Now listening to: 'Thirty Thousand' by Colonies
Especially: Track 3,"Morning"
(I like Colonies, and not just because they're from Tacoma. 'Thirty Thousand' draws on Deathcab and Modest Mouse, and has songs about Argentina's Dirty War that are not exactly shoegaze and not exactly post-rock, so I will just call them lovely. )
At one point in the development of this weblog, I meant to write about religion and politics and culture and ended up writing mostly about pop songs. Lately whenever I mean to write about religion and politics and culture and pop songs I end up writing about cities. About my shifts through them and where I am when I miss them and what it's like when I return.
I spent two weeks recently flitting between all my cities, all my home towns, anyplace I've ever had an Amazon shipping address. I went from my college town to the city where I signed my first lease to the city I lived in up until last year, and ended up idling for a week in the city where I was born before coming home to the city where I live now.
I tend to think of myself as explained in important ways by being from Tacoma. It's my origin, this quasi-dilapidated port city on the shores of an inland, island-strewn sound. It's my formative years and my biannual pilgrimage. I am never not bound to it, and it came first, before college or Philadelphia or Seattle or Chicago. My aesthetic and my ethic and my level of enthusiasm for smalltalk are all Tacoman, on this view. If you call me on something odd, and I have no other explanation to give you, I will tell you about being from Tacoma and really believe that tells you everything you need to know. All my whirling, all my exploration and my drive, has a center holding it together. Geographically. And it is called Tacoma, the City of (my) Destiny.
The origins of things are as much a structural obsession of religion as they are a metaphysical one. That is, the 'birthplace' of gods and saints and local practices holds traditions together in diaspora as much as do the prayers and cosmogonies. There are things that were perfect at the beginning, and in returning to them (to their sacred time/place collision), traditions stay the same tradition they've always been. The idea that a faith tradition's home is some knot through which each new stitch of historical thread is looped, again and again, anchoring the stitch and expressing the accumulation of new developments in the fabric of the original moment, itself always already and ever unchanged, is a bit lopsided. The homesoil, the origin story, the root of the tradition and the density of its gravitational pull, are narratively necessary, not physically necessary. Rome and Baltimore and Vatican II and all such things are not as determinant as they are authorizing, and the fact that they are called on to authorize, to knit together, is both the source of their power and their constant instability. Because it is not true that they are ever unchanged. Being called on so often doesn't just reveal their contingencies and their mad, arbitrary constructions; it co-creates them.
I realize, every once in a while, that some of the things I tell people I get from Tacoma have in fact been modified, by college or my first job or my 2nd degree, so far beyond something explicable by Tacoma that they are actually obscured by that description. Also, that some of the patterns and practices by which I move through Tacoma now are abstractions knit-together from other cities I have known. Tacoma is itself an unstable center, a changing beast, most obviously in my subjective experience of it; but also materially, in terms of the spaces I occupy, the services I provide and the products I consume when I return there. Cities are mapped by civic bodies, and vice versa, and this is how everyone cross-pollinates. Everyone and everytown is a collection of inexact imprints, an endlessly generative node of interpenetrations.
Which is not to say that I will quit telling people that my dislike of smalltalk is a Tacoma thing, or my love of old warehouses. Or that Catholicism will (or should) quit attributing things to Rome. I do not abandon my interst in the real value of origins, as both story and angle of incidence; but origins change too.