One of the things I’ve been asked most frequently in the last few weeks is whether or not we will stay in Baltimore. In Maryland at all, too, which is odd enough, but in Baltimore specifically, which— well, wow, folks. I mean, leaving hadn’t even crossed our minds.
The short answer is that we’re staying in Baltimore because Hopkins, because house, but also: my heart, you guys, my heart. I know that a lot of people just don’t get that, especially as I’m neither a Baltimore nor a Maryland native, and I see that, too. I’ve spent about nineteen years bouncing around, looking for a home, though, and I think I finally found it here. Sam can testify to what it takes to get me to commit, the poor guy: it’s damned hard to get this girl to set down roots. I didn’t ever want to be “from” anywhere ever again. This little city started working on me almost right away, and I fought it for a while before starting to let her in.
It’s different now. If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll say the word “Baltimore” with a slight reverse nod, a forward tipping of my chin, almost daring you to make that Wire joke: go ahead, I know it’s coming most of the time. I like to lob it out there like the soft grenade it seems to be; there’s always a reaction— what will it be this time? Like anyone living in any city, you’re just waiting to hear which cultural stereotype might come back to you once you’ve tossed out the name of your place: will it be John Waters, The Wire, crab cakes, or the Harbor? None of that comes close to getting to the heart of this place, though, and that’s what’s tricky about these conversations.
When I’m back in the Northeast, I explain Baltimore to folks in this way: Baltimore is to D.C. as Boston is to New York. It seems to crack a bit of their misunderstandings, but it’s still off- point, and it misses a ton of the cultural feel of these places, because of course Baltimore is not Boston, and D.C. is not New York. It’s a matter of relationships, though, that I’m trying to get across; size, status, sense, feeling, relative cost of living, those sorts of things.
In truth, though, what it comes down to is that I just plain relate to this place. Baltimore feels like me, like a place where I belong. Baltimore is a solidly blue- collar port city with an intellectual heart, immeshed in the arts and full of damned good food. Plenty of folks who’ve never really been here will talk smack about it, mostly based on things they’ve heard or seen on TV— and some who’ve been here, too, that’s true, too— but it has music and architecture and parks and people and kindness and goddamn, it can be so good here. It’s diverse as hell and scuffed around the edges and yes, you do have to be a little tough to live here- it’s a city, and that’s city life anywhere- but if you’re willing to settle in, it’ll give and give and give. It’s wee but mighty, and damn if that hasn’t been what I’ve tried to make my life about; and on many levels, so much of this is how I see myself.
It isn’t the only city I love: hello, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Doha, Columbus, Hartford, Atlanta, Boston, Knoxville, Cambridge, London, Portland! I haven’t forgotten any of you— you’re all still in my heart. It’s just… you know. You aren’t Home.
I drive through her streets and sing her songs on the top of my wizened little lungs and I just love this place, the little city of my heart. It took me forever to find my home, my place; I can’t imagine leaving it now for any reason. Even suggestions that we might look into the County seem somewhat silly to me; sure, there are perfectly nice places in out that way, but they just aren’t for me, that’s the thing.
We could head to New England; my insurance would get me into a good medical place in CT, I know that, and Hartford has heart, as Chi reminds me. The Pacific Northwest has always grabbed me, too, ever since SERE, and much more deeply since Sock Summit (I miss that show!); there are some good medical centers out that way, as well. It’d place us closer to my dad & step- mom, which I’d like. Better weather out that way, that’s for sure. I just don’t see it, though. We miss the UK, too, but ooof, emigration, I just can’t begin to imagine that, and that’s just too far from everyone I love. I don’t see us in any of these places, and I don’t see me there, either. I mean, I can see myself anywhere; that’s part and parcel of having wandered for so long and having gotten good at it, but having finally found a sense of belonging somewhere, and of belonging to it: this is new, and fierce, and for the first time in my life I want to plant my feet, and that seems important.
So for better or worse, Baltimore. I’m into it. The weather isn’t perfect, but if there’s one thing years of traveling has taught me it’s that every place has its drawbacks, and that’s what climate control is for, after all. It’s still strange to realize I’ve claimed a place, but that happened a few years ago, and I’m coming around to the idea. I used to be so against the idea of becoming fixed in space. I’m still not sure it’s the best thing, but I’m coming to like it— to love it, even— and I think this place had a lot to do with that. Home. What a novel and lovely thought.