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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

 

Tribe

Yesterday morning I lit incense, and as I watched the smoke curl and dance I was reminded of a poem I wrote in college that began, "Incense becomes smoke becomes air I breathe like you, I breathe you." I am tempted to apologize for this sounding too much like a poem written in college, for it being pretentious, or -- but I'm not going to, because, to be honest, I always loved that line.

I didn't actually write the poem myself - that line, yes, but it was part of a poem I wrote with a friend of mine when I was visiting her at Wesleyan University, in Connecticut. I remember being so inspired there - it seemed everyone was immersed in a creative project of some sort...making a film, costuming a show, playing music. I considered transferring (this was during my leave of absence from my own school, the University of Pennsylvania), but decided against it - I thought Wesleyan, with a student body of something like 1,500, would be too much like summer camp. That I was better off staying at Penn, a school connected to a city and to the "real world."

First - looking back almost 10 years later, I think, how sad that at age 20 I thought summer camp was something to avoid.

Second, a slightly-off-topic-rant: Oh how I wish colleges, parents, "the man," didn't perpetuate this notion that what awaits students following graduation is "the real world" - meaning that life before graduation is....what, exactly? I understand the idea is that once you're responsible for yourself financially, you're forced to grow up in new ways and take on certain obligations, but is all this more "real" than things you do in college and for the 18 years before it? Learning, making art, building friendships - this somehow counts less? If I sound like a hippie here - oh well, I guess I'm a hippie.

Anyway, back to my decision to stay at Penn...I've always been drawn to cities, to the sense of connection they give you to a world beyond yourself. And yet, what good is being surrounded by a volume of people if, in the middle of it, you feel alone? By contrast, at Wesleyan I could have had a creative community...and I'm increasingly realizing how rare it is to find such a thing. I wonder how much cities really provide us with. Living in Northwest D.C., I don't experience the cultural diversity that makes cities theoretically important or appealing. Yes, I'm surrounded by more people - when I walk my dog I pass more people than I would if I was walking him in the suburbs, but how meaningful is this, really? Especially considering the ethnic diversity of so many suburbs in the D.C. area. At this point, the main benefit I see to city life is being able to access so much without getting into my car. Which is important, but which is fundamentally a matter of convenience, not connection. The deepest connection I've felt to D.C. came after I discovered two communities - Tranquil Space yoga, and Washington Improv Theater. I was talking to a friend the other day about my experiences with WIT, and she said, "It sounds like you found your tribe." It's about time.

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