I moved to D.C. because I wanted to work in the arts. I’ve stayed mostly because of my community. I live in a big city – well, to be fair, D.C. is small potatoes compared with LA, NY, and Chicago, but we’re at least a major metropolitan center. The funny thing is it doesn’t feel very big. When I first moved here, I did a fair amount of exploring, but I find myself these days leaving my neighborhood less and less. In fact when I think about it, my social life these last two weeks has been busy and fun filled, yet I didn’t leave my neighborhood at all. I had a date at a restaurant, met a friend for coffee, met another group of friends for drinks at a pub, went to a party, watched The Walking Dead with a couple of buddies, and went to an empanada-making workshop. I don’t think it took me more than 3 minutes to walk or bike to any of these things.
When I hear people complain about big cities being lonely places, it occurs to me that they’ve never lived in one for more than a year or two. My favorite thing about my life is the sense of belonging I have here, which is terribly ironic because I stick out like a sore thumb. This fast-paced, East Coast city full of lawyers and politicians is so polar opposite of my upbringing and who I am that it’s almost comical… yet after a couple of years of looking, I’ve been amazed to find so many interesting down-to-earth people.
It struck me as I sat in my local pub – where “everybody knows your name” is literally true – across from friends, all 3 of whom are over-aged interns just like myself: I’ve found people. Good people. People who make art, people who grow vegetables, people who cook from scratch, can their own goods, brew their own beer, play instruments, practice yoga, repair their own bikes, cook oysters in their backyards, hold movie screenings, host gallery opening, roast pigs, camp outdoors. I have ski buddies and food buddies and drinking buddies. But most importantly, I’ve met people who are dedicated to supporting each other.
Most of us are far from our families. And that hurts us. We struggle with the distance. We struggle with horrible landlords and leaky ceilings and affordable rent. We struggle at finding love. We struggle at finding love when college friends are having babies. We struggle at finding jobs. We work as interns. We work too much. We work too much for too little pay. We struggle with money. We are dysfunctional. All of us are dysfunctional. Why else would we be so far from our families pursuing torturous careers? And….weird. And it’s about embracing each other’s weirdness and accepting it, and knowing that the only thing that holds us together is being there for each other.
Maybe that really is the key to this city that’s so highly competitive and expensive and tough. It’s well known that doing well in Washington is all about networking; it’s who you know. I always thought that meant in the political schmoozing House of Cards way, but now I think it has another meaning. I’ve managed to completely avoid the political scene here in Washington. I know almost nothing about it. You may deem this ignorance, but I deem it some good maneuvering. And yet, I thoroughly believe to do well here, you help out your friends, and they help you. Because clinging on desperately to each other is necessary. Career backstabbing and manipulation aren’t limited to politics, it turns out, but permeate every field in Washington. So to get through it, you have to have people in your corner that will back you, you have to have people to fight for you and love you. It takes a village. It really does take a village of good people to make it mentally here. The ugly side of Washington has had its flip side for me. With every struggle, with every stab, I get rewarded by closer and closer friends. Most of whom live only a short bike ride or walk down the road. At the end of the day, maybe this is enough. Maybe looking at our individual successes is wrong. Maybe the success we have at growing and sustaining our community is right. My new challenge is to stop self-defining by my success in my job and my love life and my art, and start looking at the greater wealth of the people around me.
I think as Americans we’ve always struggled with this line of thinking. We look at our nuclear families and our American dreams, and we compare ourselves to our neighbors. Can we stop doing that? Here’s to my village. May we continue to thrive, support, drink, laugh, and be merry together, and be miserable together, too, no matter how many bad break-ups or bad jobs or bad housemates we go through. Let’s stick it out together. Let’s continue to make our lives count. Not just for ourselves this time, but for each other. Thanks for being there, y’all.