Nate Wessel

A moment of academic, existential dread

May 2016

I posted here recently about my recent failure to get excited about sewing. Let this one then be about my failure to get excited about planning and geography. Now beside being something I used to like to do, geography has the special quality that it currently pays my bills, gives me an office to work from, and puts me in touch regularly with moderately interesting people.

So I really should try to enjoy it, lest I find myself without a livelihood, and also as the case would be for sewing, without another chunk of my identity, and without a thing quite capable of making me happy and fruitfully engaging my mind.

All of this turmoil reduces, I think, to the following problem: In Ohio, I was abnormal in a number of particular dimensions; in Toronto, I am not, or not in the same familiar ways. A few contrasts then:

I could go on, but my point is, and I think I’ve made it by now, that two major pillars of my self image have been eroded by this new normalcy. Have I realized that I am normal?

There is an analogy here, and one many readers will I’m sure be more familiar with. In high school, I was one of the only gay kids. In college, I was one of many. I became normal after having to some extent established an identity on difference. The way I dealt with this all through undergrad was with excitement. I jumped right in, attending the meetings of the university GSAs, becoming a leader of one of them, and eventually branching out from there into leadership of the larger regional queer organizations, which I ultimately served with for years before being kicked out for [it’s a long story].

When I left my big gay ecosystem, I was left with geography and cartography for comfort. I turned more toward fashion design, and other visual pursuits, or less toward the things which had turned from me, and this ultimately led me gladly into grad school, the subject of which had begun to overlap very nicely with the subject of my interests.

From grad school, I ran to grad school, for I hadn’t yet had enough. But the engine that kept me going in Cincinnati was my frustration with the transit system and its supporters, an impulse to correct those silly bastards. In that frustration, in the height of that impulse to fix things, I find myself run off the edge of the cliff, with nothing familiar to hang on to. The frustration that nourished me was suddenly removed from beneath my feet.

To that other analogy then, I must turn for guidance and I see that in high school, I wasn’t driven by a negative emotion, but by pride if I may appropriate that word to myself, and later by a more biological impulse and eventually by a sense of community and a friendship for a people that I came to see as my own family.

Do I have no pride in riding a bike, though I’ve moved to the gayborhood? Do I have no pride in the way I make myself look, though I’ve moved to metropolis?

The dangerous part of the analogy is that I now take my gayness thoroughly for granted and don’t spend any effort at all working inside the ‘gay community’ such as it is any more. Could the same happen for my other interests, that they become part of my past more than my present? But, to continue analogically, I must see now that I’m in the stage of this interest wherein I have come into a position of leadership, am inside the community of transportation and planning people, and can see them as family if not quite as so friendly a one as the gays were (certainly they are given more to handshakes than to hugs). What motivated me in that stage and why now does it seem weak?

I guess I felt like I was making a difference, like my contributions were respected, and that I had friends all around me. The friends part is slowly, too slowly, developing here in Toronto. But what is there for me to do now that makes a difference in a city, in a country that already has digested the corpus of contemporary planning dogmas, if not yet enacted them all?