Journal: The View From Where I Sit
I was spurred to go on a bike ride this afternoon. It’s the first I’ve taken to really go out and explore on my own since I got this bike a couple weeks ago. I traveled along the partially paved bike path until I ran out of paving. Traveled along wistfully, surrounded by half-woods, searching for something. Some special place to call my own. Some little cove to steal away to in the early morning hours and write. I was searching for an escape from my life.
I imagine that’s no uncommon need for most people these days. There is always too much; too much work, too much responsibility, too many bills, too many kids, too much fighting, too much debt, too much social media, too much bad news… too much of everything. Everyone seems to need to escape. I would love to be the person who can relish in the now. Laugh at her messy house, dote on her devilish darling kids, plug away at her to-do list, and write about it all with such frankness and honesty that the masses nod in unison at this rare truth I’ve found the courage to share.
But that’s not me. At least, it’s not today. Today, I am riding my bike, desperately trying to get away. Getting away usually means finding some quasi-wooded area, a creek, very little traffic and a lot of natural quiet. This also means getting away from the half-hood that I live in and venturing into the ‘good ‘ neighborhoods where they care enough about creating a nice natural environment that they provide carefully sculptured “natural parks” where things appear just a little more wild than, say, trimmed grass, basketball courts and rubber swings.
There are usually less beer cans and broken glass, too.
So today I’ve found such a wild place and I am relaxing on the grass, listening to the wind shaking the leaves above me. The view from where I sit is beautiful. And calm. And mostly quiet. So why do I feel a sense of sadness and bitterness? Why does the beauty of it all eat away at me?
As I rode away from the half-hood I call my home, I noticed the way the bike path only went 100 feet in the direction of my neighborhood, then broke off into rocky gravel, trash and broken glass. I had to turn around and head in the other direction. When I crossed the street that path went on significantly longer and led me away from my own neighborhood into the safety and comfort of a ‘better’ community. The loveliest thing in our hood is the golf courses we don’t visit. And apparently the need for a relaxing bike path from one end of the hood to the other is either unheard of or no one gives a damn. Welfare moms and struggling college students don’t need to escape their reality. And they certainly don’t need “natural parks” to sit and reflect.
I know I sound bitter, but never has the disparity of wealth been more apparent to me than in Wichita, Kansas. You can literally cross a street and go from $400,000 homes with manicured lawns, sculpted concrete fountains, high privacy fences and long winding driveways to tiny squatting brick houses, with broken toys in the yard, no sidewalks, and trash piled up at the curbs. It’s incredibly unsettling.
I grew up in Los Angeles, California and Seattle, Washington and the separation of rich and poor there is a bit more subtle. Hoods are hoods… they are usually separated from nice areas by major streets, commercial districts, or gradually shifting property values. Its not often that you can look across the street from your run down trailer park and see a goddamn mansion. In Wichita, the separation is stark. And its a painful reminder of what you do not, and in many cases, cannot and will not ever have.
Sitting here, bitter, against this young maple, looking up at the gorgeous colors of fall, relishing in the scent of grass, the slight sweetness of tree bark, the subtleties of fall; Enjoying the absence of loud music, the scent of stale beer, and the arguing that has become the theme song for life in the hood, my peace is only mildly disturbed by the approach of a white family. They’ve come to this idyllic outdoor scene to spend time together. Dad carries an infant nestled cozily in his arms. Little blonde-headed girls bobble about poking sticks at the soft earth. Ella wanders off and mom calls her back, they pose for a quick photo, try to get a younger girl, Emma, to smile. They are surprisingly quiet… not a hundred feet from me and I can only make out the occasional chuckle or soft words. They settle down with a blanket, picnic-style, some of the kids climb a nearby tree. It’s all very lovely… and I think: I have every intention of doing this very same thing with my family.. and often.
The major difference between us and them is that they easily walked to this location. It was nothing unusual or out of the way. Me and my kids will have to hobble through the hood for a mile or more to get here. We will probably look out of place. We will never be able to call this place our own. This will never be our community. That’s a painful truth to face. We have to leave our community to reconnect with each other, escape the piss and pain of the hood, just to relax.
Now, my goal is to one day move our family into such a place. A community with wild places carefully sculpted into the environment. A place where we can literally walk into our own backyard and reconnect with nature. Where there are not drive-bys at the end of the street and arguments from the couple in the alley every damn morning. Someday, I pray. I’m working toward it.
And I have no doubt that the concrete and chain link fencing that is the landscape of our community has some deep psychological effect on us and our children. I have no doubt that growing up with nature and beauty and quiet so easily accessible does something to the heart; affects our sense of hope, our aspirations. I believe with every sinew of my being that the hood is a prison designed to keep you there. Carefully shaped into a valley of despair where the steep hills of hope are too high to climb and the view is always invariably bleak.
I don’t want that for my children, for my family or for myself. I have seen what it’s like on the other side, beyond the walls of this valley. I have seen what it’s like over the hill and beyond the tracks… I couldn’t help but see it… these city planners are constantly rubbing it in my face. I have seen it and I want out. I want the sculptured slice of nature at my fingertips, the moist earth of nearly dry creeks between my toes. I want maple trees and pines. I want a little less concrete and a whole lot more quiet. I want my need to escape to be just a bit less prevalent and I want the extent to which I must go to find that escape to be a lot less far.
If I ever get out, God-willing, remind me about this journal entry. Remind me to finish paving that bike path from 13th street to 17th. Remind me to give the welfare moms and struggling students, the single dads and city workers just a hint of quiet. Remind me to bring a little nature back to the hood.
I’m happy that I found this place and I will probably bring my kids here, regardless of how out of place we may look and seem. The view from where I sit is beautiful… and I’d like to keep it that way.
This post is a part of the #tenminutes series, a challenge to write for ten minutes, every day, no matter what. To learn more visit: Ten Minute Challenge and join the movement![color-box]
TEN MINUTES CHALLENGE DAILY PROMPT
“The View From Where I Sit” – Either sit exactly where you are or go out and find a space you enjoy and snap a photo. Put that photo at the top of your page and title this piece, “The View From Where I Sit” and begin writing about your view. If you get stuck try focusing on the five senses. What do you hear, smell, taste, feel, and see?
Note: This can become a story, a poem, a rant, an article, a journal entry, a song… whatever form it takes just go with it. When all else fails in the face of writers block, just begin by making a list. What words come to mind in this view? What emotions do you feel? For an extended activity, return to this place on another day, with the same view, and see how this imagery makes you respond a second time. How does your mood affect your perception. What’s changed? Please do share. I love to see your work. Ready? Set. Write forth! #tenminutes[/color-box]