On ending things in cities

In the last weeks, time seemed multiplied by a feeling of no longer being there and of living Santa Barbara each day, with its fatal charm and its blandness, as the predestined site of an eternal return.          –Jean Baudrillard*

In Santa Barbara (where I have, over the past month or so, been holed up in one final push to finish my dissertation) my days are a numbered bunch. They’re not usually very kind to me either. The water along the coast is still just cold enough to make the first leap in a quick and numbing experience, though indeed refreshing. The 7-year-long trajectory of my life in and out of the city is inscribed in it and as I near the end, those markers seem unusually plump with nastiness. Cloying, unpleasant moments live on corners when I might rather see them rotting, buried in the trash heap of forgotten history. And of course, there is the morning marine layer, which makes it hard to wake at an early hour. Paradise, they say. But those who say that never really lived here. Paradise is always just for the tourists.

Many of what will likely be my last stretches of time here are spent laboring in the awkward, existentially obliterating task of begging and pleading with whatever dying muse might be left to tend to the poor, the jobless, the potentially obsolete humanities graduate student.

These sorts of things do not put one, shall we say, in the mood to celebrate a merry send-off.

But nostalgia is a real jerk. He sets traps. He lets you suffer in the present only to turn that suffering with just a little bit of time into longing and melancholy, albeit longing and melancholy tinged with a certain, desperate and (usually) false sort of pleasure. And cities, places of all sorts, are ripe sites for his dangerous play. I can see him circling now, even before the departure has taken place. He’s going to make me miss it.

Do not let any of this grimly insist that Santa Barbara is some kind of awful wasteland and that I’ll be a fool when I remember it fondly (though it can be, and I will be). I do so love the beaches, the mountains that push the city toward the water. The community of scholars with whom I’ve shared the city are a kind and glorious group. It’s just not a place to which I have ever wanted to belong.

In these last days I’m doing what I can to push away both the impending nostalgia as well as the less kind and generous voices in my head and just enjoy, in the present, the slices of Santa Barbara which still buoy a resident up and make the place inhabitable: Reading on the beach. The best restaurant in the whole of the central coast, Julienne. Handlebar Coffee. Citrus trees everywhere. And a quietness, a slowness that makes the banal tasks of life just a little bit easier.

Leaving a city is always a strange and complicated act. Like leaving a lover. Even when you know the whole thing should be over, has been over for a long time, you still ache in the send-off. Maybe because you know, in the end, despite everything, you’re going miss her.


*America. Trans. Chris Turner. (New York: Verso, 1988) 72.

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