When Place is a Verb

I don’t listen to music much on the radio anymore. Firstly, I hate commercials. They’re annoying as heck. Secondly, so much of the music today sounds the same. And that’s annoying too.

When I do want to listen to music, I pop in a CD. Yup, I still have those. Just wait – they’ll make a comeback. LPs did and they’re a whole heck of a lot larger. My car still has a CD player and I have one in my apartment as well. Course, I downsized and got rid of a bunch a few years back when I moved. Downloaded them onto my Mac, and along with years of buying music from iTunes, I accumulated a library of nearly 6,000 songs. (How can that be? But the collection does span widely across genres.) And those playlists that we now all make? I burn them to CDs.

Anyway, I did happen to flip on the radio the other day and I heard a song that struck me: Country Again by Thomas Rhett.

He talks about fishing and hunting and cracking open beers. Sitting by a fire under the moonlight. Driving a Silverado truck and wearing cowboy boots. All of this is country to him. He says he loves him some California but it sure ain’t Tennessee. All of which has me thinking…

Nashville is a pretty big city. But ok, I get what he means.

Certainly these things are a contrast to modern living, as he eludes to in the song: too much time on the phone, too many things on your plate, running around and not being present to nature and friends.

But having lived in a rural town for fourteen years and knowing a fair share of country folk, I’d say most of them are guilty of modern living too.

And I wouldn’t say fishing and hunting and fires and beers are the only ways to “be country.” Lord knows there are enough city folks who have rifles and drink beer.

I bought my first pair of Nocona cowboy boots in 1985 when I was living in San Francisco. Bought my second pair in 1990 when I was living in Chicago. I wore the heck out of those boots and many more since. But even when I lived in rural Idaho, the boots didn’t make me country.

I have a friend who was born and raised in Alaska. Got his M.B.A. at Harvard. He still hunts and fishes but he drinks more fine wine than beer. As far as I know, he’s never owned a truck. Behind one of his homes (not the one in the city), runs a creek and next to it is a regularly used bonfire ring. Is he country?

It’s interesting to refer to one’s self as a place.

Place is not a verb. And I get that in this song it’s an adjective. Still, would you ever say, It’s good to be city? It’s good to be New York? No. Maybe part of my problem with the lyrics, as catchy as they may be, is the grammar. You know those commercials I referred to earlier? Yeah, same thing. Even the electronic signs on the highway now tell me to “Drive Safe” instead of Drive Safely.

Pet peeves and grammar aside…

I’m pretty sure what Thomas Rhett is talking about is roots. Getting back to our primary nature. The person we really are, the things we love to do, the way we prefer to show up in the world.

For various reasons, we have a tendency to “try on” personalities. Sometimes to fit in, other times to find our true selves. As kids, maybe it was punk or goth or brainiac or slacker. As adults, maybe we traded in our sneakers for leather loafers. Our shorts for skirts and our t-shirts for ties.

There was a brief time when I wore gym shoes a lot. Ankle Reeboks, to be exact. Remember those – the ones that had two velcro straps at the ankle and came in red and black as well as white? Yeah, I had pair in each color. Good Lord, I shake my head to think of it. Truth is, I hate wearing athletic shoes. I have never been a jock, even if I have shoulders that make me look like a swimmer. And while yoga has been a staple of my life for decades, I don’t like wearing yoga clothes either. The casual messy look or “I just came from the gym” isn’t me.

Shortly after I moved back to Chicago from San Francisco, I was wearing loose black pants cuffed around the ankle, a black t-shirt, and black gladiator sandals in a suburban Chicago bar when a woman said to me, “You’re not from around here, are you?” I laughed. I grew up in Chicago. And honestly, I don’t think anyone in San Francisco would think I was from there either.

Three years ago when I started working in Oklahoma – first as a college administrator and then as a museum fundraiser – I was so grateful to wear suits again. I love suits, with nice shoes to match. I love blazers. I like clothing that says now I’m working.

This probably goes back to my childhood. Our roots always go back to childhood, yes?

We had a dress code in school: no jeans in grades up to 8th and if you had beltloops in your pants, you had to wear a belt. Even in high school, no shirts with any writing. Every  Sunday, even during hot and humid Michigan summers out in the country or during blizzards of snow and cold in the city, we dressed up for church. For Wednesday night services too. I didn’t wear pants to church until I was maybe fifteen. And now, while church is no longer my thing, when I do go, I still dress out of respect.

Crowds and traffic and noise, freeways, fast food, and shopping malls are abhorrent to me. I prefer dark silent nights punctuated by an occasional owl hooting or a coyote howling. I love the sound of car wheels on gravel. I’m most at home in a landscape filled with trees and rivers and streams, with wide-open fields, tractors, and barns. There’s no smell sweeter than fresh-cut hay. I like the sound of screen doors banging. My favorite clothes (when not working) are blue jeans and boots. Does that make me country?

What does it mean to be a place?

My current collection of boots, with the first pair I bought in 1985 on the far right. The photo above is the black Noconas I bought in Chicago and resoled four times over 16 years before having to admit they were shot.


What do you think? Can you relate to this Thomas Rhett song?

Are you country? Are you some other place?

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