I’m sitting here in a coffee shop a few blocks from my apartment in Chicago, with a laptop and a latte, it’s exactly the cliche. And I just read this story about Buffalo in New York magazine. It talks about the hipster-rebirth of Buffalo, how a handful of New Yorkers have moved there and set up their urban dreamlives, how some people never left and instead set about creating renewal. And it made me cry.
Q: What the… why the… how does a feature in a random magazine known for snark and fashion hit you square in the “Push for tears” button on an otherwise uneventful morning?
A: I’ve been homesick lately. I’ve been meaning to get back to Buffalo for months, and I thought August would be it. But things happened: moving away from Crazy Landlord/driving cross-country/filling in for staffers at work… the things that should come up as reasons that you can’t make it to your friend’s birthday party or reasons that you haven’t been grocery shopping in a while. Instead these have become totally shameful reasons that I didn’t see my family, my friends who knew me from forever ago, the place that once frustrated me deeply and now, when I visit, grounds me.
Q: The article felt a little condescending to me. You?
A: Whatever. I dunno. I’m talking bigger-picture, here.
Q: Were these tears of joy or shame?
A: I’m not sure. Maybe of recognition. I love potential. And when I go and visit Lisa in her cool Elmwood apartment and walk to the co-op or the gallery or the cafe, we are living something that feels good… creative/relaxed/community-filled. Yes, gentrification is synonymous with that $11 biscotti and the art party you went to last night, but I am thinking of something better than that. I love neighborhoods. I love winter storms, sweaters and snow boots, fall leaves, farmer’s market cherries and sitting by the river.
Q: Do you love crack houses, crumbling public schools and bus stations that could’ve teleported in from the Armageddon?
A: No. But I love this potential too. The idea that everything that falls must rise again. I would like to be there advocating for bike lanes and running an alternative newspaper. That feels like a perfect use of my lifetime.
Q: Are you just feeling nostalgic?
A: Maybe. No. Yes. No. I’m longing for something I invented in my mind, not something I had.
Q: Then what are you doing sitting in a coffee shop in Chicago?
A: It’s complicated. As a teenager to rebel meant to rebel against my hometown. I wasn’t drinking in a field or making out with nearly enough boys. My split with my roots was a geographic affair, and to pick up and leave was the most accessible form of internal power that I could get my hands on. Chicago could be Buffalo’s big sister.
Q: You going home, then?
A: Not right now. I’ve got stuff. You know. Stuff going on here. I just know that I would rather be there than read about it in New York magazine and feel like I’m reading about a best friend that I lost touch with, resentful that I’m learning through that writer’s lens and not my own.
Q: Why were you crying, again?
A: Maybe it’s like the kind of crying that comes from relief. Like when things are too much, your cat is in a tree and your knee is skinned and your ice cream cone is melting on the sidewalk, and you’ve got it all together until someone comes over and puts an arm around you. That tiny bit of space and attention makes you see how bad it has all been, and finally someone is acknowledging it and showing enough affection that you can let go for a minute. Maybe I just miss home.