The past few weekends I’ve been heading into Chicago to see various friends coming in from out of town, so I’ve been gallivanting and flaneuring and gadding about a lot more than I usually do these days, especially since I moved from NYC. And it’s been super-wonderful: being a city girl is kind of in my blood. After all, I lived in them for so long during some very formative years. I have the instincts and inclination towards exploration, adventure and, yes, public transportation that living and working and playing in cities seems to spark in people.
A city, of course, is a type of enchantment: a playground for curiosity and experience. And the wonderful thing about my wanderings and adventures in Chicago is feeling my mind wow and flutter in new combinations, even if the city is familiar with me. There’s just so much to see and take in, starting with the visual inspiration on the street:
Or even the skyline:
And of course, there is access to world-class cultural resources, like the amazing “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” exhibition I caught at the Art Institute of Chicago, which I’ll write about more in detail later because I found it so rich and intellectually stimulating:
And I got to do things like go to Pitchfork and eat at Cosi (my favorite city chain), take the subway and drink at semi-fancy places. Cities constantly renew themselves, if only because there’s always an influx of new people, new endeavors, new ideas. It was easy for me to slip back into “city mode.” But there were some differences, some things very different about me this time around that changed the way I experience the city and everything it has to offer.
I’m Not Used to Walking So Much Anymore
There really are such things as “city legs,” and mine were definitely out of use. (It didn’t help that I wore flat sandals everywhere, either.) I enjoyed walking, and I like the “incidental exercise,” but after awhile, I did find myself craving more strenuous forms of physical effort, if only for the endorphin rush.
I’m A Lot Less of A Consumer
Maybe it’s because I’m about ten times smarter about money and see the visceral connection between it, energy and endeavor — I don’t know. And maybe it’s because I just don’t see anything I want anymore — anything that will truly bring value and beauty to my life in a meaningful way. (Plus, everything in the stores is all 80s and 90s in a kind of bad way, and ugly patterns. I just don’t want anything to do with it!) I’m a lot less inclined to shop just because the opportunity is there to buy something. And in a weird way, if you aren’t interested in buying anything, what use is a city for? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way.) If you couldn’t buy a coffee to sit down, a ticket for a museum, a pass to a music festival — what would your experience of a city be like?
I Need a Lot More Mental Space/Buffer Zones
I used to be able to bounce from experience to experience, whiz bang boom and thank you ma’am. I could go from drinks at a dive bar to a gallery show and then swan myself over to a fancy dinner party, all in one night. But these days, I just can’t. I mean, I could, but then I’d get that unsettled feeling that all these moments and impressions were passing through me, leaving barely a palimpsest of memory in their wake. It’s like you have jet lag, feeling disassociated just from living your life, because you’re just go, go, go all the time.
I decided awhile ago I wanted to savor my experiences, to really imprint them upon me — and that means cramming a lot less of them in. And in a city, that meant that after a very rich, full experience, I needed a bit of downtime where I could feel my cells coming down from their dull roar into a pleasant hum. That means planning a lot fewer things: not choosing to try to see everyone or everything possible, really thinking about what I wanted and needed and planning wisely.
I’m Such a Homebody Now
In all honesty, I missed things like preparing my own lunch, watering my plants, pottering about my apartment. I missed my riding lessons. I missed opening my closet and having my full palate of sartorial options to choose from. Maybe this means I’m becoming poky, I don’t know. But when I am honest with myself, I realized this: I could likely live anywhere and have the same degree of contentment. City, country, whatever: just as long as it’s not the Bible Belt, I’m good, I suppose. But even if I lived in the best city in the world and had all the wealth of the Indies to spend, I’d still likely love being at home more than anything.
I recently completed Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map workbook (*) in which you figure out the “core desired feelings” you want in your life. It sounds easy, but it’s actually a very deep, slow process, because these are the feelings you seek out over the wide range of your experience: fashion, art, livelihood, relationships, home, learning, spirituality. I don’t mind sharing you my core five: beauty, nourishment, peace, joy and inspiration. Being in a city, it’s very easy for me to find inspiration and even joy — but you have to be much more deliberate about seeking nourishment and peace. The opposite is true of living in the country: nourishment and peace are everywhere, but you have to work harder to stay inspired in some ways. It doesn’t matter where I am: I will always seek out some kind of balance, trying to create that ultimate work of art called a life well lived.
* Affiliate link, guys. I don’t affiliate with anything I don’t wholly believe in or get a lot out of, and having done Danielle’s workbook, I can say if you’ve ever wanted life clarity and a big fat permission slip to free yourself from oppressive prioritizing, it’s superlative.