April 26, 2017 (Wednesday)

by Yule Heibel on April 25, 2018

Big rain storm yesterday. It was described as a Nor’easter, but no snow. I’d say “of course [no snow, it is April 26th],” but here it seems anything is possible, including snow in late April. Would have been possible. Except for me to live in a city I actually like.

Yesterday I started reading Lauren Elkin‘s 2016 book, Flaneuse, and my god, does this book ever speak to me. I want to live in Paris. I want to live in Rome. In New York or Palermo. In San Francisco, even. But not here. And because I don’t want to live here, I also don’t want to die here.

I’ve made a trade-off – to have a nice house. Maybe that’s why I broke down, at 17, to cry and mourn in Klagenfurt where, going by train and hitchhiking through Europe, I had somehow been waylaid for a few hours on my way from Venice to Vienna. And seeing Klagenfurt’s tidy streets, the tidy lovely houses, the perfect normalcy of middle class life, this little street kid, latchkey kid, abused kid, cried.

Another thing Elkin points out in her first chapter, describing her Long Island childhood in the suburbs, a place her parents had chosen after their own childhoods in New York City’s outer boroughs, is that people chose the suburbs for this laudable goal: to provide a better childhood for their children. Except, she continues, it’s a bit like they were trying to create “better” childhoods for themselves. Maybe that’s what I’ve done (maybe some other people I know as well): create a better childhood for myself by allegedly creating a better one for my children. Maybe I should have been in therapy all along (except that I could never trust the intelligence of any therapist).

It’s killing me to read this book. It’s like seeing all the forks in my roads, all the paths not taken. I believe, probably insanely, that I can still turn this around – although, as I’ve come to realize, I just don’t know where I’m supposed to live, which city it is. But realistically, I know I might never turn it around, that – cue Marianne Faithfull’s Ballad of Lucy Jordan – I’d “never ride through Paris with the warm wind in [my] hair.” Depressing, really. And yet, it’s important data points to read this book and to understand so viscerally that the suburbs – or this satellite city in Greater Boston – are wrong, is wrong, for me. And, incidentally, I have never actually liked Boston, so giving up the relative space, beach access, view, ocean air, etc., for Boston itself would net me less than nothing.

The author of Flaneuse has lived in Paris for over ten years, but she’s still really young. Probably barely into her 30s? Maybe without a significant other, definitely without children of her own. It is easier to live small (physically) in a city when those are the conditions. Less easy once little ones arrive.

Last night W. and I attended our first Harvard Club of the North Shore event, a lecture by landscape designer and photographer Anne Whiston Spirn at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem.  I found her life story so interesting, which we listened to her unfold as we sat there eating too-salty hors d’oeuvres while nursing a single glass of too-expensive meh-quality wine in a room that smelled of mothballs. She graduated from Radcliffe (with a degree in Art History), then went to Penn for grad school, where she “fell into” her field (not a strictly traditional academic path in other words). She wanted a career and found it.

There but for the tricking by the devil in me I could have gone.

My trade-offs worked for me for a while. I’m not sure they still do now, however.

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