Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Response To A Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia, Has Been Condemned

Do you like where you live? I was going through one of those Facebook quizzes, this one called "44 Things," when my mind got a little stuck on that question. I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere else in my entire life. I hated it at first because it's so cold and gray for so much of the year. But it's pretty stupid to hate the place you live, so I've worked hard to find things to like. That's easy in May. As the person from California who I met last night said to me, "it's so green here."

I want to be less like the singer of the Uncle Bonsai song "Send my body home," who isn't happy anywhere she goes (you can see the lyrics here at Yellow Tail Records if you page down). I think my favorite lines are "I don't like Alabama/ I was there when it was raining."

As part of my learning-to-like-Ohio project, I've been reading James Wright, among other native Ohio poets. But some days, Wright just isn't much help:

In Response To A Rumor That the Oldest Whorehouse in Wheeling, West Virginia, Has Been Condemned

I will grieve alone,
As I strolled alone, years ago, down along
The Ohio shore.
I hid in the hobo jungle weeds
Upstream, from the sewer main,
Pondering, gazing.

I saw, down river,
At Twenty-third and Water Streets
By the vinegar works,
The doors swing open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.

I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?

For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia,
Has only two shores;
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.

And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.

Wait, maybe this poem does help. As I told one of my students after class last week, I think that if a person's response to an inappropriate sexual overture is clueless and innocent enough, the moment can sometimes pass that person by, untouched. Because you see what you're looking for. If you're looking for grayness and ugliness in everything, you can certainly find it here, even in May. So I'm trying to focus on the green right now. I have to drive two hours to a soccer game tomorrow afternoon, and it's always a pleasure to unfold my chair and sit in the sunlight on the green grass for an hour and a half, watching the game... some of the time. The other parents mostly know enough not to ask me the score. Because if you keep score, you miss some things!

Do you like where you live? Is it an effort?


FreshHell said...

Hmm, well, except for a brief couple of months in NC during college, I've always lived in Virginia. In fact, I've lived most of my life (except for the past 6 years) in the city of my birth. Do I like it? Yes, but I don't really know anything else. I like what I've seen of Ann Arbor, MI, but I don't know if I could live there. Ditto California, Kansas, Iowa, etc. As I've gotten older, I am partial to a place that's more warm than cold. Virginia has very distinct seasons. I love that. I love the trees, the proximity to the beach and mountains, the history, etc. But, I don't really have much to compare it to. It's home - plain and simple.

Alison said...

I definitely like Gambier, although I like it very differently now than I thought I would when Joe and I prepared to move back here. Of course, compared to the outskirts of Cleveland, this place is positively balmy most of the time, and as Joe can attest, the "there aren't any people" complaint from the Uncle Bonsai song is actually a selling point as far as I'm concerned.

Joe and I had a most definite "send my body home" moment once, though. We got hopelessly lost on some sort of detour off I68 in West Virginia, in the middle of the night, and low on gas, in an area that didn't look especially welcoming. To this day, we both associate that song with being lost.

PAJ said...

I like where I live (New Jersey) and find it amusing that the state has such a bad reputation. The weather here is fairly mild--four distinct seasons, with winter being somewhat moderated by the nearness of the ocean. Despite what many think, the people here are nice, but it's that hurried niceness of the East Coast, not the slow, y'all-come niceness of the South or the live-and-let-live niceness of the Midwest.
In the last 25 years, I've lived in 10 different communities in 8 different states. I always said I could be happy anywhere but found that wasn't totally true a few years ago. Luckily, we were able to move to NJ a couple of years ago and love it here. But if we could live anywhere, we'd move back to Virginia in a heartbeat. FreshHell mentions several of the state's good points, and I'll add good public schools (at least that was our experience) and quality colleges/universities.

TexasRed said...

I like where I live (small town in West Texas), but it's definitely taking some getting used to. I moved here last year when I got married.

It's quite cactus-y and isolated. My learning-to-love-West-Texas plan has involved taking lots of pictures of the cactus (to think of them as beautiful and exotic) and reading local travel magazines for fun events in the area (summer festivals, small art gallery tours, etc).

It helps that I've lived all over & knew people who were bored even living in London. So much of attitude about a place is subjective!

johnmckenzie said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Harriet said...

I think I have a bizarre sense of place attachment. I didn't live any one place for more than one place until I went to college, and even then I moved somewhere else every summer (and only once was that somewhere else the place my parents were living). I don't have a place that I call home. Wherever I am is home. So I don't feel any particular need to like or not like where I am. It is simply where I happen to be. I have very mixed feelings about where I am at the moment, but mostly I am not liking it right now. I miss the city too much. I am certain, however, that when I get back to civilization, that I will miss the space and the garden, and the frogs currently serenading me from the stream in the backyard. Maybe I won't miss the raccoons copulating outside my bedroom window at 3 a.m. There are only two places where I feel a nearly physical connection to the land, where I feel like I might need to be. One is the island where where my parents sometimes live and where they're in the process of leaving. The other is the place I went to college, which makes me cry whenever I'm driving in or out of it in a rather embarrassing way. I am also very passionate about New York City, although I've never lived there for more than a few months at a time. But that passion is different. It is not related to its topography, but its culture. If I could wrap my arms around the Berkshires and hold on, I would.

Jeanne said...

Hmm, looks like two votes for Virginia, one for central Ohio (Gambier), and two for "wherever you go, there you are"!

By the way TexasRed, Samuel Johnson said that whoever is tired of London is tired of life.

lemming said...

I loathe abominate and despise Indianapolis... but I love the climate. It suits me better than anywhere I've ever lived.

As I prepare to move to Gambier, I look forward t a lot of perks, but I will really miss the weather.

Anonymous said...

I don't like where I live (northern CA), but perhaps that's just perversity. There is decent weather and good food, liberal politics (kind of), scenic beauty. Here's what I don't like: I don't like that everybody else likes it. I'd much rather live someplace a little harder to like -- someplace not so obvious. (That's just my contrariness.) I don't like the weather -- there are two distinct seasons, wet and dry. It's never very warm in the summer, and it's never very cold in the winter, although it's damp, and there's no fall, and spring comes in January. I don't like that. Public education, generally, sucks. There's a decent public university, but it's very large and bureaucratic. The ocean, though beautiful, is too cold to swim in. Plus, particularly in the town where I live, people are so self-righteous, believe they know the correct way to do everything, and believe they need to tell you about it. And they're actually pretty selfish. AND, strangely, there's a real streak of anti-intellectualism. There's no decent classical musical station, bookstores have a hard time surviving, and the museums are better than they were, but not great. The local public library IS great, though, and I would miss that if I left. N. CA is very beautiful, though, but to be honest, there are also very ugly parts as well. Anyway. It's a constant debate in my household, because my poor children sort of ARE californians (although one is rather enjoying Maine) and my husband honestly thinks that California is just great, and I do feel like an ingrate. But if I could, I would live somewhere with four seasons and an appreciable snowfall, not too far from a reasonable city (I grew up near New York, and I'm afraid that's my standard.) Honestly, if I could, I think I'd move to Maine or Western Massachusetts. I love Rhode Island, but it doesn't snow so much there any more. I'd even be interested in trying out New Brunswick. Maybe I would truly hate it and then I'd be sorry and wish I could have a salad in February. But I'm always impressed -- the fact that the airport in Concord, New Hampshire ALWAYS has at least three books I want to read in just the newstand seems to mean something.

Jeanne said...

Readersguide: Now see, you've added to the delights of living in Ohio--contrariness, since it's not easy for me to like! Especially since, as you point out, my children were born and grew up here (to the shame of our southern families, we're raising a couple of northerners).

What you say about N.CA. reminds me of the South Park episode about smug, in which it is revealed that there are more smug people in San Francisco than anywhere else!

Anonymous said...

Oh, we have smug covered all right. I believe I have seen that episode and it's just about right. And it is a regional thing, too. I'm from the East, damn it, and now my poor children are from the West, where a decent bagel cannot be found. (In fact, they make blueberry bagels here -- an abomination!) How can they be expected to have any strength of character at all when they have never ever had to wait half an hour at the bus stop while their hair and their toes freeze? But all I can do about it is whine, which is pathetic. (Ohio is an odd place -- it's like upstate new York, or western Pennsylvania. It's not exactly midwestern. It's not eastern. I might have a hard time in Ohio, too . . .)

Cschu said...

I, too, have lived here (Gambier, OH) for longer than I have ever lived anywhere else. I grew up moving around a lot. Before I went to grad school I had never lived in any one place for longer than 5 1/2 years (and most of that was before I was old enough to be aware of it.)

The only places that truly feel like home to me are Gambier and the place on the ocean where friends and I go for a week every other summer---strangely, a place I have never lived.

I hate the weather here in Ohio. The winters are just too dang long and it NEVER gets really hot. And the skies are grey too much of the time. The amazing amount of GREEN here is great unless you have a house surrounded by big trees that is always dark in the summer time. But I love everything else about my life---basically the people in my life (which includes, family, friends, colleagues, students). I figure if all you can think to complain about is the weather, you are a pretty darn lucky human being.