I have recently taken on the job of Project Manager for The Boulder Tattoo Project. I love everything about this project and it couldn’t be a better fit for me at this point in my personal and professional life. The artists who created the Tattoo Project, Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova, are visiting Boulder this week from Lexington, and so far our week has been spent in meetings and at events, pitching the project to potential participants, sponsors, and artists (in various forms). At one of the events we asked people to write down what they love about Boulder, as a way to see if there are common threads of love for the city to inform the project and the poet. This made me think….”hmm, what is it I love about Boulder?”
Later, in a meeting with a potential sponsor, my love of the city was challenged because of the seemingly difficult access to funds for art projects, such as this one.
All of this, spurred me to write.
I titled this post, A Love Letter to Boulder because I think if I’m going to ask people to commit so permanently to their love for this city, I better be clear that I love this city just as deeply as I’m expecting them to. While some of this letter may seem like a venting of frustrations about Boulder, and less like a romantic love letter, I believe it reflects the complexities of most relationships. The push and pull, the fading of the “honey moon” phase, and the deepening of love, are what I’ve felt for Boulder over the past 13 years of living here.
A Love Letter to Boulder
by Chelsea Pohl
It was the spring of 1996, I was 13 years old. My best friend and her family took me on a skiing trip to Colorado, and this was the first time I laid eyes on you. I distinctly remember driving their families Volvo station wagon over the hill just past Louisville on 36, and catching my first glimpse of your glorious mountains. It was breathtaking and left a strong enough imprint on me to know that you would one day be my home.
As a 16 year old, my family took a cross country trip giving me the opportunity to scope out Naropa University to find out if it was the college for me. The whole package was an easy sell. I couldn’t wait to start my life.
At 17, my Dad and I packed up the car and a small trailer of my belongings, bound for you, my new home. This was before smart phones, and I remember taking the Baseline exit off of 36 because I had a “feeling” that was the right way to go. Fate directed me to Broadway, then a slight left towards the mountains and down to 13th st, where we pulled into Sangha House, Naropa’s first ever dormitory for its first year of undergraduates. The freedom I had so longed for throughout my early teens was very close, I could hardly stand it. I was a Kentucky girl, marked with pink cowgirl hat and an innocent naivety. Everything and everyone was my oyster.
I was so eager to get started that parting with my Dad was something I paid little attention to, until it was almost too late. He left and I had already clanned up with a foursome of new dorm mates. We were walking up Broadway’s steep hill when I saw his car and trailer parked at Starbucks. A moment of regret hit me and a ran to say my thank you’s and my goodbye’s. 17 years of rearing me, almost ignored. I’m so thankful now that I had that last moment to assure him of my love and gratitude.
The next several years were some of the best of my life. You offered everything a young woman could want. My first job at the Tea House, friendships that will last a lifetime, parties, first drug experiences, love affairs, education, a husband, a family, my two beautiful daughters, my first home, a business.
I’m 30 now. I’ve lived here for 13 years, almost half my life. The realities and responsibilities of adult life have set in and my love for you has been challenged. You don’t make it easy for people to stay. In fact, you are hypocritical in your acceptance. I once felt welcome, and now I feel I have to fight to stay. Does it have to do with how deep one’s pockets are? Is this you, Boulder? I watched as Penny Lane shut down, an example of one of many businesses to be replaced with newer, cleaner, more expensive versions of themselves. You know, Boulder, sometimes I feel like you are a rich old man, trading in your latest mistress for a newer, younger variety. Is this you, Boulder? I’ve watched as property is snatched up, rents are raised, and business are forced out because they can’t make bottom lines. Then these properties sit empty until some starry eyed fool comes along. You suck them dry. Is this you Boulder?
I know you have an upward energy. I feel it every time I sit on top of Flagstaff, or look up at the Flatirons. The high plains smashes into your mountains and the swoosh of energy flies up and dissipates into the sky. You make me feel nervous, Boulder. You give me so much energy, but no grounding. I eat the foods your prescribe…no gluten, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, organic of course, and try to start my own mini farm because in Boulder you have to go that extra mile.
I see moms, who manage it all. They run households, big businesses, marathons, and I think, I should be better. Always, I could be better. Boulder, you give me that ambition, but will you ever let me rest? I feel like a student driver, trying to learn how to use a clutch. Stop. Start. Stop. Start.
Boulder, sometimes you make it too easy. I complain about things that most people dream of having. The schools here are some of the best and yet I worry I’ve made the wrong choices for my girls. Boulder, I don’t have to worry about crime, statistically speaking, yet I always lock my door. Sometimes you are too perfect, Boulder, and it gets a little creepy. Its like someone’s bound to “crack” because they’ve been keeping it all together for too long and you might happen to be the victim of a random attack.
Sometimes creepy things do happen here, Boulder. Remember Jon Benet’ Ramsey? I used to live near that house on the hill and wonder, how could something like that happen here?
Boulder, you make people want you. Good people come here, but sometimes you scare them away. Sometimes you could let down your guard a little, and be real. I know you want to re-do the Canyon corridor to “make it more artsy,” but really you could just admit that you don’t like that the homeless have set up under the library walk way and in the bandshell. You don’t have to invest billions of dollars into a “facelift” for downtown, when maybe you could have few conversations with the homeless downtown, instead. Maybe invest that money into the homeless shelter? What about bandaids instead of billions, Boulder? You know, its kind of like you forgot something, Boulder. Its like you were once a poor boy, who left his poor home and struck it rich through hard work and perseverance. And through all that, you forgot what it means to be human. You can buy anything you need and everything you want.
But, Boulder, here’s the thing. I know you have it in you. What other city is there that has more coffee shops per capita? None. That’s you, Boulder. Coffee shops are community gathering places. Just be sure that the people aren’t staring into their own screens too much. Make sure people are talking to each other and speaking their minds. Have open mic’s, and make art happen. What other city loves food as much? None. That’s you, Boulder. Community can be centered around food. You just have to make it happen. You have to let people slow down enough to enjoy a meal together for hours, not in 10 minutes. What other city in the world is the “happiest?” None. That’s you, Boulder. People are happy here. When you shine your sun down, 300 days of the year, you make everything feel possible. Just don’t dry us out, Boulder. Keep us watered, and rested, please.
Listen Boulder, I love you. Just please be real. Don’t hide behind your money or your fake smile. Be real and show me your dirty sides. Put some color on your walls and wear it with pride. Don’t concern yourself too much with codes and policies. Let the people speak. Make all the other cities proud and even a little jealous. You have everything in you to lead by example, and people are watching. Be you. Be bolder.
–written on May 1, 2013