Changes: To Know a City

Imagine, if you will, a city. You have probably been to one, or know of one—perhaps you live there now. Imagine it. Imagine its shape forming around you, buildings sprouting in an outward ripple, concrete greying your imagination. Imagine the dotting of trees and splashes of green grass blanketing parks and flanking streets. Imagine the electric bath of lights in the nighttime—pricks of illumination like a bed of nails simultaneously mirroring and blinding the invisible stars above. Imagine the sun and the moon hola-hooping across the sky and the skyscraper shadows stretching, reaching west, then east. Imagine the soaring clouds and the plummeting rain and the swirling snow—if you can picture snow. Imagine the crowds congregating around neon and the musk of rain-dampened cement and the wheeze of a bus’s engine. Oh, yes: you know the city. You’ve arrived on your vacation, and I’m holding a sign with your name. Like a Christmas ghost you may accompany me undisturbed.

This particular city is not a famous one. Unless you know your hockey, you may never have heard of it, though it is the wealthy capital of a wealthy province (which you may also not know). It was once a city of champions, but those days are forgotten by many and too-desperately clung to by the rest. It is rich for siphoning black poison from the earth and transferring it to the sky. It is famous for a once-prosperous hockey team, now an embarrassment devoid of miracles other than how the citizens hoard enough urban pride in their camels’ humps to keep supporting their failing ex-champions.

Now the city does not know what it wants to be known for, if it is to be known at all. How much pride can one take in oil? Enough to name hockey teams after the stuff, of course, but it is far from a romantic notion. The city tries to be a city of festivals, and indeed it has many—but none the world would pay attention to, barring a grand-scale tragedy (and nothing is on a grand scale in this city other than its malls). A part of it yearns to be a literary city, and for my part I hope it succeeds, but the grasp is snapping onto its own fleshy palm.

It is in this way that the city has its charms. It doesn’t know itself. It goes about its business in the wide world and exists without spotlight, without note, as we do. It hides its cowardice well, but like reader and writer a city and its citizen share a psychic connection. They know each other, if not themselves. It takes courage to live in a place as uncertain as we are. There is a reassuring humbleness here; a sense that our destinies are shared. What will the city be known for? Perhaps it will be known for you.

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