At the end of 2013, I wrote what I thought was my ultimate love letter to DC, filled with the moments that had sustained me during my struggle with a life-threatening illness. It was a thank you to the city I’d lived in for over two decades, yet I also suspected, at the time, that it might be a farewell – not because I was losing that struggle, but because I thought I was moving. Of course, I was incorrect, life being a lesson in derailment and the power of creative disruption. My DC in 2013 turned out to be the penultimate love letter, and while I spent most of 2014 investigating another city, by the end of that year I was back where I started.
So here we are. DC, you still have me. And yet, the time to leave our beloved site has come to pass. So I find myself writing another love letter, one that’s slightly bittersweet. But don’t worry. I always rally by the end.
If there’s any lesson I’ve learned over the past three years of incredible life change and regeneration, it’s this: the story never ends. You may think you have come to the end of your journey, but it’s only a chapter, or an act in a play that continues on and on. Just as cities never stop evolving, never stop rising, only to fall, and rise again. If not in actuality, then in the mind.
Maybe that’s why there are so many discarded drafts of my Why I (Still) Love DC. They litter my mind, my desk, my laptop, piling up like sediment in an archeological site. Rather as my discarded selves litter the city itself, so many experiences, haunting this corner and then the next. I feel like Scheherazade, and worry that if I ever finish the tale, I’ll lose my head.
I began to wonder if all the difficulty writing it meant that I no longer loved DC the way I used to, and frankly, yes, it’s true. But isn’t that as it should be, after so many years? Love’s not an ever-fixed mark, no matter what Shakespeare said. He knew better, anyway. Love must change – always. Otherwise, it calcifies, and your city crumbles into dust.
There’s a narrative to my love story that’s already established here in other pieces at We Love DC. I moved here for the architecture. The cherry blossoms. The subculture politicos ignore. The fact that it wasn’t New York or Boston, the other cities which courted me, but provided an escape from my New England youth. That DC was supposed to be just a way station on the way to London. That I didn’t leave, because I unexpectedly fell in love, with its music scene, with its theaters and a thriving community of artists. Bought a house, brought it back to life. That was the first act. In another act, life went haywire. My heart stopped several times. I regenerated in many ways, but haunted my old life in others. I was poised to escape, but grounded in limbo. I wasn’t as certain about my love anymore.
We’ll talk about that chapter another time, somewhere else.
I could tell you about all my other selves wandering DC. There’s one sitting at Fox and Hounds, founding We Love DC with this merry band, where another self had sat earlier, reeling from 9/11. There’s one eavesdropping on the Brown brothers outside at Room 11 as they brainstormed The Passenger, which catalyzed some of the greatest friendships I’ve had in DC, a place of many marvelous conversations and adventures. The selves at places that then had multiple selves themselves (whoa): the Asylums, the Black Cats, the 9:30 Clubs. The corners change; men in suits now wander Shaw scouting for development, where once they told me I made “the worst financial decision of your life” to buy an old Victorian there. That Victorian which saved my life. I walk by it now on my way to a coffee shop on a corner I always said should have a coffee shop. Magic.
I could tell you all of that, and so much more. But what I really want is for you to tell me about your selves. Your DC. The greatest gift writing for We Love DC gave me, was the rediscovery of my essential self – the little girl whose first word was “Hi!” Interviewing and connecting with the people who make this city vibrant and alive, helped me break back out of my shell and develop my own life manifesto. Be open. Be curious. Talk to everyone. Listen, respond, respect. Don’t judge. Be joyful. Connect with people, constantly learn about them. Why not? You never know the impact you may have or that others may have on you.
Maybe I had so much difficulty writing this, because there’s nothing comfortable about my love for DC currently. It’s conflicted. Aren’t all great love affairs? In many ways I’m thrilled that a once much-maligned city is now increasingly seen as a cool city. Suddenly it seems the maker culture is about to truly thrive here, suddenly there’s a renewed empowerment to be creative, to strike out and do something. In other ways I’m worried that parts of this chapter come at the price of continued segregation and marginalization. But that’s a far longer, more complex conversation than we can have in this space.
Most of my tribe here are entrepreneurs. They have roots in the city, some have families, houses, storefronts, restaurants, or just a virtual presence, but they all share a common motif. They consider DC their HQ. Home base. The landing and the launching pad. They don’t crow much about being entrepreneurs, they just do it. By its very nature a created city, a capital city, DC has a natural affinity for wanderers and risk-takers. But it also has families who’ve lived here for generations, sole owners of houses since the Civil War. We can’t forget that.
An HQ by its very definition implies the existence of outposts. I live above a Metro station. Twenty minutes to DCA. I often tell myself, especially in moments of panic, “You can leave at any time.” And I do. Maybe that’s why I still love DC. I still love DC because it lets me breathe. Let’s me be who I am. Let’s me leave. Dally with other cities. Return.
Oh, there’s so much more to say! And I’m struggling still to say any of it. But this is like that cab ride I always seem to have, with the interesting driver who tells me all about his life and struggles and dreams and I’m fascinated but suddenly we’re at my corner and I have to get out and meet friends at the bar and there’s no more time to finish the story and…
Well. The story won’t end. We’ll just have to talk again. On and on, somewhere else, some other time.