On Greige


Six months ago was the last time I saw this much of the ubiquitous greyish beige known as greige. I’ve worked in many different environments, with varying amounts of greige, but my most recent stint in the suburbs of Cincinnati really made me feel as though I was spending my days in a bubble.

That’s not entirely true — I laughed at the geese that held up traffic in my company’s driveway, I laughed at myself while negotiating sidewalk-less roads in heels. I made a friend on the bus and became intimately familiar with the streetscape of my route.

But, let’s backtrack to Jun 07, when I wrote the following letter to CityBeat:

In response to Patrick Garland’s letter “Downtown Streetcar Will Be a Waste” (issue of June 13), I moved to Cincinnati a year ago from Boston after having lived in San Francisco and New York City as well. As a die-hard urbanite who doesn’t drive, I didn’t even consider any neighborhood other than Over-the-Rhine.

After a year, I know I’ve made the best choice. Yes, it has a troubled past and is certainly not without its problems, but so are most of the urban areas I’ve found interesting elsewhere.

Between OTR and Downtown, I walk to almost everything I need or want. For anything that’s too far, I have a bicycle and a bus pass. I don’t ever go to Hyde Park or Oakley, as Garland suggested I do; why would I need to? I have the best of Cincinnati practically at my doorstep.

For whatever it’s worth, OTR is changing: There’s increased retail and available rehabbed housing stock. I’m not going to argue about whether or not that’s a good thing, but there’s clearly a growing demand for easy public transit in and around Downtown.

Downtown is not dying, as Garland pronounced, and OTR has not crumbled. I have managed to carve out a rich life for myself in the very areas he so definitively dismissed.

— Maya Drozdz, Over-the-Rhine

I don’t know why I felt compelled to write this; this sort of self-indulgent pontification rubs me the wrong way. The only kind of activism I can really understand involves the intentional putting of one foot in front of the other, not wasting time telling other people how to live.

I never intended to become a locavore or worried about my carbon footprint, but I can see now that certain aspects of my life embody these values, and that these values are actually important to me. The willful provincialism of my neighborhood-centered life is what I prefer, though I’m not sure that it’s accurate to call this “the good life,” as CityBeat did. That implies a value greater than simply my finding my own way to put one foot in front of the other.

On the other hand, while some people dream of a white picket fence, I’ve always yearned for a fire escape, so I suppose I have found my version of “the good life” here. I’m not trying to prove a point, and I’m certainly not making any sacrifices, but it’s rewarding to see that a million tiny everyday choices add up to a life I enjoy.

new cubicle

But, nothing is that simple. Even the statement about greige that started this post isn’t entirely true — my life is filled with the springtime greige of basin life, floating in through the open windows and coating every surface.

8 thoughts on “On Greige

  1. Ah, cubicle life – I loathed every day of mine. I was so offbeat, I decided to leave it for school again. Talk about running… yet, no more greige; actually, most days that’s a really good thing, but some days it’s bad.

    Currently I’m (temporarily) residing with the geese you speak of – sad thing is people out here are so consumed with their cars that they keep running them over. It’s really crazy.

    Beautifully written piece. Not very often does a post encompass me the way that yours just did.

  2. Probably the most valuable lesson I learned at this workplace was that I was less bothered by not fitting in than I was by the possibility of eventually assimilating. So, I quietly resisted the things about that place that didn’t dovetail with my own values or priorities [and spending time there definitely helped me figure out what those were].

    When people complain about Cincinnati being backward, I’m somewhat puzzled. I’ve never met so many interesting people so quickly. When I hear the rallying cries for a downtown supermarket, I marvel. I’ve never had more convenient access to so much excellent, varied food, all at non-Dean & Delucca prices. It’s so easy for me to eat well here. Did you know that Findlay accepts Food Stamps, even at the farmer’s market? How’s that for backward? Sometimes, I think it takes an outsider, without baggage or expectations, to objectively assess and appreciate a place.

  3. I agree, it does sometimes take the objectivity of outsiders to appreciate what we have, yet I think the problem that the city has faced for a long time is trying figure out how to draw outsiders to come (and eventually reside) here. I may be wrong, but I think our heydays (within recent history) were in the 70s & 80s.

    Anyway, you’re right on about the ‘corporate’ lifestyle – I took the exact same perspective. I’m not sure what exactly you were worried about assimilating too, but mine was money. So much so that I turned down a higher paying job because I was afraid of getting too comfortable, too sucked in to the materialization it would’ve afforded me. Life is way too short for that kind compromise.

  4. Sorry, grammatical issues there:

    *I’m not sure exactly what aspects you worried about assimilating to…

  5. Ehh, I don’t know that lack of growth should necessarily be seen as a problem, and I find some of the recent efforts at YP-pandering laughable; I wonder if they’re successful and what that success really means.

    At my greige workplace, I sometimes felt like I should be an OTR ambassador, but then I realized that I don’t really care what my colleagues think. It’s where I live, so it’s clearly livable to me, and that’s enough of a statement. I don’t need to convince anyone to move/shop/dine/hang out here. Who cares?

    Same thing with the workplace itself: it wasn’t the right fit for me, the trade-offs stopped being worthwhile, so I left. It’s not like I was in a position to change that place and, anyway, it seems to work just fine for a lot of people. So, I just make these adjustments to try to live the kind of life I want to live. Like I said, that’s really the only kind of activism that seems to make sense to me.

  6. Wasn’t it Tom Robbins who first identified “Beige-ah vu?” That’s the feeling you have when you could swear you’ve seen that shade of beige somewhere before. Although he was describing the Seattle skyline, but still.

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