August 7th, 2016

Home Is Where The Work Is

union station and Columbus circle on a cloudy afternoon


The other night, I went out looking for live music to clear my head. It was a beautiful evening, not too hot, with just the threat of a storm visible from my seat at the Dubliner. From the window near my table, I could see one of those massive, white office buildings from the age of grand, federal structures subtly changing color in the setting sun. The people who wanted to make this place a new Rome succeeded. Everything looks present and eternal. It isn’t, though, for me, because I leave the city within days. Soon, my summer in D.C. will be one of those interesting chapters of my life fading slowly in the rear view mirror.

I’ll miss parts of life in the District. The car-optional lifestyle is amazing. Cycling here felt safer than it does back home because few D.C. drivers are hostile to cyclists in principle.

my vintage, English 3-speed, a tall, black bike with fenders and an old-fashioned Brooks saddle

There were more fiercely competent people my own age driven to make the world a better place than I think I’ll see again. The food was probably the best I’ve ever had.

the chocolate peanut butter pie a la mode I had for my birthday . 10 out of 10 would recommend

Fresh produce and good bread were actually cheaper than it is at home. I could go everywhere, even on weekends, after dark. No one stared, groped me, or felt the need to make comments on me as female or visibly queer, even outside of the city center. There was so much culture.

the President's Own USMC Band performing on the west face of the US Capitol at sunset

I saw a wonderful play, heard a great DJ at Capital Fringe, enjoyed free and inexpensive museums and public concerts, and ran across the best street musicians I’ve seen this side of the Atlantic. I highly recommend the D.C. intern experience. If you can find a place where you can afford to live, this is a good place to spend a few months.

one of the old houses in capital hill, the neighborhood where I stayed

If you can find a place where you can afford to live, this could be a good place to make a life, but I don’t think I will.

It’s hard to say where a rising 3L will go. My foreseeable future starts to get fuzzy around nine months out and ends in about a year. For the time being, I’m aiming for places I love more deeply, the places that it sometimes seems like no one else wants. The landscape of my heart runs from the bottom of 285 to the southern shores of lake Michigan. My ancestral home is the east half of I-40. Where I’m from these days  is 75, 85, and 20, the South, the Rust Belt, and the dividing wall of mountains. It’s distinct from what I experienced this summer. Throughout most of it, the palpable security presence that blankets the District is absent. A few hundred years of local control have made things differently gritty.* Public transit isn’t what it is in coastal cities. Instead, the highway glitters in the summer sun. There is less sense of an existing safety net in most places. There is diversity, friendship, love, and real community across racial, ethnic, class, and religious divides, but there are also groups of people who live and die side-by-side for generations without ever really knowing each other. There are pockets of desperate poverty. There are knowledge deserts that I suspect may not have come about entirely unintentionally. There is often less ideology to get in the way. Sometimes, problems are more soluble because people are too desperate not to work together and compromise.

Right now, everyone is talking about the white residents of this part of the world as people of goodwill grapple with the real and terrifying possibility of a President Trump and the horrors of opioid addiction. The narratives that come out of this part of the country are awful, drugs, crooked counties, judges who won’t obey the law, hate groups that won’t go away, and segregated schools for a disproportionately non-white group of children with disabilities. Cities struggle with growing pains and scramble for resources, while rural areas and smaller towns grapple with a global economy that has written them off as obsolete.

The list goes on, but I see hope in Texas’ forward-thinking supported decision-making statute and efforts to train enough mental health professionals to meet demand in rural areas, Georgia’s burgeoning film industry and quiet rejection of an anti-transgender bathroom bill, and the possibility that North Carolina will soon unseat one of the most bigoted and politically incompetent governors in America. I see the opportunity, in underdeveloped places, to try new ideas and carefully craft solutions that will be effective in the long run. I see people in my field who have come out of the woodwork to mentor me and showed willingness to devote many hours to helping me carve out a career when I said I might want to stick around and help make things better. I see my home. It might not be the one most people would pick given the choice, but it’s the only one I’ve got. Taking risks and less charted courses is counter-intuitive for someone who grew up disabled in America. We’re warned not to dream too big, to be not so much content as slavishly grateful if we succeed at structured things, but home is a loyalty, an obligation, a place to serve if one is as fortunate as I am. This has been a nice summer, but there is work to be done in the places to which I don’t so much owe something as owe everything. I’m headed west, then south, tomorrow ad hopefully for a long time.

*This usually results in the person on the street having a strengthened sense of ownership of local goings-on. In a few, scary parts of the Deep South, where I’ve seen elders still unable to differentiate the will of state legislatures from the will of God, this has the opposite effect. When I encounter this, I have an intense, visceral urge to drop whatever I’m doing and go find some grant money to send someone to teach free adult courses in remedial civics.

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