The Places That Draw You

The Met scale drawing image for The Places that Draw You post by Malin James

The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

There are certain places that draw you. It could be the diner where you fell in love or the beach where you said good-bye; the house where you grew up or the park where you sat, journal in hand, sorting through yourself and your place in the world.

These places represent tiny shards of memory, or experience, that lodge themselves inside you. They get internalized, and through that process, become resonant, like tiny bells only you can hear. The associations with that place might be happy, sad or complicated, but they become a part of you, and they tend to draw you back.

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to New York. It’s a special city for me, one I lived in, briefly, as a much younger person, but it made an indelible mark. There are a lot of places that resonate with me in New York, like Washington Square Park. In my mind’s eye, it will always be black and white – wrought iron covered in pristine snow, lit by a gray, January dawn. There’s the coffee house on Avenue A where my friends and I trekked to get tea and chat when we should have been studying. There’s the blues bar on Second Ave., where I ordered my first gin and tonic, and the pizza place on Spring that still makes the best pizza I’ve ever had.

The American Wing. My favorite place, in my favorite place.

The American Wing. My favorite place, in my favorite place.

There are a lot of little places like that for me in New York, but the biggest one, the one that is lodged most deeply inside me, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was eighteen the first time I walked up the wide front steps. Even then, I knew that the massive museum was going to be a special place. I’ve been back countless times since – most recently two days ago, when I wandered around with a good friend – and still, there was that same familiar feeling. It still felt like my place.

There was a period during my freshman year at NYU that I went to the Met once a week. I should have been studying or rehearsing, but I needed to think. I was foggy about everything, from what I wanted and needed to who the hell I was. The only place I could think was in the Met, with it’s hushed galleries and wooden floors that creak and stretch forever. Over fifteen years later, I’m still drawn it, even though I know exactly who I am now. Every trip to NY means a trip to the Met.

I’ve changed, but it hasn’t. And yet, there’s always room for me in it. It’s a comforting, comfortable place. Walking through the front doors feels like slipping my hand into a well-worn pocket. It’s just one of those places for me. It just keeps drawing me back.

Border Patrol

Big Ben through barbed wire c. 1945

This began as a post about Russia and what’s happening in Crimea, but I’m a little embarrassed to admit that it rapidly became a bit of a self-centered musing about myself. What’s happening in the Crimean Peninsula right now is legitimately interesting, as is the West’s response, (or lack thereof). Apparently, however, it’s not as interesting to me as myself. For this, I apologize. And yet, I forge on….

Recently, I’ve been thinking about boundaries, specifically my own, and how they are both uncompromising and quite flexible – though not universally so.

I’ve always been aware that I have some pretty serious boundaries, which I tend to defend with equal seriousness . In fact, someone very close to me refers to this tendency as my “border patrol”, calling to mind barbed wire fences and armed guards patrolling with guns and large dogs. And as much as I’d like for this to not be the case, it really is true. I have a border patrol and they are always on guard. The black and white bottom line is that some people naturally skirt the barbed wire fence and find themselves inside, while others don’t and are relegated to some portion of the perimeter… some quite close, other’s very far away.

The mechanism by which a person gets past my border patrol used to be a bit of a mystery to me. Most of the time, it happens quite quickly, though not very often – which is why I have a lovely handful of extremely close friends, (most of whom slipped through immediately), and a nice, healthy number of good, friendly acquaintances with whom I enjoy varying degrees of emotional intimacy.

So, there are the people who slip right through the perimeter, and the people with access cards who come and go fairly freely. Call is chemistry or affinity or sympathy or connection, but something between that person and I subconsciously sorts out where they end up in relation to my boundaries. The only thing I know for certain is that the people who sense my perimeters and respect them, are the people who tend to slip through.

Now, the people who really fascinate me are the ones who occupy a strange middle ground. While they don’t kick me into full alert, they inspire a serious, immovable guardedness in me – a sort of instinctive distrust that often translates to dislike.

When full alert happens, I don’t tend to care why. I generally run on the instinct that the person is a psychopath or some sort of son-of-a-bitch and keep them at arms length. Sure, it’s reactionary, but better safe than sorry. The grey area people are different though. It’s not psychopathy or son-of-a-bitchness that I’m cuing to with them. It’s an inherent lack of respect – for my boundaries, in general, and, therefore, for me.

Awhile back, I wrote a post on dominance, or rather, on women and submission. I think that, buried beneath my rabid hierarchical awareness, is the issue of boundaries and respect. I respect other people’s boundaries, and I have an absolute antipathy for people who try to test mine.

This very well may mean that I can’t take a joke, or that I take myself too seriously, but it’s always been the case. At this point in my life, it’s a fundamental part of my personality. So, I suppose that my border patrol is, more than anything, a response – one that can be supple and flexible or cold and hard – and that response, while being an accurate reflection of me, is also a reflection of how I perceive others. While it’s not a perfect lens, it’s the only one I’ve got. The least I can do is understand how it works. I want to be sure that I’m the one paying the guards.