My favorite places from this year's trips were probably Oxford, MS and Rosebud, SD, for not entirely different reasons, which rekindles an ongoing dilemma about whether I should continue to live where I live (and yes; I know that my ability to choose is a privilege for which I feel deeply grateful).
Here's what I love most about where I currently live:
- It has an incredible public library that I can walk to in all weather, has access to collections across the state including recent releases, the academic press, and printed material in other languages, and hosts workspace and playspace for toddlers, teenagers, new immigrants, telecommuters, senior citizens, and everyone in between. Not only is this a service I personally benefit from, but it also makes me feel like my tax dollars are being spent wisely promoting services and institutions I believe are central to a strong community.
- I have access to a strong healthcare system. This became particularly important to me this summer, when I experienced a series of challenging and difficult-to-diagnose medical issues. These issues not only were particularly terrifying to an otherwise healthy person whose last hospital visit was for my brother's birth two decades ago, but also required tests and consultations with numerous specialists in numerous offices. Fortunately, everyone I needed to see was in this city, shared their files across systems so all my doctors (some of whom I could choose from a list of experienced providers) were fully informed, and my care was mostly covered by insurance (I certainly became well-acquainted with the inefficiencies and expenses of the healthcare system, and with the fears that must be particularly salient for those with less disposable income, English-language ability, or otherwise general health than I have, but also became much more grateful for what is readily available to me that may not be if I lived elsewhere).
- A major international airport is less than an hour away (or less than half an hour by taxi), which not only makes it much easier to spend time with friends and family around the country, but also significantly less expensive. When I was teaching, I lived ~100 miles from a regional airport, which made weekend trips all but impossible given driving time and connection times, and even made Thanksgiving extremely challenging.
- I don't need a car. By this I mean that there are grocery stores I can visit multiple times a week if I'd like, with a variety of fresh produce and minimally-processed foods that are reasonably priced and, when possible, local and/or organic. I also mean that I can commute to work fairly quickly and cheaply (even ignoring what I don't spend on gas, car insurance, maintenance, and parking)-- and have multiple routes available so a single missed train doesn't make me late for important meetings-- or to see my friends on a transit system that allows me, as a young woman who generally travels solo, to feel safe enough enough of the time that the precautions I feel the need to take don't dramatically limit my options. More importantly:
- Other people around me don't need cars to live full and meaningful lives. As a result, on the eight-minute walk to my local bookstore, I'm likely to hear at least five different languages being spoken by recent immigrants, international students, and folks whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower; I'm likely to see babies in strollers and seniors in wheelchairs and walkers; I'm likely to see same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples, flirting or fighting or just enjoying fifty years' worth of each other's company; I'm likely to see Lululemon-clad runners stopping for a venti frappucino, grocery shoppers fighting diabetes on their EBT allowances, church-bound families carrying cans for the food pantry, artists, policemen, bankers, children who want to be these things someday, those who go home to million dollar mansions and those who are struggling to keep a home. It's a world of difference from the antiseptic suburb in which I grew up, and reminds me daily that there are lots of people-- most of the people in this world, in fact-- who are nothing like me and yet have stories worth listening to, and that's not only okay, but is what makes the world rich and beautiful and interesting; it's what I'd like my children to experience someday, so that our conversations about race and class and privilege and choice and difference are more concrete than abstract.
- I'm surrounded by colleges and universities (100+, within an hour, some of which are pretty famous). This should mean I can sneak into public lectures and learn interesting things and meet fascinating people who are obsessed with ideas-- all of which I did at one point in my life, but haven't done in years.
- I live in a place with lots of history, which is fun to share with visiting friends and makes for lots of cool buildings.
- There are enough people who have made life choices like mine such that I'm not the only woman over 22 who isn't married and doesn't have children, but enough people who have made life choices different from mine such that I'm not tempted to think my way is the best way.
- I have access to countless great restaurants and bars and yet I mostly eat at the same old favorites or prepare my own food.
- There are lots of resources and lots of players in the game; in a rural area I lamented the lack of social services or opportunities for my students, but here, given the proliferation of non-profits, governmental organizations, for-profits, programs, etc., I wouldn't even know where to start.
I suspect that 2013 will be the year in which I make some big decisions about where I live; I tried to pull the trigger last year and was overcome by inertia, but this year I suspect some personal and professional stars will be aligning in a big way in the next twelve months to either make me move or make me commit here for a good while longer. How did you end up living where you live? What do you love about it? If it has the five things I listed above-- should I move there? ;)
Happy holidays, y'all!