Finding One’s Place
24 December, 2013
Here’s a copy of the latest blog-post that I wrote for Nevada Humanities.
A couple of weeks ago, one of my new Las Vegas friends gave me a lift to the airport (I’ve only lived in Vegas for 6 months so actually all my Las Vegas friends are new). I was off for a week in Chicago, a city I adore, and en route I happened to mention another friend, this time of longer-standing, who had recently moved from the Windy City to a smaller town out west to take up a job. Alas, she has not since taken a great liking to her new environment.
My new friend was unsympathetic to my old friend’s plight. He suggested that a little preliminary online research would have furnished her with enough information to know whether the western town was a fit and that her reaction subsequent to her move was born of lack of self-knowledge.
I could not have disagreed more and since I have, in my adult life, moved to a new city on average every two years, I speak with experience. There may be some no brainers – for example, I don’t want to live next to an industrial swamp or smack by a freeway but for the most part, I can’t predict in advance how I’ll feel about a place; it’s down to chemistry.
Here are two instances from my own recent past: Before coming to Vegas, I lived in Kentucky for a couple of years in order to complete a Masters program. In theory, little about the place should have appealed to me beyond the beauty of its landscape (which is gorgeous). For example, it’s politically conservative and it’s in the Bible Belt, neither of which characteristics resonated with me. Yet the fact that I was doing meaningful work and was able to make deep connections with the likeminded people I found there meant that my bluegrass sojourn was a very happy one.
Likewise, prior to moving to Vegas, I knew only its reputation for late night gaming culture, excess, and newness, and again those are not things that appeal to me. However, it turns out I like the city a lot, and I’ve quite fallen in love with its desert surroundings.
Perhaps there are people, as my new friend believes, who can pick out a perfect place based on a list of criteria, just as there are some seem able to pick out ideal partners via a website. However, I’m no fan of internet dating and that kind of approach works no better for me in terms of place – a city may look great on paper but when I actually “meet” it, there’s no spark.
On the way back from Chicago, I read a little of the “Sense of Place” work of sociologist Jennifer E Cross. She has identified various ways in which people connect to a place, and one is through the stories told about it. I’m a little too early into my Vegas relationship to be able to share its tales but here is a local legend from Mayfield, East Sussex, in the southeast of England. That’s where my mother lives and where the village church was founded over a thousand years ago by St Dunstan. This is what I heard:
St Dunstan – or perhaps just Dunstan, since this was before he’d been anointed as a saint – worked in Mayfield as the village blacksmith and of course, he was a good and conscientious man. He was so good and conscientious, in fact, that he attracted the attention of the Devil, who was very bothered by the existence of this apparently incorruptible soul and decided to pay him a personal visit. He made his way to Dunstan’s smithy where he found the good man hard at work. Three times he tried to lead Dunstan astray (sadly, I’m not entirely sure how – let’s imagine it was with wine and women). The first two times Dunstan politely demurred and tried to get on with his making horse-shoes as he had a lot of orders to fill. However, the third time the Devil pushed him just too far. Dunstan picked up his tongs and even though they were fiery hot, he used them to grab the Devil’s nose and flung the evil creature right over to the other side of Sussex. Landing with a loud bump, the Devil found his nose burning so badly that he plunged it deep into the cool earth close to the Sussex Downs, and thus was formed the lovely V-shaped valley now known as the Devil’s Dyke.
Oh, you know, now I feel a homesick for England – and that hardly ever happens!