May 6, 2014

Not in Kentucky anymore

Home isn’t just a safety net for happiness in the case that our dreams aren’t as grand as we thought they’d be.

A few days ago, my mother called to tell me that we are moving. We are moving away from 17 years of memories, people, and places in beautiful, beautiful Kentucky. In a few weeks, I’ll make my final six-hour trek down to my city to sort through my dust-covered existence and see which globs of memories can be packed into square cardboard boxes and which must be left behind. I’ll be forced to step out of my horse- and bourbon-filled comfort zone, and keep on walking until I leave it for good.

A few days ago, I also watched La grande bellezza (The Great Beauty) at Doc Films. It was exhausting to watch, but not because it was particularly long. It was exhausting to watch because I had watched something that seemed to empathize with me on many of my biggest fears and frustrations without becoming too clichéd or concocted. It knew all of my excuses, and it left me feeling terrible and grateful, but mostly like I wasn’t alone.

My life timed itself well. Though I don’t want to minimize this great beauty of a movie into some extremely specific, personalized life lesson, there was a recurring theme of “home” in the movie that resonated with me while I worried about my own departure from Lexington.

The film’s main character, Jep, is a writer who hasn’t written a book in 40 years. Jep is a man of aesthetics. He sees the shallowness and mediocrity of his fellow writers and artists as flaws, rather than part of being human, so Jep is condescending toward others and sees these flaws as nothing but failures. For Jep, being human, being a true writer and artist, is to exist beyond these humanistic roots. And so, he does not write.

Jep’s best friend, Romano, struggles to create something—a play, a song, a book—beyond beautiful, and thus travels to Rome. Two hours into the movie, disappointed by the seemingly sensational, beyond-beautiful city of Rome, Romano returns to his hometown, his roots—where he can, at the very least, be comfortable and content.

Jep’s life was nothing because he only looked for brilliant, beautiful—nonexistent—things; Romano’s life was nothing because he expected these brilliant, beautiful things to come with the city of Rome. Both lives are unfulfilled because of the failure to come to terms with the ugly, yucky things that are part of being human.

Like Jep and Romano, I have often stuck up my nose in Chicago—my own version of Rome. I am quick to see through the phoniness of some “intellectuals” at this campus and have allowed myself to feel superior for it. I created my own disappointment in trying to find the perfect, aesthetically pleasing great beauty—the impossible, nonexistent great beauty. But, after exhausting and disappointing quarters in Chicago, there was always Lexington to rely on, at the very least for comfort and contentedness. I can rely on my hometown as a break on my fruitless search for the great beauty that I thought I’d find at this university, in this city.

Like Jep and Romano, I let my hometown become a backup safety net of happiness. Though I understand and completely acknowledge how important the idea of a hometown is, I’ve let the thought of moving away from Kentucky consume me. But perhaps it is more fulfilling to live, or at least to survive as a student here, by not displacing our happiness to the nostalgia of home, but instead to realize that we are all human. We are all, at times, mediocre and shallow, insecure and full of bullshit. Even here at UChicago.

I am sad that I have to move out of my hometown, but even sadder that I loved it only for the reasons of safety and recovery in contrast to a city and an institution I regarded as greater. As the 104-year-old Saint Maria whispered in one of her few lines in the movie, roots are important. Human roots, geographical roots alike—they are important because they are the great beauty.

Jenny Lee is a second-year in the College majoring in political science.