Saturday, July 12, 2008

Trapped in a Time Loop

In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels, one of the punishment for villians who are so dangerous conventional prisons could not hold them is a "Time Loop" -- the character would be incarcerated not in a jail cell but in a period of time a certain length long. One of the most severe examples is one character who is trapped in an eight second loop: forever repeating the same eight seconds.

This summer has felt like I'm trapped in a time loop; reliving the same day (or, if I'm lucky, week) from some summer during high school. Sleeping, diving, arguing with my mother, napping, diving, arguing with my mother some more, eating, maybe seeing a friend if I'm lucky (and these are exclusively high school friends, only serving to accentuate the feeling of a dream) and then going to sleep again. It feels like months, years, eons have passed and no progress has been made - that the years I have lived have sort of folded in on themselves and I'm back at the start again, no different except perhaps a little bit worse for wear. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that it isn't my time in Chicago that feels ethereal and dream-like. It's this summer, now. I keep thinking I'll wake up in the apartment on 54th, or in the dorm, and I'll be back to my old life (my real life), the life that was mine and not my mother's or my parents'. (The life that I almost screwed up completely, several times, but somehow managed not to). The life with the people that my parents don't know, and the places that they barely know, and the wonderful wonderful city that they only think they know.

And, fittingly enough for a dream, everything seems to revolve around Chicago. Like a beacon, drawing me back (or an anchor keeping me from drifting away). From things like a report about a beetle that kills ash trees (from China by way of the Midwest) invading a DC suburb to things like my ex moving out to Chicago to things like movies being filmed there (I cannot wait for Dark Knight, but did you know Wanted was filmed and set in Chicago?) or television shows mentioning it (apparently Wicker Park/Bucktown is now the "center of cool") or the baseball teams doing well or that one commercial for Aquafina water that seems to always be playing where Lou Pinella pretends to yell at that umpire. I realize it's just my memory, my own predisposition to now notice things Chicago-centric causes me to see what I ignored before, it's just my brain playing tricks on me. But my brain is doing a very, very good job at it; at accentuating the recursion, and the surreality, of my current existence.

I've started telling people I'm from California just to make the time I'm going to spend at Stanford more real. Maybe if I started seeing San Francisco in everything, rather than Chicago, it would make this transition easier. The problem, of course, is that then they ask questions that I cannot answer. If I said I was from Chicago, I could answer more of their questions. Perhaps because I almost am from Chicago. Not quite, but almost. I tried wandering around the District when I was in a mood, and it feels like it ever felt -- a memorial, a monument to our greatness, a palace to the federal government, in the style of the Greeks and the Romans. Not a real city. Not a real city where you are dwarfed by the buildings and feel the press of the masses around you. It felt more like Hyde Park than downtown Chicago. My sense of direction was nonexistent (or rather, perhaps, it was just that I didn't know where things were; I didn't have the lake to pinpoint east). I did better than some of my friends who went to rural or suburban campuses. But mostly I just felt vaguely lost, like it was a miracle I made my way to my destination at all.

When Kevin came to visit for Graduation, I gave him directions on how to get from O'Hare to Hyde Park -- take the train downtown and a cab from there. He says that when he stepped out of the subway station into downtown (Blue line to Clark, I believe) he just sort of stared for a second, thinking "Oh, I really am in a city." When I set foot in San Francisco I had an almost-similar reaction. I stepped out of the subway and stared at the buildings for a second thinking either "Where did this hill come from?" or "I'm home" -- I can't really identify which one, or what combination thereof, it was. But the funniest thing for me, the most drop-dead hilarious part of that, was the fact that I was traveling with two people from the area, from Berkeley I believe, and I was the one who found our hotel. Admittedly, the hotel was two blocks away and I only really needed to be looking for the signs. Admittedly, I didn't know what neighborhood it was in or where that fit into other neighborhoods, which were good or bad or ugly or otherwise whatever. But the point remains that it felt comfortable, good, solid; it reminded me of home.

That, of course, could not have been the suburban DC home in which I was raised, or even Rogers Park or Hyde Park. It was downtown Chicago, which has for some strange reason been connected with "home" in my mind even though I have never lived there. (Maybe it's subconscious, a lost memory from my third-or-some-such day of existence; I was born there). I already know, going in to Stanford, that visiting the city once a month will not be sufficient for me. That I will want to be a part of the city as much as I was a part of the city living in Hyde Park (perhaps more, since it is one of my regrets that I didn't get to know Chicago better than I do). That I will want to (need to?) feel the press and the peace of urban anonymity - surrounded by strangers and yet completely and totally alone. I find it funny that I think of a crowded coffee shop in the middle of a city as being just as peaceful and centering an experience as standing alone on top of a mountain. And perhaps that's because your chances of meeting someone and starting a conversation are about equal in either place; because the chances that you will be noticed in either place are about equal. There's something nice about watching the world churn, watching society shuffle and sprint about and feeling a part of it all and separate from it all simultaneously.

All of which is perhaps a long, rambling way to say "I'm bored, I'm vaguely lonely, I want to make a home for myself, I want it to be in a city like Chicago." It will be nice to visit next weekend, and wonderful to see people and absolutely amazing to celebrate Mia and Ryan and their wedding, but I think it will be strange to stay in a hotel. Sort of detached, or detaching.


Anonymous said...

I definitely know what you mean about home. I'd comment more, but need to get back to the reasons I'm in Chicago at the moment (Mia and her family and preparations and whatnot). I was standing at the corner of State and Jackson yesterday, in a swarm of strangers (it was particularly busy) and found myself thinking that I felt more at home there than I do right outside my apartment in New Haven, on my quiet, residential street. ::sigh::

Elizabeth said...

^___^ I should take your method of dealing with this in the long term and move back to Chicago, I guess. If I still feel this way in a few years, that will be my obvious choice.

You must be so incredibly busy/frantic/insane right now! I look forward to seeing you next weekend, though!