Wednesday, April 22, 2009

My Urban Studies Journey: Beyond the Obvious

I spent the last weekend writing my capstone paper for the Urban Studies Program. It was the most enjoyable paper [to write] that I have ever undertaken thus far in my undergraduate career. And, barring some miraculous turn of events which causes me to fall in love with my Environmental Politics research paper, it's well on track to winning that award hands down upon graduation. I poured my heart into that paper. No, it's not the best thing I have ever written, nor is it the most ground-breaking or even anything worth reading, really, beyond those who might be interested in my journey through urban studies. If I could pick anything that has most impacted who I am now, four years after that first move-in day in August of 2005, the Urban Studies program and all of its associated events/thoughts/classes in my life would be pretty darn close to the top. That's why I'm going to post that paper, bit by bit, up here. Though I don't do it as often as I would like, I love to write, and I especially love to write reflective essays about my life. They're easy for me - I'm such a verbal processor that everyone knows my reflections whether or not they wanted to hear them. So, little by little, I'll post my 24 page paper for you to read, if you're interested. If not, I'm not offended. The great thing about reflective writing is that it doesn't matter who reads it - except Dr. Toly and I hope he enjoys reading it if only because me walking across that stage May 10 hinges on his opinion of this paper - because I wrote it for myself. I learned more about myself writing this paper than I have in most of my classes at Wheaton thus far. Perhaps that's why they call it a capstone. In any case - here's installment number 1.

I have always found it impossible to write a retrospective essay without it being tainted by the experiences that occurred after the intended period of retrospection. There is always the tendency to sift out the memories that most obviously relate to the emotion I am trying to convey or the change in myself I am trying to prove; it’s almost like I am proof-texting my life. Perhaps that is because our experiences in life can seldom be traced into cohesive “journeys” until such an act of retrospection encourages us to do so. I think back to the time before my urban studies journey began and it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact moment “the time before” became just that and all other experiences began to coalesce into the cohesive pattern I can entitle “my urban studies journey.” In preparing for this essay I have realized there is no such obvious cohesion. To trace my urban studies journey is to navigate back through the maze of my thoughts and experiences, grabbing the things I think best relate to the topic at hand and hope they all shake out with some sort of cohesive bond.

I ask the reader to keep this in mind as I invite you to come alongside me in the re-telling of this journey. I hope that in the potholes and speed bumps of this, my own unique ride through urban studies you find discomfort but also consolation, pain but also beauty, confusion but also revelation. If I have learned anything about urban studies, it has been to learn to “live in the tension” – and only at this stage in my journey am I comfortable with the rattling off of so many adjectives in one sentence. Wheaton-in-Chicago’s tagline is “beyond”: if I could tagline my journey I would take that statement one step further and call it “beyond the obvious.” Much of my journey is learning to seek what is beyond the obvious – in a million different ways. This essay is only a glimpse into what that has meant for my life, but I hope that along the way you are able to share my own experiences and understand what it means to look, and live, “beyond the obvious.”

“Where are you from?”

“Washington, D.C.”

“Oh really? What part?”

“Well, technically I’m from Virginia. But Northern Virginia, and I haven’t lived there my whole life…”

When someone asks me if I’m from the city I reluctantly answer “no.” That is because, technically, I am not. But neither am I from the implicitly obvious alternative – I’m neither from the city nor the suburbs. Sure, I’ve lived in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. for the past eleven years and no; I have never lived within the limits of any major global city. Due to the nature of my father’s job – the military – I moved ten times in eighteen years. As a result there is no one place that I, without any disclaimers, feel comfortable calling my hometown. I’ve lived in a small fishing town in England, in a small mountain town in Italy, in a now-destroyed neighborhood in Mississippi, with my grandparents in a farmer’s town in Virginia while my father was deployed, and in a highway town on the way to our nation’s capitol. I’d like to think that because I’ve lived in such a variety of places my recognition of and appreciation for diversity was more advanced than you might expect of someone who grew up in the same house in a relatively homogenous Mid-western town famed for having the world record for the most churches per square mile. In any case, by the time I’d gotten to Wheaton and had my first exposure to solidarity week I was beginning to feel frustrated with the assumption that I didn’t know the value of diversity, that I had never encountered racial issues and never been forced to think about what it means to be white person in the America we call a “melting-pot.”

[And here I’ve already jumped the logical, or rather chronological order I had intended for my journey to follow. But I’ve learned – whether from my urban studies experience or from life in general I’m not sure – that the most compelling stories are hardly logical. The greatest lesson I’ve learned in life thus far, if I had to name one, is the freedom we find in relinquishing control. So from this point forward I’ll stop trying to steer us through my journey and instead, if you will, let the story take the wheel.]

1 comment:

Victoria said...

sorry i am like always commenting on these. but im so excited to read the rest! youre going to win an award for it?

i had no idea our old home in mississippi was destroyed. and that we lived ten places...i might learn a lot about myself from this since we share a similar background. i wish i was as good with words as you.