We tend to think about ourselves, our identity, as a noun. A thing. A quantum of personhood. It is, however, not all that deep to realize that it may be more advantageous see our identity as a verb, a process, a doing. We are what we do. But we are also, I think, where we are. The places and environments in which we spend our lives are as much a part of our identity as any activity (writing, researching, directing, playing music, etc.) that go into making us who we are. I’m not saying that places merely shape our identity. Rather, that places constitute, fundamentally, part of who we are as people. Whether through extending ourselves into certain spaces, or certain spaces extending themselves into us, place becomes as much who are are as our emotions and actions.
Which is to say:
I miss Kiva Han.
It’s been around three weeks since my favorite coffee shop in Pittsburgh closed, and I’m still feeling—yes, I know it’s a strong word—bereft. Like a part of me is missing. Kiva Han, even before I’d moved close to school, was a warm and inviting place, a space where I could get good breakfasts and go upstairs and get an always surprising amount of work done. In the last few weeks of my first semester, I would often get up at 6:00 am get down to Kiva by 6:30 – 7:00 to be the first one in. I’d have breakfast, coffee and write for several hours. After moving closer to school, I became even more a regular. Yes, I liked their food, and yes, I liked the people (still miss Ruthie a bit after she left the place to go live in New Zealand for a year), and yes, I liked the fact that I’d become such a regular that, when their credit card machine wasn’t working one morning and I had no cash on me, the owner told me to just bring in the money for my breakfast the next time I was in, since I was in so often. But the real feeling of loss comes from Kiva as a work space. The upstairs, while it would often get way too hot in the winter, was even when full, quiet enough to work and yet still have the white noise of the music and conversation from downstairs. I tried working downstairs sometimes, and it was possible, but it was really the corner by the window on the second floor that was “my” spot.
Having a place that can, for whatever reasons, produce a kind of flow in my research and writing, is, I’m realizing now that I’ve lost it, hugely important. Home can be good for some of the time. I like my apartment and I like my room. But there was something about Kiva that lent itself to a mental flow that I find hard to achieve other places. Certainly none of the other coffee shops in and around school work. Neither does the library (though I may be spending more time there as an ersatz solutions). In addition, none of the other coffee shops have full kitchens or make real food.
The real loss, the real pain, however, comes from the fact that, quite simply, Kiva had become part of my identity. Part of who I am and now it’s gone. This is, of course, not unusual. Places, activities, knowledge, people . . . everything that goes into creating the story of who we are—the story we tell ourselves anew each and every day—are never fixed. Never static. Continuity is less a fact and more a trick of perspective.
Still, I really, really, wish Kiva Han was still a continuity in my life and identity.