Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Defining Home And Where You're From

A topic I find fascinating is the definition of "home" and where you are "from". Thoughts on these words were spurred by an article I read recently in the Riverfront Times.

I take a lot of stock in these terms as they seem to predict character and experience; at a minimum, the way you define "home" and where you're "from" are good indicators of who you are.  A strong sense of place is something I respect, you just can't lie about these things.

I for one am proud to be from Illinois and call St. Louis...well wait a minute, not so fast. This requires some introspection...what is home?

At times St. Louis feels like home, but for the most part, I feel like Illinois better meets my personal definition...even after living in St. Louis longer than any other place.

But, back to the RFT article that got me once again thinking about this topic.  I couldn't shake the thoughts on the meaning of "home" after reading an article that touched on the topic through the lens of a couple of my favorite things: music and where you're from.

The article: "Pokey LaFarge Is Looking to a Future That May Not Include St. Louis" was written by Thomas Crone and published in the Riverfront Times on February 3, 2016.

If you don't already know, Pokey LaFarge is a well-known musician who deals in American blues/county/folk/jazz music; but, done in a way that is not overly derivative, it's fresh and original...and steeped in history and executed with soul and style and always reminds me of the Midwest.

A true talent.

Anyhow, the combination of the story's title paired with the caption under the first photo got me. It read: Pokey LaFarge: "It's not my home, it's never been my home. I'm from Illinois."  He was speaking about St. Louis and I couldn't help but think "me too". I'm from Illinois but have lived in St. Louis by choice in my adult years...I knew this was going to be a good read.
Photo credit: Joshua Black Williams


Immediately relating to this guy, I started thinking about my hometown in Illinois. It's one of those moments when you read something and get lost in thoughts and memories and contemplation. I couldn't wait to get back to the article. 

As I read through, several things stuck out. First, when discussing the potential of moving on from St. Louis, LaFarge said:
"I think it's something that people have gotten wind of, and the game of telephone is going on," he says. "Of course I've thought about moving from St. Louis. No offense to it, but there's no industry there. There are not as many musicians to play with there. And when you're at the point that I'm at, looking for a new challenge, certain parts of the music business don't exist in St. Louis. My whole team lives in different cities, like Nashville, New York and LA. The opportunity to write for film... I've thought about that for over a year. I'm not from St. Louis, but it's the only place that's felt like home. Being close to my family up in Illinois is great."
And then again, LaFarge discussed playing LouFest and the back and forth of praise/criticism felt in the small St. Louis music scene as a successful artist:
"It's the park that birthed our World's Fair, a historic place," he says. "It's a landmark in our city. So that's not lost on me: the fact that it's a national festival, run by C3, and has our name on it. There's a certain amount of representing you've got to do. Among these other national and international acts, you're there to try to represent St. Louis....I'm sorry, but I've lived there over eight years. I'm not from there — it's not my home, it's never been my home. I'm from Illinois. And as much as I've represented St. Louis, there's a certain amount of people that have made me feel what it is and what it isn't."
There's so much to those statements, even a slight contradiction, if I'm interpreting it correctly. There is what feels like home and the factual home. Regardless LaFarge has lived here and represents the pluses very well...usually the people that I've run into that do this best aren't necessarily from St. Louis.

LaFarge's take was just so honest and refreshing to read, it stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking once again about the definition of home and growing up in Illinois and living in St. Louis and what that means to me. It also got me thinking about how people who live in cities west of St. Louis identify with St. Louis as their home even though they don't live here. I'm going to have to publish more on that topic as I find it one of the most fascinating and frustrating topics in this region. For whatever reason this sticks in my craw and as I get older, I don't want things in my craw. I want a clean craw, grudges only breed negativity.

I like when people are transparent and real when it comes to the city they live in and where they are from and what they consider home. This is how I try to represent myself on this blog.

But back to the definition of home...

I have lived in St. Louis for 22 years. I've lived in six different neighborhoods, three different houses and four different apartments/flats. I'm fascinated with St. Louis and it is my home of choice; it's my adopted hometown. But I'm not from here.

My personal love of St. Louis is well documented on this blog. Even though I am critical at times, I love it more than any U.S. rust belt city and I want the best for it and try hard to help St. Louis become a better place in my small/limited capacity as a citizen. 

That said, I'll be curious to see if St. Louis feels more like home as time marches on. But if I'm being honest as of today, it doesn't. And that is not a diss, it's just a simple fact that I and others in my family who ended up in St. Louis agree with. I'm from Illinois. I live here. My kids are the real St. Louisan's; but I'm a transplant.

I grew up and went to elementary and high school in a city just east of St. Louis called Belleville, Illinois. It is a proud city of ~42,000 and has a rich history and identity all it's own, distinctly separate from St. Louis' by many measures. Although the home I spent most of my formative years in is only 9.7 miles from St. Louis, it is a world apart. To give Missourian's a taste, it would be about equidistant from St. Louis as Town and Country or Florissant, MO. You'll have to just trust me on the differences. St. Louis was simply not part of my world until I moved here...it was a place I occasionally visited and that's it.

But, I gave up all my Belleville privileges long ago. I can't influence or leverage what they do, I'm an outsider from a citizen perspective. I want nothing but the best for Belleville, but only a charlatan would claim I have a stake in that city.

I made the leap across the river and don't regret it for a moment. But one point I'd like to make about this region is...you can't lump these places and these communities together. Belleville is distinctly different from St. Louis, so are Town and Country, Florissant, Ferguson, University City, you name it. I know the distinctions very well when comparing Belleville to St. Louis. I don't, however know the distinctions between the city and the many cities in the suburbs. I'm working hard on trying to understand it by repeat viewings of "Spanish Lake", reading "Mapping Decline" and trying to be a kinder, more open minded listener when County people claim St. Louis as their home, but can be pretty harsh on St. Louis at arm's length from the comfy confines of the burbs.

I can only claim that I'm from Belleville and I live in St. Louis, the definition of home is less factual...but, southern Illinois will always feel like home, way more than the city I've lived in for 22 years. I can't shake the formative years in defining who I am.

Like Pokey LaFarge, I'm not from here. I love it here, and I think he does too and has represented St. Louis very well both here and abroad. But, I can see why you'd want to move. But for me, that move will not be to a small town in the suburbs where you still claim the positives and separate yourself from the negatives of St. Louis...it'll be to an entirely different place.

Own where you are. Love the one you're with.

To most in this region living in St. Louis is subjective. To me, it is not truthful and does not align with facts and reality. The separation damages us as a region and the lack of honesty makes talking about the needs of St. Louis and the 90 or so cities in St. Louis County very tough.

Owning and engaging in your city...claiming it...is the first step to being proud of it and understanding how to make it and the region the best place.

Calling out these geographical, political and real distinctions can quickly be dismissed by detractors who want the best of both worlds (suburban living/STL identity) as provincial or parochial. I say until we are one big happy taxing and voting block...you know...one city, we should be proud of where we live, and proud of where we're from. But most of all, honest and transparent.

I am a small town, suburban, Illinois person at the core. I have learned some urban behaviors, and frankly I'm way more interested in St. Louis than small towns and suburbs these days, but it is good to recognize both.

But bloggers, journalists, politicians, residents...everyone should all say where they're from...own it. And then work for change and unity.

It is not divisive to accurately state where you're from and demand honesty in conversations. It is this level of discourse that is required to establish a baseline understanding of this region so we can move it forward. At some point in time, the many suburban cities in the county as well as the 300,000 or so St. Louisans are going to have the opportunity to vote to merge the region like our Midwestern peer cities of Kansas City, Indianapolis and Louisville.

How can we make that important decision if we are not honest about the realities of the region.

No comments: