Living in my Place?

I’ve been wondering about how much I actually live in my town.

It sounds a silly question really.  It sounds like the answer is obvious.  I mean, I’m here all the time, I never go anywhere anymore.  The last time I left the country was 2008 and even day trips to elsewhere are thin enough on the ground.  So, yeah, I live here, of course I do.

But do I?  Really?

I am sure about many of the things that I really do live in and they may sound trite but they’re true.  I live in my family and I live in my home.  A bit obvious, perhaps, but I’m talking about more than ‘living’ in the literal sense here, I’m talking about where my head resides, you know what I mean?

My head resides in the books I read and the films and telly programmes I watch.  It resides quite a bit on the radio that I listen to and the music that I play.  It resides here, online, via twitter and FB and blogging and such.  It resides in the writing that I continue to do.

On some days, I’m just not so sure about my town.

I tend to flit through my town.  Head down, earphones in, sometimes buried in a book while walking, narrowly avoiding lampposts and grannies.  If a particular thought occurs and it wraps my mind up, I can find myself having stopped walking altogether while I think it out.  I’ll shuffle on then, embarrassed, having becoming conscious of this.

Things happen in my town that I know nothing about.  Good people pass away and I never hear of it, sports teams win prizes and it’s all beyond me.  Local News is passed around and analysed and mulled over… not by me though.

I like it here, I really really do.  It’s just that, sometimes, I feel like an island.  Except an island is not the right simile because I don’t just sit there like an island would, I go out and move through the town, I work here and eat here and breathe here.  It’s more like what being a ghost might be like.  Not quite but a little like that.  A ghost in my own town.

That’s on some days.

On other days I feel joined to the town as if by an umbilical cord.  On those days, everybody seems to know me and everybody wants to say hello.  People stop me and share their stories with me, shopkeepers wave out at me and even the traffic warden smiles knowingly.  I go to the theatre and I seem to be acquainted with every single member of the audience. I venture into the pub afterward and the barman has a fair idea what I might have.  The sounds and smells and texture of the town are as much a part of me as I have become of it, we are united, unassailable, one.

So do I live in my town?  Really live?

Well, some days I do and some days I don’t.

That was worth figuring out, wasn’t it?


Jim Murdoch said...

I was born in Glasgow. I know it’s a song but in my case it’s true. I was born on Duke Street which is quite a long street admittedly but it leads from George Square in the centre on the town to where I was born, a former mental hospital I believe. When I started going to college when I was eighteen I used to walk past the hospital and that would have been the first time I had been there since I was born. I can’t say I felt any particular emotional attachment; it was just a box to tick. I don’t think I’ve passed the place in the last twenty years. I was into cameras at the time and used to get the kids in the local school to pose for me; nowadays they’d call the cops if I was seen loitering around a primary school like that.

When I was wee my family moved to the west coast and so that’s where I spent my formative years, that’s where I think of when I think about home and yet, once you add up the years, I’ve spent almost as much time away from there and mostly if not in Glasgow City then at least in Glasgow District. But I could live anywhere. I hardly go out at all anymore. I really have no need other than to get some of that exercise thing people keep going on about and I plan to—I really do—but I never quite seem to get round to it. I don’t feel that where I live is home. It’s just where I live. But even if I went back to where I grew up I’m sure it wouldn’t feel like home either. Sure I might run into the odd person I knew from way back when but I’m not the same person and they won’t be either. And that would make me sad. The actual town hasn’t changed much—thank you Google Earth—but it’s just a shell now, an excuse to get all maudlin and nostalgic.

In the past Glaswegians were famous for their sense of community. I’m sure it wasn’t just them but when you read about the tenements neighbourliness does seem to have been the way of things. The only one of my neighbours I have any real dealings with is the girl next door. She’s even given me a key to her flat and tells me when she’s not going to be in so I can feed her cat; she’s sweet. Carrie and I stick Xmas cards through all the doors each years and most reciprocate but not all. We keep ourselves to ourselves and that’s the way I like it. I value my privacy.

Today there are street parties all over the UK although I suspect the bulk will be in England. I would feel very uncomfortable at such an event. I’m happy to pass my neighbours, smile, engage in small talk for a minute (literally a minute) and then head off on my way. Even next door; she’s sweet as I said but we have nothing in common.

Art Durkee said...

I live in a small town in the rural Midwest. That is, I live here, my house is here, and it's also my home base which I love to return to after being out on the road for weeks at a time. This is sort of in the center of the US, so it's a great place to roam from and return to.

I'm a global nomad, I don't really even have a sense of "home town." It's something I lack. I don't have a sense of "home place" the way many others do, because my childhood was so unusual. Born in Michigan, first half of childhood spent in India, then the rest back in Michigan, but moving around a bit. Even the city I went to school in, Ann Arbor, has never felt like more than a provisional home town to me.

The positive side of that is, since I love to travel and often do, I am able to feel at home almost everywhere I roam. It's all about adaptability; you learn to talk with the locals, you show respect, and you adapt to local customs and ideas about the world. It can be about wearing masks, certainly, but that doesn't mean it's inauthentic.

It's just that, if you don't have a home town, a really strong sense of rooted place, then you're able to be at home anywhere you are. Being at home is in the heart, in other words, not so much as in a specific geographic place.

Karen Redman said...

As ever, this was so thought-provoking. On bad days I live in my head - that way I can flit around all the other places I've lived in without having to travel anywhere. On good days, I remember that I'm not justified in thinking that everywhere I've lived should be viewed trhough retrospective rose-tinted glasses. I envy people who live in the present. There's an element of denial about me and it has nothing to do with living in the wrong postcode area! x