Best Worst Year: Episode 27 (Or, Suburban Home)

The Brinkerhoff Home is a Victorian marvel.  Built in 1869, it is now home to Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public Radio Program, and my office.  On Monday I began work as the new Managing Editor of Quiddity, a journal housed at Benedictine University in Springfield, Illinois.  I’m on central time now, midwest landed, and deep in the heart of the Land of Lincoln.  I’ve got a two bedroom apartment which looks suspiciously like Peter Gibbons’ complex in Office Space.  I have no microwave.  I can’t find a tote of dress clothes (namely pants), just got my internet connected and I’m pretty sure I gave myself a hernia trying to lazily move a chest of drawers by myself.

Being thirteen plus hours from everything you know is equal parts liberating and lonely.  I am in what has been described to be as a very “good part of town.”  It’s very suburban–an endless labyrinth of cul de sacs and summer landscaping projects snake and grapevine between upscale apartment complexes for young professionals and fine split level housing with two car garages–nuclear family style.  In walking distance there is a Walgreens, a pizza joint, a sports bar, a Subway, and another strip mall, and beyond that strip mall is another strip mall. Somewhere The Descendents are tuning up and looking to intervene on my behalf.  I remember a time where the very thought of being this tucked away and ensconced in the lukewarm waters of suburban planning would have meant that I had somehow sold out–a wholesale cashout of my integrity. Why am I living in such luxury?  Can’t I be more utilitarian and live in some bombed out studio apartment overlooking a crime scene?  Where’s the danger?  Why aren’t scenes from Last Exit to Brooklyn being brought to life on my block?  What about the poetry of gunshots and police sirens?  Who are you, misterjim?  When I was first apartment hunting out here, the Assistant Editor (and Quiddity’s go-to-guy) John McCarthy asked me “Why would you want to live in a hole?”

Yes, there is something to the salad days which builds character and offers perspective.  I spent the better part of a decade living in places where random shit burning to the ground or kids playing with dead animals were just parts of your daily walk to work.  I’ve lived near the payphone used for drug deals, I ate at the pizza place where hookers would confiscate the bathrooms for God-knows-what, I drank at the dive bars where people od’ed, I went to the punk shows next to strip clubs.  I’ve been too poor to live anywhere else.  I’ve been too stupid to think about things like personal safety. I thought I was being edgy.  I was just being twenty-something.  There is as much danger of complacency in the William S. Burroughs seedy underbelly as there is living in between four Starbucks.   The romance of living on the edge can be an equally cheap narcotic, especially once you start considering that lifestyle over who you are as a person.  Allowing for such narrow parameters as being defined by where you live makes location as important as fashion sense.  The crusty leather bomber with the handpainted Discharge logo doesn’t make you punk rock, and neither does choosing to live in Meth Lab block of town.  We assign allegiances to these locales because we are still trying to figure out who we actually are and by committing yourself to such brand loyalty, you can cost yourself the ability to grow and take what you actually need from these life experiences.

It’s not like these experiences being and end during your twenties, obviously.  Sometimes the most punk rock thing you can admit as that you are no longer as punk as fuck, and that it’s okay.  If the last year has taught me anything it’s that what comes next is a direct result of our ability to embrace chance and change.  We have to be confident in the life we’ve led so far has provided us the ways and means to navigate the uncertainty of tomorrow. Furthermore, we need to be mindful of our own journey–we must give ourselves permission to say goodbye and move on, taking with us the best (and worst) parts of the life we have left behind–and that’s a misnomer, too.  We leave nothing behind that isn’t worth carrying.  Miles, days, and time zones aren’t excuses for being unable or incapable of minding the gap between last week’s life and this week’s new world discoveries.

Last week my dad and I were weighing boxes and dressers and bed frames in order to keep the totality of my move under 2000 lbs for the movers.  Very early on during this weigh-in it dawned on me that most of my record collection, movies, and books would not be make this initial move.  The thought of being 800 miles away from the comfort of wax, film, and paperbacks was a shock–especially when you think they are a part of your transition into your Act II. In short order, decisions had to be made about what I can live with and without.  Who would’ve thought all those High Fidelity Top 5 lists my friends and I made over late nights and full hearts would come in so handy.  Of course, I still forgot a couple Larry Levis books and all but a dozen films made it out here with me.  The upshot here is that I cannot just cocoon away in my two bedroom hovel forever, behind a wall of media and creature comforts.  I’ll actually need to go out and find my space in Springfield.  I already know that the bookstore downtown Prairie Archives is pretty amazing and it’s about a block away from Recycled Records.  There is also a Starbucks within walking distance and pending which way you head out from the downtown, you can run right into all kinds of rough and tumble trouble.  After work today, I just look forward to buying some groceries and making dinner–maybe I’ll spin some Bad Brains to introduce myself to the neighbors.


Jim Warner is the Managing Editor of Quiddity International Literary Journal at Benedictine University and the author of two poetry collections Too Bad It’s Poetry and Social Studies (Paper Kite Press). His poetry has appeared in The North American Review, PANK Magazine, Word Riot, and other journals. Jim received his MFA at Wilkes University.  When in Slatington, PA misterjim stays at the Pin Oak Lane guest room–the best guest bed he’s ever slept in.  Ask for Stanton and Jenn.

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