Sunday, June 18, 2017

The City of Destiny

Escape is a tricky thing. I think, for much of my life, I’ve been trying to escape. In some of my 12 Step groups, it’s called the “geographic cure:” the hope that the mythical “Some Place Else” will offer something, anything that will address the pain inside.

It’s not an unreasonable expectation. So many of our stories talk of finding where you fit, are quests to find whatever it is we’re lacking. And so, for many years, leaving Tennessee was that for me.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending upon how you look at it), I’ve found that it doesn’t. Different places offer different things. Salt Lake City was, undoubtedly, different than what I’d grown up with. But, as the saying goes, where-ever you go, there you are. It doesn’t change you. And that, at the end of the day, is the blessing and the curse of being.

That’s been my experience with Tacoma: a yearning for something different, a finding of something different, and, ultimately, a learning that though the difference helps you grow, you are still what has to change the most.


Tacoma’s nickname is “The City of Destiny” [dubbed so because it was the Western end point of the Northern Pacific Railroad]. And I think the name fits well. Most of the West Coast, to me, still feels like a “destination.” There are so many transplants, and even those who have lived here since birth are still new by Eastern standards. It’s odd to think, but Washington didn’t become a state until 25 years after the Civil War had ended. My families were in Tennessee and North Carolina at least back to the 18th century; few but the First Nations can say that here.

And, just so, similar to Utah there’s a peculiar kind of American spirit here. It is one of optimism, of possibility. The Oregon Trail literally led to Oregon, and people travelled it for the same reasons they came to America in the first place: possibility, opportunity, hope for something different. That pioneer spirit leads to a rugged independence that, I feel, really is different from the East. There is less community, less shared experience (or, if there is, it’s a kind of intellectualized, conceptualized community, an identity moreso than a group of people doing things together). But there is more toughness, tough in the way you’d have to be to make it here, in a way that sometimes scares me in its ferocity for life.

There is also sadness. It is not unlike Utah, “happiest of states,” with its pride and its deep undercurrent of pain. Whereas in Utah there were antidepressants and prescription pills, here it’s sunlamps and heroin. Kurt Cobain, Patron Saint of Seattle, is as famous for his death as his life, and his fellow grunge compatriots share similar stories. It hurts, in a way I’m familiar with. But it’s pain all the same.

So it is that daily I find myself wanting to love it here, for it has all the trappings of a place I’d live. I resonate with the ways this place feels. I love the innovation and the art; while the South is almost stagnant in its tradition, there is nothing here that doesn’t change.  I love the grunge, the low-key aesthetic, the earthiness and the ingenuity. It is new, it is wild, it is free.

Yet despite its advantages, it’s imperfect too. Oddly, (shockingly, if you’d ask a younger me) I’ll often find myself actually missing Tennessee. I miss its warmth, its spirit and soul. Whereas the South is a place of the heart, of passion and feeling, the Pacific Northwest is a place of the head. People here aspire to be right, cool, deep. And although my head has always been strong, it’s not what I value most. Instead of thriving here, instead I feel I falter. I feel big, I feel loud. I feel almost dorkish in the ways my love is large. Instead of feeling like the PNW is the Place For Me, I increasingly feel pride in my Tennessee heritage: I like passion, I like caring. I want to love the world in a way that these stiff Scandinavians find terrifying.

And, in some ways, that’s disappointing. I don’t want to return to Tennessee. But I also haven’t found what I’ve been seeking. It is different here, undoubtedly, and that difference has helped me learn, helped me grow. But it’s not all I’ve wanted. I still want different, I still want more. I am still as dissatisfied now as I was seven, ten, twenty years ago. And I’m only now coming to find what real change might look like.


When I was a kid, I loved The Wizard of Oz [we can put this in the same category as “wearing my mother’s nightgowns” and “joyfully sleeping in my sister’s heart-carved bed” for “And You Were How Surprised She Was Queer?”]. As a four year-old, I don’t know if I got the themes. I probably just liked the characters and the fantasy. But at its core, The Wizard of Oz is a story of seeking, of play, of change. And it’s a quest, a search for the fabled Wise and Powerful Man who can finally give you what you need to feel whole.

But, of course, the quest’s a scam. Dorothy and her entourage get to the Emerald City, meet The Wizard, and find he’s a charlatan. A Man Behind A Curtain. The promise of magic, the promise of salvation is ruined. And their hearts break anew.

There is disappointment, there is grief. There will be no strong and powerful outside force which will heal and save our alter-egos. But as this hope fades, it gives way to something quieter, stronger, deeper. Dorothy’s friends find that the heart, strength, and smarts they’d wanted had been theirs all along. And Dorothy, of course, could go home anytime she wished. She need only ask.

Seattle, that other Emerald City, is much the same. I have come seeking acceptance, comradery, wholeness. But what I have found is that the city can’t really give me that. My background may be different, but my core is still the same. There is no Oz at the end of my journey [even if she is smart, cute, and as filled with life and love as I could want]. No, home is inside. Whole is inside. There are spaces that can help me heal. But whether it’s in the lush bloom of the Smokies or under the watchful gaze of Mt. Rainier, I’m still the broken one. I’m still the healing one. The growing one, the living one, the dead and the reborn.

I think I’ve lived enough places now to start to see that, ultimately, I have to learn to live in me. I’m not really sure what that looks like. But, at least for now, my search is no more about finding “The Right Place” (or person or job or or or). It’s about being ok with where I’m at, with who I’m with, with who I am. So that, ultimately, where-ever I go, I’ll be right where I need to be.

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