Missing Memphis: How to Make History

Posted on August 1, 2014


By Katie Butler

photo_for_websiteBeing in England, I have decided one thing; everything is very, very old. Not that this is a bad thing, oh no. On the contrary, everything has a history, a story. Millions of people have walked across the same roads as I did last week while visiting Westminster Abbey, hundreds of students have stayed in the room that I now sleep in at Oxford University, and thousands of people have seen the same sights and heard the same sounds that I have the privilege of seeing and hearing right now. However, that being said, there is one small thing missing; room for change and individuality.

As I walk around admiring the stone buildings with their beaten-down steps, worn and withered by tens and thousands of feet, I find myself looking for the quirks. You know, the things that just don’t seem to belong. Where is the Oxford equivalent of the “I heart Memphis” wall? Where is the Oxford equivalent of the Overton Square park bicycle entrance, the mismatched neighborhoods of houses, or the definite eccentricity of every person that you meet? And then I realized something; Memphis may not be so “prim and proper” like England, but that is what makes it home.

You might think that I am crazy; why miss Memphis while in such a wonderful and historic place? And you would be right to ask this question. But, as I hate and love to say it, Memphis has some things that England doesn’t. Let me explain.

1. Color. In England I have noticed a pretty consistent building style; they use rocks and wood. Well, a nicer way to put it is that they use grey stone and dark wood paneling. Now, I will be the first to tell you that everything I’ve seen here is gorgeous. Yet part of me wishes that things weren’t so congruent here. Where is the blue building of Otherlands? Where is the towering, shiny pyramid of downtown Memphis, and where are the multi-colored wall murals and graffiti of Cooper Young? These things are new, original, and fresh. They reflect a new generation, one of artists, free thinkers, and bright ingenuity. Not to say that the builders of great cathedrals and university buildings during the 15th century weren’t big the “fresh new thing” of their time, but sometimes, I miss Memphis’ vibes and color. Let’s face it; our city shines.

2. Unique style. I will be the first to admit that the British fascinated me upon my arrival in the UK. I looked at them, agog at their accents and style of clothing, wondering what they were like and how, embarrassingly, I could be them. However, I began to notice some patterns; everyone seemed to be carbon copies of one another. After seeing my one-thousandth pair of pastel trousers and ten millionth pair of white Ked’s, I found myself longing for the originality of the people who inhabit Memphis. Now, I assure you that I am not saying that every single person that I have encountered while studying abroad is the same. However, what I am saying is that the sense of individuality that one has while in Memphis is very different. Just think of Café Eclectic and the people watching that can be done in there; why else name it eclectic? In other words, Memphis cherishes the rare, exalts “weirdness,” and promotes the individual. So, while it seems everyone here is trying to be one in the same (no matter how cool they are), I miss the odd familiarity that the diverse population of Memphis offers.

3. Room to make history. As I travel around Europe, I realize that history has already been made here. The streets are crowded with tourists, waiting to take a picture of that 500-year-old building, or the grave of that guy from the 13th century. And while I am more than privileged to be able to witness these things and learn here in a wonderful place, I realize that there might not be much room left in such a historic city to, well, make more history. This is why Memphis is so special; as a growing city, there is room for a growing population, one with new ideas, projects, and outlooks on life. Memphis has the room for change, the room for people to come and spread there ideas, and room for new places, sights, and stories for people to come visit and take part in during the future. So while London has thousands of tourists a day, they may not have room for the “next big thing.” So that is why, my fellow Memphians, we have a chance. A chance to make our own history, special, colorful, unique, and our own.

Posted in: Lifestyle