Champaign, IL: At some point a couple weeks ago I was searching for the nearby Target. I took one wrong turn on a midwestern road and ended up on a freeway heading straight here…
My west coast wildness is oozing at the seams and spilling onto other people’s clean furniture.
I am on an island, or am I the island? I push people away.
A big, burly American man is wearing a black t-shirt with one of those hipster mustaches on it. The mustache is filled in with the American flag pattern. I order a margarita and see him looking at me at the bar. His very serious, stern faces winks at me. No smile. No nothing. I can’t help but burst out into a little laugh, as some of my margarita spills out of my mouth.
A new PhD student strikes up a conversation at the bar like this: “Hello my name is Sam, I am completely new here and don’t know anyone!” Hi Sam. I’m new too, it’s nothing to be so anxious about, I wanna say. I talk to him for a while but the rest of the night I can feel his ungrounded discomfort, and feel like I need to get away.
Nothing is free and we all want something from each other. And so sometimes it can be exhausting being out in the world.
I took these pictures at the Berkeley Art Museum soon after I learned that I would be leaving the bay area for Illinois. I wanted them to remind me of the creative, performative, simple aesthetic of the bay area imagination. Of the ease with which everyone can do anything and be whatever, whenever.
There is a terrifying reality to being a politically radical, brown girl dancer in this place. When people here honk and curse me out while I’m riding my bike on the main road, or give me funny looks when I laugh and cheer too loudly at a concert, I feel a violent sense of suppression of my being by an unfamiliar culture and society. We may take for granted that being “different” is cool or hip everywhere; it is not. In some places, it is plain scary to be different.
It makes me remember what has always drawn me to the west coast. At some point, I realized that being on the Pacific edge made me feel like whatever I was would be okay. It made my soul stop squirming under my skin, and learn to relax. And there I have thrived in my identity and becoming.
I naturally fell in love with Kerouac and the beats around the same time I truly fell in love with the bay area. So it is fitting to end with this quote I am savoring tonight:
“The only people for me are the mad ones,
the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time,
the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn
like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” -Jack Kerouac