Monday, May 17, 2010

Culture Soaking

On Friday, I got to see the new exhibit of Latin American artists at the Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art. It was amazing--and I was amazed to realize how much I already knew about these artists, these art movements, this art. It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't moved here.

When we moved here in 1998, we really wanted a change in culture--and boy, did we get it. South Carolina is a bit more cosmopolitan now, but when I lived in the Charleston area in the 90's, it really was like we had fallen through a hole in time. I used to mutter, "It's 1962 here." Students had a 2-5 year wait to get into the nursing program at the community college, but when I suggested they go to a state university and head straight for med school, they looked at me as if I'd lost my mind. One student actually said to me, "I want to marry a doctor, not be a doctor." And how do you marry a doctor? You become a nurse. I'm not making this up.

When we got to the South Florida area, we drank in the culture. I remember being captivated by the Cuban-American art at the Miami Art Museum. I'd only been vaguely aware of Cuban history, and usually only as it intersected with U.S. history. I have since learned more about that country than I ever would if I had lived elsewhere. For some children and grandchildren of Cuban exiles, it's like it's 1961 here. I remember in a Composition class giving a writing assignment about heroes, not usually a controversial topic. One student from Massachusetts wrote about John Kennedy, and the descendants of Cuban exiles exploded and demanded to know how the Bay of Pigs fit into this view of Kennedy as a hero. I was impressed that they knew the history, and shocked at how viscerally they still felt that betrayal.

As I looked at the art on Friday afternoon and reflected on all that I know about these different cultures, things I know that I likely wouldn't have known if I hadn't ever moved here. I thought about all the poems I never would have written if I hadn't moved here, hadn't had those new images to filter through my head, hadn't met poets and other artists who were doing such different, interesting things in their work. Of course, those thoughts led me to wonder what I'm missing out on by not living other places. Intellectually, I know that it's madness to move in the hopes that one learns more and creates art that pulses with a vitality it wouldn't have had in the old place. Emotionally, I suppose I shall always wrestle with wondering what life would be like somewhere else.

I spent my childhood and adolescence moving. Before moving here, I hadn't lived any place longer than 6 years, and most places we lived in 2-3 years. I longed to stay put, but at the same time, I loved the opportunity to start over.

If my husband was writing this post, he'd throw in a quote from Lonesome Dove. Lori, the young, beautiful prostitute wants to move to San Francisco, where she's convinced that she can recreate herself. Gus reminds her that she'd still have all the stuff to deal with, no matter where she is. "Lori, life is just life, no matter where you are." Like Lori, I tend to romanticize all the places I don't live.

Heck, occasionally I find myself homesick for places that I didn't like when I lived there.

I know that I could get some parts of other local cultures, even if I don't live in a place. I know that I could visit. But I miss that opportunity to soak in the culture.

Truth be told, I don't soak as much anymore. It was easier to soak in the culture before I was fully employed. When we first moved down here, we had saved enough money so that we didn't have to leap immediately into full-time work. We rented a place, so we didn't have all the homeowner jobs to do. We didn't know other people, so we took a variety of trips and excursions.

I feel like I should come up with some pithy way to close this post, a way to resolve these various longings and sadnesses. Maybe a resolution to take vacations to far away places where I could soak in the culture. Maybe a resolution to keep blooming where I'm planted. But in truth, even if I wrote those things, I think the problem is deeper and more unresolvable. It goes back to this essential question: how do we hold down full-time jobs and nourish our artist selves? That is the real question. And I can't pretend to have an answer. For me, the answer is to get as much nourishment as I can (hence, the trip to the museum) and to live with the knowledge that I'd always like a bit more nourishement than I have time to search out.

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