Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Those of you who are longtime readers will know that the concept of home has always been amorphous for me; I spent my childhood and adolescence moving from town to town, eventually up and down the Eastern seaboard, attending high school in three states and living, during one twelve-year period, in ten different homes. I'm not yet thirty, but have resided in six states (seven, if extended visits are counted). What does home even mean to me?
Never in my life has that question been as pertinent as it is in this moment. My pursuit of home is, in a way, why I haven't written here since the beginning of May. After school let out a month and a half ago, I rushed back to the East Coast and spent the time feverishly drinking in friends and family, conveniences and simple pleasures. I've chosen this summer to dwell in Southern State, the place where I finished my last year and a half of high school, where I went to college, and where, it turns out (by a bizarre coincidence) my ancestors resided for something on the order of 300 years. Is Southern State my homeland? Insofar as I have a homeland at all, the answer is...pretty much. Formative experiences and deep ancestral roots tie me here, but after all these years the truth remains that I'm not really from anywhere, whatever I tell people for convenience's sake.
Some part of me, I think, has always been searching for a place that felt right, for that thing the great majority take for granted but that has been elusive for me. I have, at least, a hometown: there were too many angst-filled adolescent nights in Mountain Town for it to be anything but that, and more than anywhere in the world, there I feel familiarity like an old glove slipping on. In terms of a home state, though, a native culture? That's bit of a different ballgame.
Perhaps that's part of why I feel so conflicted regarding my immediate future in a certain faraway icebox dotted with a few small cities and the occasional grizzly bear. I have found there a career path that is rewarding and very lucrative. What about a life, though? Staying in Arctic State is, from a financial perspective, the single best decision I could make, but I worry as to my ability to construct something resembling a fulfilling personal milieu with friends, stimulation, a partner, a space of my own. And the thing is, as I ready in less than a month's time to fly back north, I don't know and accept that I don't know the answer.
The thought of not returning to the South's sun-soaked green valleys and florid summer skies next May tears at my heart, as does the thought of foregoing visits with treasured friends whose companionship has brought me great joy over the years. By the same token, the prospect of leading an existence permanently divided, with work and relationships on either side of a 4,000-mile-long wall, brings me no peace, either. To spend nine months in a personal wasteland, and then attempt to cram a year of fulfillment into the remaining three, is no way to live. That's a half-life, less than a half-life.
So if I'm to stay in Arctic State, with all the opportunities it offers, I must make a home there. I must have camaraderie there. I must have love there. And what does that mean? For one thing, living next summer in Iceport or some nearby locale would be virtually unavoidable; it's hard to meet friends somewhere if you peace out the moment you're out of work and spend all your off time on the other side of the continent.
It may be, after a full school year in, I just decide to come home. Back to Southern State, back to what's familiar and normal and natural. But if I choose to live in Arctic State, I have to live there. I'll let you know how that goes. Even that outcome carries different potentialities: staying in the bush, where the money is great and the weather horrifying, then living in one of the cities each summer; or eventually moving onto the road network to teach in an urban ("urban" being a relative term) community that has all the amenities of home with the added excitement of potential frostbite in April.
But I don't have to make that choice right now, so I'm not going to. I will have plenty of time for self-reflection, for assessment, for prayer. As in all things, I'm convinced God will steer me right. In the meantime, I've enjoyed the long-missed company of friends and family. Thomas and Jewess, his girlfriend of nearly five years, came to my Southern State residence on one of my first weekends here in early June, accompanied by Beautiful Cousin and her military beau. I rented a three-bedroom apartment to myself for the summer, which has made hosting visitors a point of particular ease.
"Oh," said Poetess, surveying the guest rooms I'd gleefully furnished and the serene country view off my third-floor balcony. "This is lovely."
"Beautiful," Viking Guy confirmed.
We stayed up until 4:30 in the morning, drinking on the balcony as we shared childhood stories and wildly inappropriate jokes. It was great fun and something I really needed.
Other guests include my 14-year-old sister, Pie, who stayed several weekends ago; and Cool Cousin, the globe-trotting doctor who will arrive here on Friday. Nor have I been shy about venturing beyond the confines of my spacious quarters--you'd be surprised how much you miss driving, and I've been perfectly happy to hop in the car and cruise an hour or two north for a social reunion, to say nothing of the numerous jaunts around this city I've taken with a new local acquaintance.
I am anxious about what it will mean to return to Arctic State, and anxious about my future there. There's no point denying that. But in the last year, I've done and accomplished things I would once have thought unimaginable. I obtained a master's degree, worked a brief stint at a PR firm I was smart enough to leave, took a huge chance with a job on the teetering edge of civilization and lived to tell the tale. I achieved financial independence, struck out on my own, assessed myself honestly and learned to be my own advocate. I've taken on a lot and handled it relatively well.
Yes, I'm anxious. But there's no doubt in my mind that, eventually, I'll figure this out.