Yes, we’re 20 years late, but my husband and I have discovered The Sopranos. It’s taken a while (I mean, in digital-streaming, binge-watching parlance) for us to get to where we are – Season 5 – but it’s been an enjoyable ride so far. I’m still not sure that The Sopranos can top my all-time favorite show, The Americans, but that’s ok…not much can. (Sigh, I still miss it, and no, this is not the first time I’ve tied in a blog post to a television series.)
In a recent sub-sub-(sub)-plot, “Paulie Walnuts” – one of Tony Soprano’s underlings – moves his mother into a nursing home. Like many tight-knit communities, the Newark Italian-American community – particularly for those in their 80s, as Paulie’s mother is – demonstrates certain unwritten code as well as sneaky and pernicious ways of simultaneously projecting an air of inclusivity and deftly boxing out those who “lose” at the game of community hierarchy.
“The setting of our urgent lives is an intricate maze whose blind corridors we learn one by one—village street, ocean vessel, forested slope—without remembering how or where they connect in space.” – Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
“To me, it’s so weird to have a gate around a neighborhood. Seriously, are they trying to keep people out or keep people in? If somebody puts a gate around Garden Heights, it’ll be a little bit of both.” – Starr, in The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas
What is childhood but a map of what’s considered normal? Children are born knowing and internalizing their surroundings, starting with (hopefully) a parent’s arms, moving on to rooms in their homes and then expanding to the streets outdoors. It’s how it goes: Healthy children start exploring, wondering – and then crawling, toddling, zipping away, using the maps (both literal and emotional) that are at their feet.
The house I lived in until I was 12 was in a neighborhood with twisty roads and lots of hills. Or at least I think so; I haven’t truly seen it in over 25 years except for maybe two quick drive-throughs. I imagine if I were to go back now, it would feel easy to navigate, but even at age 12, it felt very labyrinth-like. One day when I was about 5, I went “jogging” with my mom. I decided I had had enough – because 5-year-olds and jogging with adults don’t usually go hand-in-hand – so she agreed that at SE 18th Street, we could part ways because that would be just one turn and about 10 houses away. And it was 1981, so of course. (Side note: SE 18th Street is also a steep-ish hill that my brother and I later decided to ride down while sitting on his skateboard. All was well until a surprised driver at the bottom of the hill nearly hit us and then trailed us home to yell at us in our driveway. AH, MEMORIES!)
About a year ago, a woman named Marianne Cantwell gave a TEDx talk in Norwich, UK about “fitting in.” Show me a person who has no worries about this, and I will show you my canary yellow Doc Marten boots. **
Cantwell says this about fitting in: “It’s like from the outside you look like you fit, but secretly, a little piece of you never feels that you 100% fit into any of [your worlds].” She then discusses the word ‘liminal,’ “a state of in-between-ness, like you’re not quite one thing, but not quite another. You’re on the borderlands.”