The geography of Pittsburgh is dizzying. Three rivers, dozens of bridges, several hills that crop up in the middle of the triangle area punctuated by tunnels. In Upper Lawrenceville, like most of the neighborhood, to walk to work is to tumble down a hill, quite literally tipped into your day in a downward progression. This makes my days go by strangely, poured out into the bus, riding up up up the elevators to my office in the Cathedral, descending down another hill before I am deposited back at the base of 53rd street, a day completed.
So often, I sit in the dining room, window with its rectangular window looking out into the street that is at a forty-five degree slant, and resist the pull down the hill by making breakfast, packing lunch, checking facebook, petting the rabbit and giving him treats. Today, I sit reading about life expectancy in Ikaria, a greek island full of centenarians. Social structures of mutual dependency and interest provide an ecosystem of locally grown food, a leisurely pace to life, lots of napping, herbal tea drinking, and hanging out, a lifestyle that places the focus on sociality, interest, repetition, and endurance. The author mentions the many hills, and contrasts this almost premodern space with the 20billion diet industry in the U.S. and our supermarkets that barrage us with saturated fat, sweets, and salty foods. The question becomes, not how to live long, but how to live well.
How to live well? This question, posed by Aristotle with his notion of eudaimonia, has captured imaginations in different formulas and different countries across the globe. It is what I am trying to figure out, as I settle into a new city, but also as I interview artists in France, Germany, Mexico, and the U.S. How does one live in a way that is intentional, participatory, fulfilling, and reflective? How does one shape spaces such that they are receptive places for such creativity, in a way that is collaborative and dialogic, dynamic and enduring?
This semester, it was balancing teaching and course development obligations alongside the need to send out articles, put together a book proposal, attend a conference, take field research trips and interview artists, nurture my relationship with my partner, maintain mental and physical health, attend to wedding planning obligations, and learn about and try to make a place for myself and create a new network of friends in a relatively new city. Over the past month, it is balancing feelings of guilt and anguish about the increasingly unrepentant structures of white supremacy and the visible disposability of black life, and trying to continue to write, to be productive, to reflect on how to resist these structures in ways that are productive and ethical. For me that is to write about these issues, to document and celebrate resistance, to talk to my students about problematic public coverage and some of the longstanding histories behind what might seem to some to be only momentary aberrations in an otherwise sound social system, and occasionally to attend public performances (protests) to show quiet support. But these actions do not feel like enough, and leave the sense of unfulfilled obligation intact.
These questions are especially weird to triangulate during the holiday season, which, in the U.S. is saturated with imperatives for joy, happiness, excessive consumption, and demonstrations of affection via gifting. It, I think, suffuses many of us with a kind of whirlwind of requirements to show, buy, prove love in various ways, injunctions that often leave us bloated and exhausted, rather than fulfilled and connected.
I let this morning be slow. Unfold in in gradations of grey, whooshes of cars, dwelling in the kind of uncertainty that waking involves, reflecting on the possibility of building lines of connection in this place, as well as others, through practices of research, teaching, and neighborhood presence, that might contribute to living well. Hoping that it might contribute to an “otherwise,” as Elizabeth Povinelli has articulated, that endures in the face of exhaustion. Can one hope?