Even living in a city is just a pile of selected anecdotes. I can’t tell you if New Orleans is a great place or not. I can only tell you I had a great time there. Why? Because we shared it with awesome people. Our perceptions of a place are almost entirely based upon the people we spent time with there, and just a little bit about politics and aesthetics. We can’t give a very informed description of the quality of shopping districts. But there are great people everywhere, so evaluating places seems increasingly silly. What’s our favorite place? Tony and Acacia maybe? Or Jen. Definitely Jen. What I feel about the places I’ve been on this trip, and the places I’d been previously, is really just about the experience I had there. So I might tell you not to go to Banff or Bonita Springs, but really, if you go, you’ll probably love it. As long as you don’t meet that cop in Bonita Springs. Or maybe he’s usually really nice.
Anyway, now when people ask me about Fitchburg, I’m not going to try to pretend that it exists as some distinct, definable entity. I won’t say that it’s an old paper mill town with a decaying main street, a diverse population, a small but growing state
college university, and a bunch of abandoned churches, factories, and warehouses. No. What is Fitchburg like? It’s great. It’s where I play Scrabble with G-G before she goes to bed and volleyball with my friends and my dad on Sundays. It’s where I sit in the ARC and talk until 4 a.m. about the kind of person I want to be, the kind of world I want to see, and the parts of my past that I’ve lost. It’s where we shoveled snow to play driveway basketball during NCAA tournament halftimes. It’s where I’ve slept under a beer can ceiling with people I’ll always love and where Jen makes me spicy soup when I’m sick. It’s where I would sit in cars until 6 a.m. talking to J-Dog about his dad dying. It’s where my mom died. It’s a place with a reservoir, the running to and swimming across of which are wrapped up in collectively created ceremony.
That’s only what it is to me. But maybe there are as many Fitchburgs, or Vancouvers, as there are people who have been to those places and remember them. Talking about places without the lived experiences is like building an education curriculum without the humanity/ies. Oh crap, that’s what’s happening in our schools! Maybe there’s a common thread to a society that sees education as work-force training and views places primarily as locations of commerce, resources, and statistics. Maybe it’s the capitalist, economy-first value system, with its false equivalency between what makes money and what is valuable. It might win policy, but it won’t win our hearts. Maybe we defy those forces every time we look something up on Wikipedia just because we’re curious. And maybe we rebel whenever we listen to someone’s story about their experience in a place and just take it for what it is. We cheapen what places mean to us when we measure them against a tourism commercial image of what a place should be.
Tsawwassen, BC is where I write blogs about places