Where the Heart Is

I went on a run with a friend a few weeks ago. I don’t much go on runs. I loathe them – the awkward flailing, the sweat everywhere, including on my glasses, the gasping for breath if god forbid I tried to pick up my pace a bit or attack a slight incline. Worst of all was the interminable walk-jog segment home after the actual run. Regardless, we were running. We got to chatting, and she asked when I had last ran regularly. I scanned the recesses of my brain. Four years? Five? Then it hit me. It was ten months ago. Yeah. Ten months ago, I lived on the outskirts of town, and another friend and I ran along a small stretch of river once, twice a week, just about every week. I had completely forgotten.

It’s amazing how much my life has changed in the past year. It’s amazing how much my life has changed in accordance with where I live. It has nothing to do with my being an ex-pat – no need to cover that worn territory. No, what I’m talking about is much more fundamental. The configuration of a city, the amenities it has to offer, the presence of natural bodies of water, the location of home relative to the job. My life has been virtually unrecognizable year-to-year over the past half decade, and that has had as much to do with where I resided each of those years as anything else. It’s kind of astonishing.

I hike a lot now. It’s a psychological thing. See, I live in the city. So on the weekends when crowds flood the streets from noon on, I feel a tremendous urge to get away from it, to simply not be there. It’s the same reason I bike the 25 minutes to work as often as I can. Otherwise, I’m a complete lemming. I’d walk to the station, cram into a packed train during rush hour, and walk up the hill along with thousands upon thousands of faceless suits. Then I’d have to repeat the process in reverse at the end of the day. I definitely like the city, but I have to make a conscious effort to carve out a little personal space, to see something other than concrete and pavement. So I do.

I lived in the ‘burbs last year, way on the outskirts of town. My home was literally a five-minute walk from the office, and on top of that, I pretty much made my own hours. I lived only a couple of miles from the river, easy miles at that, and so that’s where I would run with my friend. Every weekend, I’d go out on a long bike ride along the river as well. It was nice, serene. But I would also go into the city every three or four days, to get a taste of life, of energy and vibrance. I didn’t really need a destination. I’d go and visit a restaurant, a store. I’d go and walk around and do nothing in particular. I’d just go – because I needed it.

I went to the gym regularly in Irvine, running on a track. There wasn’t much to do around there. I’d drive out to the Spectrum pretty regularly for movies. I’d go to Target for no particular reason. I had season tickets to the Angels one year. In Waltham, I was so far away from it all. The car didn’t really help – parking’s a bitch in Boston. I took the bus all the time, but it was so unreliable. I was kind of a homebody that year, though I suppose I had a good reason, wrestling with the heart of the dissertation. Anyway, once I moved to Brighton, it was different. I’d bike everywhere: three miles to the office, five to see a movie downtown, thirty to get on the Minuteman bike trail and back.

I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I’m so susceptible to the environment. I suppose it’s nice that I’m a chameleon of sorts, that I can adapt. I’ve always felt like I don’t need much from the city where I live – a movie theater, a sports team, a venue for exercise. But it’s easy for me to just say that. I’ve never lived where a night life wasn’t available within a reasonable distance, a short train or bus or car ride away. I’ve never lived in a city without extreme diversity of people or cuisine or events. I spent two weeks in Syracuse in the summer once, and basically ended up drinking away the time. So I don’t know. I do worry that my adaptability ultimately belies a lack of center, a sense of myself. I guess I’ll find out at the next place.

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