(This is the second in a series of thematically-linked posts my friend Rose-Anne and I are doing. You can go straight to her post here, and in fact I highly recommend it.)
I was on the phone a few weeks ago with one of my nearest and dearest friends when she told me how much it bothered her to know things had changed since she moved away, the feeling that she wasn't keeping up with the lives of her friends. It stopped me short, and left me momentarily speechless. I suddenly felt the terrible inadequacy of the telephone, the attempt at summation of daily life into a weekly or bi-monthly conversation, the pang you get when somebody far away from you mentions an event or a person or a place fondly and you realize that you have no idea what they're talking about. It's a special kind of disorientation, to suddenly discover that a medium which is supposed to promote communication is instead capable of leaving you with such a vast and barren feeling of isolation.
I remember that feeling from when I moved to Chicago. I'd left behind everything I knew, friends and family and my lover, easy transportation and mountains and a sense of place, and instead of approaching my new surroundings with an open mind I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to pretend that I was still where I had been. That first year I literally felt like I had moved to a foreign country, one where girls wore high heels paired with jeans even in the snow, where there were large bodies of water really nearby and it was cold all the time, and instead of exploring what was new I mostly just moped around wishing for what was familiar. But of course, no matter how hard I tried to pretend that nothing had changed, I ran again and again into the realization that really I was on my own, and the voice on the other end of the line was living a completely different life from mine. I think the refusal to accept that slowed down the process of letting here become home; if I’d opened myself up to what was happening to me instead of what wasn’t, I would perhaps have been much happier much sooner. Alas for being young and foolish and heartsick!
There is an art to long-distance connection, to knowing where you are and where other people are and recognizing that those are not the same, but without letting go of what made you close in the first place. I'm trying to keep this in mind, because suddenly a great many people I know have moved or are moving or have long lived elsewhere, and I couldn't bear to lose them all. In the space between last year and next year, nearly all of the people who are closest to me are changing locations. Chicago to California, Texas, Canada, New York and New York and New York again and again; Alaska to Albuquerque, California and Canada to destinations yet to be determined. My friends and loved ones are and will be learning new cities, adjusting to different geographies, and seeing what that means for their future selves. They will change, because their lives will demand it of them, and I here in Chicago will change, and so what will we talk about in that moment when it becomes obvious that we are no longer exactly the same people who rode our bikes through the streets or spent evenings baking cookies together?
Proximity is certainly helpful to friendship and affection but I refuse to believe that it's the only reason for being emotionally close to somebody, and not only because I'd be screwed next year what with the mass exodus and all. I believe instead that the people who I’m really connect with will stay around, if only metaphorically. In light of this hope, I’ve recently been making a concerted effort to be a better friend, to keep up with those who are still here and to renew and strengthen my long-distance connections with those who have already left. As part of that effort I’ve been writing emails and the occasional letter (snail mail, gasp!), making phone calls, and I’ve even learned how to use skype, but as I do all of these things I’m also trying hard to leave space for myself to be alone and to make sure that I don’t forget where and who I am. I’m here, in this city that I love almost in spite of myself, and there are no plans to change that in the immediate future. I am where I am, and I want to appreciate that even as I keep the people I love close to my heart.
It’s especially important for me to remember that last part now because, well… I’m a little bit jealous. There’s all this flow all around me, I’m reading books about far-off places that I’ve yet to visit, so many people I care about are relocating, and basically I’m in the throes of mini-wanderlust even as I bolt bookshelves into my walls. It’s paradoxical, the desire to strengthen my roots even as I dream of elsewhere. My attempts to stay closer to people who aren’t here are also a way to remind myself why I am still here: because I’m happy, because there are things here that I’m not ready to leave yet, because this is where I met many of those wonderful people and because I have hopes of meeting many more. There will be time for travelling later, I believe. Now is the time to learn how to be the one who stays.