Yeah, I'm back--back in Pennsylvania, back in the blogosphere. I've been away for a long time but I had stuff to do--some of it important, some of it pleasant, some of it not.
I've found it hard to start blogging again, not because I haven't missed it--I have, and some of you have been nice enough to tell me you've missed me too--but you know how it goes when you get out of the habit: you lose the rhythm and it seems marvelous and incomprehensible that people can come up with something to say almost every day, and that moreover, I was one of them! But I'm going to try to pick it up again.
As a way of easing myself back in, here's something I first drafted months ago in a conversation with a friend about public/private space.
I guess my relation to place is probably different from many people's, because I grew up someplace rural, and aside from those eight years in Iowa, I have spent most of my time in the west, where space is just dealt with differently, in part because it looks and feels different: the dry air means the sky is wider and feels further away, even when buildings press close.
I need wide open vistas, I need them, in ways other people need a lot of social interaction. I can feel a touch claustrophobic in places that might make others feel they're lost in some endless barren terrain. I'm not saying I can't function in some urban setting, but my skin starts to crawl and my head feels crowded if I don't get a dose of a horizon bereft of buildings from time to time (John Ruskin wrote, "It does not need much to humiliate a mountain; a hut will sometimes do it" though I think the very expensive homes in Sedona do a decent job of humiliating that landscape too) and I prefer to commune with said horizon on my own. Nothing ruins a nice view like someone else's head. I am not so rugged and woodsy that I have to go hiking in someplace remote and inaccessible--I like well established trails just fine--but the idea of barbequing in a crowded picnic area or swimming on a crowded beach holds little appeal for me.
As for city scapes and building areas in them, well, a mall is a different kind of public space than a street with shops. Universities are a kind of public space, and parks are another kind. Hmm--do specific shops count as public spaces? Of course they do.... but they're regulated and patrolled in ways streets and malls and campuses aren't.
I really hate crowds. I prefer public spaces when most of the public has decided to be elsewhere. When I lived in the dorm (a semi-private space, I guess), I LOVED the fact that we got really cheap tickets to football games because absolutely everyone on my wing would go to the games, leaving me blissfully alone with the laundry facilities and the really long, deep, perfectly sloped bathtub nobody but me and my sister would use anyway, because everyone else took showers. I remember spending a lot of time in London in small parks along the river that were too far away from anything significant for most people to mess with them. But that was precisely why I liked them. And I sought such places out because they were special places, in and of themselves. I would go there to be THERE, and away from other people.
As for my private space, I focus on routine and comfort and security, and I don't think about it once it's how I like it, though I know that when I clean my house thoroughly, I always feel happier and like my house better. Actually sometimes I don't always think about it when it's not quite how I like it. I noticed again while I was staying in various houses that weren't mine, and then returned to my own, that people are able to get used to things in their own homes that bother them a lot when they encounter something similar in other people's homes: paint peeling in a corner of the kitchen ceiling due to water damage from the bathroom above it; a broken front door knob that can only be opened with just the right touch, so that whenever someone who isn't used to the door knob wants to go outside, they have to ask to be let out. (I found it dreadfully inconvenient but supposedly it's really good for keeping adventurous three-year-olds out of the street.)
I think I have the sense that I am interacting with space most immediately and unmediated-ly when I'm in a certain kind of public space, because I've gone there because I want to be IN that space. I want to be in the park; I want to sit on a bench and watch the river or the sky or something. Whereas when I'm home I'm mostly thinking of it as an extension of me, instead of a space I inhabit.