My Town’s Not Better Than Your Town

I’m beginning to believe that perfectionism is the greatest sin of our age, as it is based in un-truths and breeds disconnection and competition.  We’ll never have our ideal of the perfect body, perfect family, or the perfect place to live.  My sister and I reflected on this last example a bit this past week, as she visited me in San Francisco from her current home state of Kentucky.

We grew up in New England, a place of simple tastes. Homemade apple butter, Sam Adams beer, wicked awesome thin crust pizza (just called “pizza”, because why would it ever have a doughy crust?!), warm coats that cover most of your body, a car that will get you across icey roads, a dip in the ocean on hot days. My sister and I have both moved away from our home region as adults, me to Philly and then San Francisco, and she, very recently, to small town Kentucky.

This past week she visited me in the Bay to the A, with her youngest child, my niece who is only seven months younger than Olive. Despite the challenges of having two toddlers in an itty-bitty apartment, it was lovely to be with my sister again, as I only see her once a year. It was also interesting to see SF through her eyes, as a person who has lived in the rural South for two years. Since I’ve lived here for nearly a decade, sometimes I forget about how much the culture here has changed me. There are so many things I take for granted as “normal” that are really surprising to people not from here.

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Cousins at the playground

For instance, we were at my friend Giselle’s house, eating delicious Josey Baker Bread. I asked if she’s getting it from the Four Barrel pop-up near her store. She said that she has a subscription, and it comes every Wednesday. Molly broke in, “You have a subscription to BREAD?! I can’t even get the Wine of the Month club in Kentucky!” We all laughed at how something that made so much sense to us was shocking to her.

One night Joel (who should really be sainted for this and the other times he watched both girls) stayed with the kids while Molly and I went out with a bunch of my friends to see Mortified, the show in which people read from their childhood and teenage diaries.  A friend of mine is in the band so our names were on the list, but we still waited in line outside the DNA Lounge to meet up with my other friends.    “Where are our seats?”  Molly asked.  “Oh, all the seats will be taken by now.  We’ll stand.”  I told her matter-of-factly.  Her face drained of color and she said, “I don’t think I’m cool enough for this now!  I imagined myself holing up in my chair watching from there.  We’re going to stand the whole time?!”

I hadn’t even thought to warn her of this, as I  go to shows all the time that require standing room only.  As it turns out, we found a little spot by the front that was as incognito as possible, and Molly was definitely cooler than the drunk girl next to us who yelled out whatever she was thinking the whole time (“1996!  What a year!”).

Getting some sister time

Throughout the week, she told me stories about her life with her family in Kentucky, where she teaches Literature, Writing, and Women’s Studies at a small college.  It sounded peaceful, manageable, and like there was space to move around in.  She showed me pictures of the lovely house she lives in, in which there are whole rooms they only use when they have parties, which is only about twice a year.  So what if they can only eat frozen or canned fish, being a land locked state?  At least they can afford their life, and their kids have wide open spaces to play in on a regular basis.

I don’t know if I could stand living in a dry county, however.  And I do love the access to so much culture and deliciousness right outside my door.  I took her to the grocery store in my neighborhood, Bi-Rite, and as we navigated the cramped passageways she said, “I have yet to see a single food I recognize. I don’t know what any of this stuff is!”  I got to introduce her to a lot of new foods.  “Do you have this kind of licorice in Kentucky?”  I’d innocently ask, to which she’d reply, “Can you get it at Wal Mart?  No?  Then we don’t have it.”  It was a refrain of the week that made me realize how very rich my tastes have become.

However, along with the constant reminders that I am living in an insanely expensive place that I simply cannot afford, there were also some reminders of things I take for granted, that she pointed out to me.  One was the views.  She kept wanting to take pictures of things I see on a regular basis — all the beauty of the city has become something that is not exactly lost on me, but doesn’t seem photo-worthy somehow.  San Franciscans take more photos of their lunches than the gorgeous hill top vistas outside the window.

Another perk to our city life is that we spent the entire week without riding in a car, and my niece, who is not a fan of the car seat, was happy as a clam strapped to her mama’s body in the Ergo.  She was less happy having to go to sleep in an unfamiliar place, in the same room as three other people, so bed times and naps were rough.  It filled me with a longing for a bigger space, one in which I can comfortably host my family and friends that are kind enough to visit me in my Bay side perch at the end of the world.

Throughout the week, we compared our new hometowns, so different from each other, and from where we grew up together.  She was surprised that whenever she told anyone her child’s name – Teagan – people asked, “Oh, like the band?  Tegan and Sara?”  I thought it was hilarious that her colleague wore a shirt with camo arms to a faculty meeting.

What we came together is that neither place is inherently better than the other — Kentucky is certainly an easier place to have a family, and San Francisco is an invigorating place with a vibrant community, despite all its challenges.  There is no perfect place to live – there are trade offs no matter where you go.  All there is to do is pick a place, dig in, and build community where ever we have landed.  Then, hope our family will have the fortitude and means to visit us there when they can!

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6 thoughts on “My Town’s Not Better Than Your Town

  1. “pick a place, dig in, and build community where ever we have landed”- I love this line Rhea as this is exactly what I’m wrestling with and striving for at the moment and also for most of my life having grown up on different sides of the globe, at different times.
    The gift of such an upbringing is diversity and vibrancy and the difficulty is finding a place to ‘settle’ in, or even letting it find me! I’m not sure I will ever make one place my home internally, my home instead is a tapestry of many places and people, i’m sure the is true for many of us.
    Currently, I am missing one place on the other side of the world, longing for it and yet at the same time my heart for this city of London is growing strong. I have decided, like you so aptly put it, to dig in while I am here, really invest in my community, to be present and “landed”… and then do the same if I find myself in another homeland one day.
    Thank you for once again such timely words Rhea xxx

  2. First, I want Olive’s coat! Second, San Francisco is such a rad city. I would love to live there, but as a freelancer, it’s not feasible. I’m so glad you got some good time with your sister.

  3. True dat! I’m so,glad I was able to meet your sister. This post is perfectly timed with our search of home on the peninsula. We’ll be gaining and losing great things. I know San Bruno ain’t Kentucky though.

  4. Country mouse here. You did a fantastic job of highlighting some of the fun moments of comparison in our week together – I loved this blog post! It’s already beginning to seem precious to me in my memory. I wish you could have been a fly on the wall when I regaled my co-workers with descriptions of artisan coffee, people waiting in long lines for fancy ice cream in winter, and your bumpin’ dance classes. They loved hearing about how eco-conscious and sensitive to difference you all are (y’all are?), and how you’ve found strategies to navigate, much like the lady with the face mask on in the BART elevator. While some of the aspects of your life seem challenging, you have created such a great community that eases the everyday strain. The reason I kept mentioning a visit to KY is that I was hoping you could also have the experience I did of enjoying the regional differences in technicolor. Thank you for shepherding Teagan and I through the week and providing so much lively fun! Seeing our kids play together was the absolute best.–Molly

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