You are currently Absolutely Elsewhere
Summer has come to the city again. For the past ten years or so, this season has been a melancholy time for me. I could never figure out why, ultimately ascribing it to whatever adolescent crisis I was enduring at that particular time. I suppose these had their influence, but they were not to blame for all. At such times, I would remember with perhaps a more nostalgic than actual memory of the humidity, the summers when I was young. The summers when it was too hot, too sunny, when we– all of my neighborhood girl-gang and I– played in the sprinklers or the shade or at dusk or retreated to Lauren and Lindsey's basement to play Babies in the cooler air. I assumed I was nostalgic for the "simpler times." But they weren't simpler.
Compared to my teen years, my childhood connections with people were at once more complicated in theory, and more simple for me to execute. As I've grown older, and out of my adolescent misanthropy, I've longed for the dog-days of summer– the true dog-days, like those Julys and Augusts where 90 degrees was the norm, 100 degrees not at all unheard-of, of my childhood. They were drought years, I believe, but only in terms of precipitation. Socially, for me, the heat brought bumper crops.
I was young– but I was living in the city. I had friends near me; we were connected to each other, to our neighborhood– to the pulse of the city. We were a part of society, although we didn't know it, and we operated and interacted instinctively. We didn't take that hot sun for granted– we had no air-conditioning to retreat to. Our nights were hot, sweaty; the fans were no help. But together we found ways to beat the heat– trips to Snail or the other lakes to swim, or to pools, or sprinklers, or those Barbies in the basement. "Keeping cool" was a social event.
Then, at nine, we moved to this nice neighborhood in south-east Como. We had a big– real big– yard, with lots of room, lots of trees, lots of bushes screening us from neighbors. No need to play in the street, and air-conditioning, so we could retreat indoors to keep cool. I've lived here for ten years. It's a beautiful yard, and a beautiful house. But as for society? The kids in this neighborhood don't play together. For a long time, we barely knew any neighbors. My closest-living friend was a 20-minute walk away. My second-closest was a 40-minute walk.
It was here that I built myself away from society, as every adolescent does. Adolescence is an odd time, where children become aware of who they are and who other people are, and struggle to become their adult selves. Society seems to be pressing on their newly-discovered body and mind, and so many reject it. But there are degrees of rejection, and mine was greater, especially in the summer, than it could have been had I lived in the old neighborhood. I could not only reject some forms of society, but all of them. I could stay in my own self-contained environment all summer long. Even when I interacted with other people, I could do so on my terms alone.
But now my adolescence is over, and I want to re-join society and– coincidentally– the city. The city I knew and the city I never got to. The city that forces people into cooperation to survive, both winter and summer. Like a child, I want to sit on the steps in the summer to keep cool, run through sprinklers, go to movies. I want to mow my yard with other people watching, run through other people's back yards again.
I have taken the first small steps towards society this summer. I go back to my old neigborhood practically every day. On the bus every day, walking down Snelling, I engage myself with the people around me. I step into stores to get cool, talk with the people behind the counter. I am learning how to be a part of the city. The heat and the society have stripped away much of the old malaise.
Summer in the city is a profoundly social time. Long days for cookouts, walks, bars. I was at Minnehaha Falls yesterday– on an outing. And in all the people there I was an appreciation for the nature they seldom see, but I have in my back yard. Kids splashing in the creek, a sense of community. I was jealous. But I know, this summer, that I am bit by bit building myself a place in the community. I am still, and will always be, an introvert. I don't mind this. But I know now that I will not be a misanthrope. And I know that this will be my last summer in this neighborhood, that is only nominally part of St. Paul. Next summer, I will spend living in the city.
Time to go home?
These pages, text, and images all copyright Katherine Sherman, 1999
Created: July 7, 1999