Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Word on the Street

I finally finished Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling memoir Eat Pray Love for my Year of 100 Books. I had hardly expected it to be life changing, and while the jury is still out on that - a constant stream of conversation centered around the book has been gurgling around my head and within my interactions for the last few days.

Its hard to pick a favorite lesson from the text but one thing really struck a cord with me.

It was a discussion Liz Gilbert had in Rome with a new Italian friend:
"He said, "Don't you know that the secret to understanding a city and its people is to learn - what is the word of the street?" Then he went on to explain, in a mixture of English, Italian and hand gestures, that every city has a single word that defines it, that identifies most of the people who live there. If you could read people's thoughts as they were passing you on the streets of any given place, you would discover that most of them are thinking the same thought. Whatever that majority thought might be -- that is the word of the city. And if your personal word does not match the word of the city, then you don't really belong there. "

According to the book, the word of Rome is SEX, of New York City is ACHIEVE, of LA is SUCCEED, Stockholm is CONFORM and while individuals have specific words that define them at various times in their lives, so do families. All this is to say that while enjoying her time in Rome, Gilbert knew without doubt - she did not really belong there.

So of course this train of thought launched me on a campaign to determine what My Word is, and what the words of all the places I've ever been might be. Adjectives flew through my mind for Seattle - elitist, educated; Kansas City - historical, proud, blind, centered; and Phoenix? What about Phoenix? Why have I always wanted to be here, despite the career and relationship setbacks I've had in this place?

What is my word? Has it been the same for the nine years I've been here or have we both been trying on and casting off adjectives that don't fit our personal and city definitions? Certainly we've both gone through a lot of change. Certainly we have both been experiencing growing pains. They've called Scottsdale "Little LA" - does that make our word Succeed as well? Urban Sprawl of course, or Conquer? We've certainly been intent on conquering the desert out here. Appear might be the case as well - as the now infamous Scottsdale Douche Bag Song points out with our exaggerated incomes, botox and used BMWs.

In my heart though, I just can't except any of those words defining me or my beloved metro area. I have a friend who jokes that since few are actually from here, and most came to Get Rich Quick, he hopes for a mass exodus during this dark economic period so that eventually he will be the smartest guy in the room and have his pick of choice jobs. Everytime I hear this, I laugh, tell him Good Luck, and get in my car and drive off to my next destination.


I Drive. Am Driven. Phoenix, despite all attempts at forcing the contrary, is a Driving city. We are always on the move, headed to the next big thing, idea, restaurant and all too happy to leave yesterday's news behind. Wanting to be someone and someplace we haven't quite arrived at yet. And this, I'm okay with. Life's a journey, right? When Drive is no longer my word or my city's, that is when I'll leave. But not until then. In writing this, I feel a huge weight lift off my shoulders, being able to articulate now why who I am is so connected to where I am. So Drive, Phoenicians, Drive.

But try to do it in a Prius - or at least NOT a Hummer.


sunnygreen said...

Seattle's word: RAIN.

Hope you're doing awesome, cuz. Good luck and happy reading!

Ashley Cordes said...

I like this post a lot. It's really interesting to think about. I think I probably have a different word for Phoenix than you... but I'd have to think about it for a while to come up with one and Drive comes pretty close to it. It's hard to define anything with one word. I don't think I have one for DC yet, at least my interpretation of it. I bet it's power for a lot of people, or influence. I'm not sure NY is achieve, I think it could also be create or entertain.

Brandon Franklin said...

This really was a great post. I especially enjoy the fact that "drive" has dual meanings, and it really does seem to fit here. Nice. :)

Valerie at City|Life|Eats said...

I saw you ask about alternatives to prosciutto on Food for Conversation - I find dulse seaweed to provide a lot of the same saltiness and feel. Hope this helps :)

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