Tuesday, July 14


The littlest things make me cry.

I used to think that was a weakness, a negative trait. I would look it up on the web (hint: don't do that) and see the dire reports of people who were experience severe depressions or blossoming menopause (pick me! pick me!) or best of all, discussion threads in which someone expresses concern that they cry at the littlest things, and a reasonable share of respondents see fit to give their sage advice, which is something along the lines of "you need to toughen up". Bullshit.

I don't do that anymore.

See? There is evidence that I do, in fact, learn from experience.

Now, when I say I don't do that anymore, it doesn't mean I don't surf around the web, searching for the malady du jour that I might possibly have. I'm human, after all. I mean that I don't take it quite as seriously as I might once have, which, as Martha Stewart says, is a Good Thing.

I've been thinking the last couple of days about Boston, about the fact that I have lived here for a staggering fifteen years (bet those people to whom I said "I'll be right back!" are wondering where I am), about the fact that it is a very difficult place, at least for someone from California--or at least for this person from California--to make a new "home", about the deep and nearly constant offense taken by friends who are from New England when I try to talk about that difficulty (because I like to talk things through, dontcha know), about which parts I can identify as home and which parts, sadly, will never bear that title. And I've come to a realization. I think that Boston (and by Boston I mean the whole area around Boston, maybe the whole northeast, maybe New England, you get the idea) is like a bad relationship. And like any bad relationship, sometimes it takes a while to figure out that you're in one.

Here's what I'm thinking.

This morning, I dropped my daughter at drama camp (channel it....channel it...), walked to Harvard Square, and walked in the front doors of Gutman Library, at Harvard Graduate School of Education. I came here to work for the day, as I do many days when I have time. It's my alma mater, it's a very quiet and sparsely populated library (especially in the summer) and the resources are plentiful. It also has exactly what I need to complete the project that is launching my independent business. Another Good Thing.

To get into Gutman, you have to show some sort of ID. I show my alumni card. Except at the moment, I don't know where it is (this is a recurring problem), so I was asked to step over to the desk and sign in. No prob. The guy at the desk misunderstood what I wanted, thought I was wanting to check out a book (maybe later), and tried to look me up in the computer. After I spelled my last name four times (it's okay, I'm used to it), I was able to clarify that I just wanted to sign in. We both laughed. He said well, if you do want to check out books later, just come by, I can look up your card number. I smiled and said "thanks so much", because you know, people aren't always this helpful these days. And then he said, "Oh, no problem. This is your home."

That's when I cried.

No, not in front of him, and not a blubbering dab-your-nose kind of cry, just a vigorous tearing up on my way to the bathroom.

It made me think about so many things, and in such a short time. When I moved to Boston from Honolulu, it was to attend this very graduate school, study in this very library, live among this community. This is my first home here. He's right, in a way, although he didn't know.

It made me think about how none of us really know, on a daily basis, the little things that we do that touch another's heart. This man has no idea that I have not felt at home in fifteen years, and that on this day, his comment made me feel grounded and welcomed and calm and happy. He didn't say much. But, of course, he did. It's great support for that whole practicing random kindness thing.

It made me think about my decision to leave this particular school to pursue a more advanced degree elsewhere, which I did not end up finishing. While I do not have regrets, this is a subject that is unsettled in my core, and it forced me to recognize once again the extent to which, despite its downsides (and there are definitely downsides), I felt real community here, which in turn makes me wonder whether there is or should be a way to fit this place back into my life.

And it made me think about that whole "bad relationship" thing that has been swirling in my head for a few days now (you know, the time that I haven't been writing). It goes like this:

Note: To my New England friends who are tired of my "complaining" about this stuff, I have two bits of advice. First, you could stop here. Just click on that little button up there in the corner. Easy. The second alternative is to breathe deep, and seriously consider the notion of reading about a relative newcomer's experience and see it as just that, their experience. How 'bout it?

In a healthy, good, loving, relationship, when one person feels as if they are not getting what they need, when they feel as if their partner's priorities consistently lie elsewhere, when they feel excluded or overlooked or simply would like to be included more often, when they feel a need for connection, they say so. And in a healthy, good, loving, relationship, the partner listens. They take it in, with any luck they express either sympathy or empathy, and they move toward solution. They might ask a question like "What do you think would help you to feel more included?", listen to the response, and then gauge whether any of those actions might be something they could integrate and use. They might ask what they could do differently. They might assure the other that it was not their intention to offend, and try to pay more attention to these dynamics to see if the other person might in fact have a point. They might take direct action, and make some plans so that they will have some uninterrupted time together now and again. They might do almost anything. But hopefully, they do something that acknowledges and validates and addresses the concerns that have been expressed. Yes, of course, it might also indicate that the person who is feeling badly is more sensitive that most, or has difficulty in some situations--that can be lovingly acknowledged as well. That's what a good relationship looks like to me, anyway.

What I'm saying is that community is the same thing. A big relationship. Similar dynamics. Similar needs for communication. Similar processes.

And what I'm saying is that my experience is, about 90 percent of the time, when I talk about these things with people here in Boston--yes, for fifteen years now--the responses I get back fall into one of a few categories. The first, we can call "Maybe you should move back where you came from"--pretty self-explanatory. The second is something along the lines of "Clearly you aren't able or willing to try to fit in here--maybe you should change." (which of course, is true--all relationships require mutual effort--though it does imply that effort and/or change has not been made). The third is "Yeah, I've heard other people say that/Yeah, I've spent time in California and you're right it's really different/Yeah, I know it can be a difficult place to break in", which is lovely and thoughtful and is also the beginning, middle, and end of their interest. And the fourth, my personal favorite, is basically (not in these exact words, at least most of the time) "Shut up, stop complaining, it's great here, this is the best place I've ever lived, if you can't see that you're a loser". Yeah. I'm not kidding.

For fifteen years, I have tried to make sense of that quartet of responses, and particularly why they bother me so much.

And just this week, I have realized that I have been operating for all this time like we had a good relationship here, like the other half of this relationship wants to be in this relationship. This is a valuable piece of information. I get it now.

And yes, I'm "going back where I come from" one of these days. At the present time, it's not in the plans. Life is complicated.

I am reading this and realizing that it sounds as if I am saying that, for fifteen years, I have been miserable. It sounds like I am saying that I don't have friends, I don't like my neighborhood, I don't have people and activities and places that I really enjoy, I don't go out. None of that is true. Life is good. Really. This is not about unhappiness. I don't talk (and write) about this repeatedly to complain. It's about trying to make sense of the water in which I live and breathe--I talk about it and write about it because, well, I often don't get it. I talk and write because I struggle. I talk and write to figure things out. I'm like that.

It's really not as black and white as it might appear. It's not about mutual exclusivity. It is possible, in my world view, to have all of these good things, and to also wish that you lived in a place where when you had a singing performance, all of your friends would attend because well, they're your friends, rather than deciding if they have time or like that kind of music. It is possible, from over here, to be basically content and happy with your life, and to also wish that people just dropped by or wanted to just hang out. It is possible to have a full and rich life, and to also wish to have more friends who are not so heavily scheduled and obligated. It is possible to feel happy walking on a sunny day, and also wish that people would smile back.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that I'm beginning to get it. It's about time.

Although, I will admit, there is one thing that I will never get. And no, I'm not the only one to notice it--far from it. I will never get the concept of "I have enough friends". Not having time for more. Rationing. The adult version of "cliques" where attendance must be limited to that particular subgroup. I don't get that--I thought that was over in high school.

Oh, and I don't get the family thing at all either (I know. I said one thing. It happens.). But I'm from California, so that explains that. That was easy.

So you can see how the glimmers make me cry.

"This is your home".

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

It was enough for today. More than enough.

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