6.02.2007

I still blog. Really.

It's just that I'm also moving.

And trying to find a place to move to.

And reading the foundational epics of just about every major world religion and sundry works on the philosophy of education, and basking in the fact that suddenly being a good wife doesn't just involve learning how to do all the stuff I'm not particularly good at, but also involves stuff I am particularly good at. Like reading and synthesizing and and discussing, and well, all the stuff we loved doing together, the whole reason we got married in the first place.

And hanging out in downtown LA, because you just can't live in the area for 7 years and then move away without ever having spent at least one day becoming acquainted with the city itself.

Which, by the way, felt surprisingly reassuring and homelike. These years in California, I've keenly felt the lack of sky and rocks, but I never really articulated my need to look up at towering canyon walls. Had I known how downtown could feed this inarticulate need of mine, I would have spent a whole lot more time hanging out down there. Because, amazingly enough, standing in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world is approximately the same experience as standing inside a sparsely populated chasm in the middle of the desert.

Beyond the comforting sense of enclosure, that strangely freeing sense of vertigo that comes from gazing at a very high cliff, either up or down... beyond all that, each spot had specific character and location, a particular place with a particular relationship to all the other particular places. Like the canyon, the city cries out to be known in all its particulars, known in it's colors and textures and sounds, not merely known by the numbers and signs on which we must depend to find our way home in suburbia. I found myself wondering what it must be like to know the city as I know the canyon. There is a strangely deep kinship that comes from knowing a place in common. What must it be like to share that knowledge, not with a few hundred, or even a few thousand, but with hundreds of thousands? And what must it be like to be that pinata vendor, a quite ordinary person so vividly shaping the experience of everyone passing through that corner of the city?

As striking as the sense of massive intimacy was the sense of autonomy, the sense that the city did not exist for us. It simply was what it was, which strangely enough, gave us the freedom to simply be who we are. I wanted to stock up on wholesale fabric, so we wandered through the fashion district quite a bit. We never did find any fabric vendors who appeared to be open for business, but we had a lot of fun wandering through shop after shop full of imported clothing, as the owners hovered over us explaining in broken English how much of each item they had in stock, eager to haggle out a deal. It looked very much like a mildly dingy outdoor mall--except that the whole purpose of each store's inventory was entirely different. Each store did not contain a careful selection of items designed to appeal to a particular demographic, but rather a set of items from a particular place. Their goal was not to sell things that a particular group of people would most likely want to buy, but rather to sell the particular things that they had. The difference was subtle, but striking.

It was a lot of fun, wandering through the wholesale shops, and we thought what fun it would be to be a buyer for a shop, to put together an inventory. It's rather amazing, really. It had never occurred to me just how much of my shopping is actually done for me by complete strangers.

We drove through the flower district with our windows down. The gaudy and the exquisite blended strangely, but the fragrance was glorious.

In need of a snack, we found a parking spot in the food district, and browsed through the mexican markets. I looked around for potatoes--perhaps I could spare myself the grocery stop on the way home. But none of them had potatoes, which surprised us. Potatoes are just such ordinary, basic things... doesn't everybody carry potatoes? But of course these places were not there to provide us with the things we wanted to buy, they existed to distribute the things that the vendors had to sell. And as ubiquitously salable as potatoes may be, they aren't generally imported from Mexico, so that's not what they were selling. So we bought ourselves a case of gorgeous strawberries and moved on.

The taco stand didn't look particularly interesting, or necessarily safe, so we reluctantly went across the street to McDonalds. It was a strange experience to walk through those doors and be suddenly transported back into suburbia, into that carefully crafted experience, where suddenly everything is all about you, and telling you what to want and bringing it to you. Where I ordered a large drink, not because I really wanted anything but french fries and water, but because it was there and they were selling it to me, and where they sold me a large drink, not because they had drinks to sell, but where they sold drinks because they knew I could be easily persuaded to buy one.

We drove by 6th and Hope. The Church of the Open Door is gone, and the Jesus Saves sign, but it is still in the middle of everything, right there between the enormous homeless population huddled beside crumbling buildings, filling run-down parks, and the sophisticated, powerful businessmen striding quickly and confidently down the sparklingly clean sidewalks in the shadow of glisteningly glorious monuments of glass and steel . It's a touch ironic, really. Our own church, Blessed Sacrament, got its start right in the heart of Placentia, right there on the main intersection, in the middle of it all. But as the city grew, that main intersection became an obscure little cul-de-sac, and even the city itself was swallowed up into obscurity within the urban sprawl. The church stands there still, and flourishes, right where it was planted in the first place, but that place where it was planted is very different now, a sheltered place and tucked away.

Meanwhile, the place where Biola began is still at the heart of everything, but Biola has moved to the suburbs. Sometimes I think this is sad, but sometimes I think it makes sense. It really does free up a lot of energy, to be in a place less all-consuming, a place that matters less, perhaps. It's terribly sad, but I start to understand, as I watch our family make the same decisions. We aren't moving to Houston, we're moving to Spring. To the suburbs, where everything is artificially structured around making life easy for us, because right now, we care more about fully participating in a vibrant community of thought, than in a vibrant community of location and commerce. And I think that's the right thing.

But it's still a little sad.

6 comments:

Gwen said...

Poor Elena. you are sad. but you can move to HARRISBURG

Elena said...

I do wish Spring was in Harrisburg...

Ashley said...

Thank you for your beautiful description of the place where we live.

Linds said...

Spring is nice. You'll like it. Just rent Friday Night Lights before you go to understand the culture you're diving into. :)

Elena said...

Thanks! Will do. =)

Ruthie said...

Good thoughts. I've been reflecting a lot on the need to pull back as our family grows, not just pull back from doing things, but from the culture itself, so that there's room to flourish. It's hard to be a grown-up, to make hard choices, but it's GOOD, isn't it? I hope your move to TX is full of flourishing. We're in Austin and would love to get together if you're ever our way. I'm partial to TX (went to college @ Baylor); I love their rugged, hard-working, loyal, "set your face to the plow" (is that how you say that?) realness.