, unable and unwilling to know each other. To run into the center city, where density reaches a “crush of humanity”, I somehow manage to remain alone in the act, moving quickly in and out of the space of others. I am alone and yet not lonely.
And yet, there is an incredible familiarity with being familiar, with being a creature of habit, with being a creature of dedication, even among so many strangers. Reaching over large swaths of sidewalk as I bound down the incline that is 10th street, the faces of prostitutes, drug addicts, and the creatives who have found a loophole in the dictates of capitalism break the sense of strangeness of so many others. We often move past each other in silence, but eye contact speaks an unspoken contract of truce and recognition. Into the city I run, through intersections consumed by cars, and sidewalks now slaloms. Among so much strangeness distinct honks aim at my fluid motion through the corridors, friendly calls for response. From across the street my names is bellowed above the hum of city noise, a friend calling for a recognition in return. I point and wave without breaking stride. A friend unseen yells from behind and I lift a hand instinctually. Just a block later I catch eyes with another friend in a car, as they point and wave directly at me, which I mimic…and suddenly no one is a stranger. The center city is mine and familiarity is everywhere. Even with so much strangeness moving by like ghosts, bodies but empty to me, the few streets of associations compresses the city into a village, where we all know each other and are happy to find each other again.
I run alone, but it often feels like we planned to run together, me and the various others I encounter along the way.
I can’t imagine living anywhere else, running alone without even the potential for moments of familiarity, no matter how fleeting. The human animal is a social being, so our perfect place to live is not in space, it’s the space where our familiar others also live. The greatest cultures and idyllic weathers could never replace the fulfillment of building associations over time. To run alone in a space of utopia is to still run alone. Running with others makes every space a utopia.