Philadelphia Metropolis


My Voluntary Exile

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By Nita Jalivay

I recently celebrated the 10-year anniversary of my on-again, off-again residency in Philadelphia.  I first moved here in 2000 to attend graduate school, which ultimately proved an exercise in the high art of wasting time after I dropped out to run off to Amsterdam in search of my first international adventure). Now, I sometimes undergo internal interrogations as to why I remain in Philadelphia instead of reconnecting with my former life. 

Take, for example, my folks.  With the arrival of my Mom and Dad's 35th wedding anniversary last week, there rose in me a gnawing ache to throw caution under the bus, pack what few furnishings and innumerable books I have, and scramble back home to Illinois to be with them.  "They're getting older, and they need you," I reasoned with myself, one half of me a seasoned life coach, the other half hanging on like a confused teen.  "It'll be easy.  You're from Illinois.  You graduated from a good university, were liked by your professors, and have 10 years of professional experience working on the East Coast.  Go home.  You can do it!"

Small Town Use This.jpgBut the sad fact is, I can't.  I've tried before, to return to southern Illinois bedecked in the flowing garments of optimism and worldly experience, only to trip over the folds of my expectations, flattening my face against the pavement.  I picked myself up, brushed off the clumps of disillusionment that clung to me like mud, and hightailed it back to Philly.

As much as I miss my family - the way my Mom tickles me when she hugs me (this despite the fact that I'm over 30 and four inches taller than she is); my Dad's enthusiasm over collecting low budget films (the high quality ones he sets aside in anticipation of my visits); the existential conversations with my brother, chats replete with nostalgia, wonder, and a sense of loss at growing older - I simply couldn't carve out a life for myself in my town, no matter how hard I tried.

And I did try.  First, there was the issue of landing a job.  Trying to find living-wage employment in my small, coal mining town - with an English degree - is, at best, futile, and, at worst, folly.  Teaching was often the only career available to a bard or poet; since many of my old teachers still occupied their positions, however, even those options flowed with the force of a trickle.  (Not that I begrudge my teachers their positions; I happen to think many of them are shining examples of the beauty of public education, and I'm grateful to have studied under such talent.)  I was glad that they were still teaching; now, could I just find a job of my own?

Another factor that derailed my homecoming was the sudden skeletal likeness of my social calendar.  While my days were filled with job applications, resumes and interviews, my nights consisted of shadows of the next day's job applications, resumes and interviews.  About 100 miles back, I had somehow passed the exit marked FUN.

All of my friends were long gone, having packed up in the migratory days preceding college, never to return to our old haunts as a group.  Over were the nights of borrowing our folks' rides and cruising up and down Market Street, or, even better, of hopping on the highway and coasting to the big city of St. Louis, elated at the chance to escape.  Add to this emptiness the number of young people left behind who painfully ignored books, scorned the music of other cultures, obsessed over religion and feared the idea of traveling outside the central time zone - well, my existence began to take on an aspect of the bleak until I had no choice but to lace up my shoes and sprint back to Philly.

My exodus from the Midwest, however, is not all trial and tragedy.  Despite the fact that, as a transplant, I straddle two worlds, when merged together, my life is richer and fuller due to both.  Midwesterners are sweet and friendly, while Philadelphians are worldly and street-smart.  The combination of these characteristics has morphed me into a hybrid of sorts; I laugh and connect easily with the people I meet, but also know when to cast a suspicious eye on the undeserving.  My Midwestern childhood taught me to appreciate the benefits of taking my time; my Philadelphian adulthood instilled in me a love of all things energetic.  Southern Illinois gave me fresh air, bass fishing, and the unembellished beauty of the grasslands.  Philadelphia handed me the Art Museum, an eclectic group of friends, and foreign films at the Ritz.  What more could I want?  While I am grateful that my roots are planted in the lush soil of Illinois croplands, my world has grown exponentially since my arrival 10 years ago in Philadelphia.




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