Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Homecoming

Or Homecoming Queen.  Or Homecoming NOSTRIL QUEEN!

I love my new nom de plume.  I like my real name too, but I can't tell if this blog's existence is the reason I'm not getting any callbacks from employers.  My straight-laced but unemployed friends who don't have blogs are also not getting any callbacks, so maybe it's just the economy?  When I ask friends and family if they think my blog is having a negative effect on my job search, I get a whole slew of mixed reactions:

  • "Your blog is so tame. If anyone doesn't hire you based on your blog, then they've got some serious problems."
  • "Your blog is so cool! I would hire you to write web content if I was an employer."
  • "You need to take that thing down right away.  It's inflammatory.  Stop committing career suicide."

Well, I refuse to take take down my blog, so I decided a good compromise would be to use a pen name (a keyboard name?) and remove my real name so if a potential employer googles me, the blog won't show up.  I switched from real name to pen name on all posts as well as on the Google account that's linked to Blogger; I changed all the appropriate search/crawl settings on my Blogger admin page, and I submitted URL removal requests.  STILL, the blog comes up right away when my friends and I google my name.  Someone told me yesterday that I need to do something with the cache, but first I have to find out what cache means. Is it pronounced "cash" or "cash-ay"?  Is it like matte, which is pronounced "mat" and not "mat-tay"?

I guess I won't be getting that job at tech support.  

Anyway, in this post I'm going to tell you why I no longer loathe my little Wisconsin hometown.  Well, it's not so little nowadays. It's grown to over 66,000 people so that makes its "mid-size," but with only one Target, one Wal-Mart, and one JC Penney, and no skyscrapers or commercial airports, it still feels like a place where Jack and Diane would suck on a chili dog behind the Tastee Freez, before Uncle Buck would break it up.  A lot of people still have that upper-Midwestern accent, kind of like the one you heard in Fargo.  My family talks like that, a lot of people around town talk like that, and I hear it coming out of my own mouth sometimes and I don't know whether to cringe or laugh because I've tried for years and years to get rid of it.  It's muscle memory, I swear.  My mouth just moves that way before I even realize what's happening.



Most of the people who live here are from the area, unlike Phoenix, which is a transient city. Most people who live there are from somewhere else, and are often on their way to somewhere else, too. Gee, maybe that's because Phoenix is a desperate, flat, paved, parched, dust-storm ridden, sprawling shit-hole?

 
I'm just saying. 

As I've said, I've lived in a lot of other big cities before, but nothing made me appreciate home like the horrors of Phoenix.  For the first time in my life, I'm happy to be back. I feel healthier here. Since coming home, my stomach aches have gone away, my dizzy spells have gone away, my weird skin rash went away, and I don't feel so...lost. Lost, confused, fragmented, sick, tearful, and profoundly alone. That about sums up my time in Arizona.

For most of my youth, I hated Hometown, though. When I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, it was a scruffy working-class town, full of bumpy roads and mullets and rusty cars. The houses were gloomy, the jobs unglamorous, the downtown defunct.  Not only that, but I had an awfully awkward adolescence, so there were a lot of painful memories attached to the ruins. For a vain, imaginative, high-maintenance, dreamy soul like myself, the place was unbearable. That's why I left when I was 18 and roamed the world for so long. And each time I came back to regroup from some wild adventure, I counted the days until I could leave again.

Some older people tell me that the city was always a rough place, and that's probably true. It started out as a lumber mill town (and proceeded to burn down repeatedly), then other factories joined in, and then most of them closed up and/or moved overseas when I was a kid. I remember a lot of empty or abandoned lots, a lot of rubble and urban decay.  I couldn't wait to get the hell out of dodge and didn't understand why no one else was running for their lives. 

Over the past 12 years, though, Hometown has really cleaned up its act.  Slowly but surely, the bumpy roads were replaced by new ones, the rubble was cleared away and replaced by grass, the dilapidated buildings were reclaimed and repaired.  Now it looks, well, wholesome. Pretty, even. Better still, my ugly childhood memories have largely been forgotten or replaced by pleasanter ones (and thank goodness for that!). Over the past 3 weeks that I've been back, I've realized that this is a really nice place to live.  I mean, it's no Palm Beach, but it's no Detroit, either. 

A lazy, quiet summer evening outside Gator's house:
 
[Insert cricket chirping here.]


I don't know if the city-wide upgrades were due to better city management, or higher taxes, or to a sufficient amount of time passing for a transition to a modern, service-based economy, but whatever it was, it makes me happy.  It makes me happy to walk down the smooth, tree-lined streets and look at all the little mid-century houses and see people sitting on their porch swings. Unlike in Phoenix, I feel safe here. I feel safe going outside at night. I feel safe sleeping with my window open. Hell, I feel safe crossing the street, because it seems like more drivers here are paying attention and fewer of them are secretly fantasizing about turning pedestrians into a pink mist during target practice. No one here has thrown a baseball at me or screamed at me to get out of the road. Actually, I don't recall that happening anywhere but Phoenix.  Like I said--shit-hole.  

Several people have asked me if I'll be staying in Hometown temporarily or permanently, and if I intend to continue school in the fall.

No, no. I'm happy to be back home and I'm done with school. I am done with homework and staying up late to finish readings with titles like "Cross-Sectional Geometric Properties of the Otavipithecus Mandible" and wrestling with statistical programs all night. I'm happy to not be stumbling around in a daze every day because I'm so tired. I'm happy that I have time to sleep 8 hours every night and that I can easily make it through each day without marinating my brain in caffeine. I love that.  

I'm happy most of the time these days, and I feel like myself again. I really missed that. I smile and laugh as much as I used to, and sometimes I feel real joy, and sometimes I think, "I love being alive!" Sometimes I just love everyone and everything. 

I guess I'm not supposed to, though. According to the American ideal of "success," right now I am a complete failure. I'm "off my feet." I don't "have my shit together." I have not attained the American Dream. Well, fuck that. I'm not in grad school anymore (hallelujah!), I'm not in Phoenix anymore (hallelujah!), I have my old library job back and I'll also be working at the local airshow next week (yay!), and I have lots of good friends in this town (huzzah!). I am a zillion times happier now than I was 3 months ago when I lived in my own beautiful apartment and had a full scholarship at a prestigious PhD program at a big-name school. It's weird how a lot of the things that are supposed to make us happy actually don't, and how a lot of things that get derided or brushed off as silly or trivial are what sustain us.  For example, work, prestige, money, and big fancy houses are supposed to make us happy, but in reality, friendship, creativity, interacting with nature, and being of service to others are more potent ingredients.  I love that I have such good friends in Hometown!  I love that the bug to search for more and bigger and better has finally left me.        

You know what else I love? Is how lush and green Midwestern summers are. I love how there are so many trees and bushes and grasses that they're all competing for space in a big green explosion—all without human assistance! I love going down to the lake and wandering along the little docks and breakwaters and watching the sailboats and the waterfowl.  I love how the tiny waves sparkle in the sun and push up onto the half-submerged rocks and comb their green mossy hair. I love when the sun sets and the wind calms and the lake is like a mirror, and the ducks fly low, their wings beating hard, their reflections gliding along swiftly below them.

I've always enjoyed those things, but I appreciate them so much more now that I've spent a year in a desert. Isn't it annoying when people get desert and dessert mixed up? Or message and massage? The desert is no dessert and I have never received a text massage.  Which is "ma-saʒ" and not "ma-saʒ-ay."   

It was also pouring rain yesterday. A big, steaming, warm rain. Kind of goes hand-in-hand with the lush/green thing, apparently. I got caught in it on my way home from work and didn't have my umbrella, so I waited at a nearby gas station for a few minutes for the downpour to let up, but it didn't look like that was going to happen. So I said, Screw it, I don't want to hang out at Kwik Trip all day. I'm going to finish walking home and if I get wet, I get wet. It's only water, for heaven's sake.

And I sure did get wet. Big fat raindrops turned my clothes dark and floppy and made the soles of my bejeweled sandals slippery, so I took off the sandals and walked barefoot. Streams of rain weaved through my hair, slid over my cheekbones and dribbled down my chin. Bulbs of water hung from my nose and eyebrows, and my mascara smeared. But I didn't hurry. I strolled and relaxed and just let myself get soaked. I stepped squarely in every puddle I saw, and the water was warm. I watched my big adult feet and legs move along the pavement, doing their job without complaint, their pale skin speckled with crumbs of dirt. I tiptoed over bits of gravel and rough patches of sidewalk, and walked through the feathery grass for a little while. Thunder crackled gently and kept me company. When was the last time I walked through a rainstorm barefoot, a sandal swinging in each hand? Elementary school, maybe?

It was kind of cathartic. Isn't it odd how as adults, we make rain our enemy? We dash from car to house to school, scrunching our eyes and shoulders, lamenting how it ruins our baseball games and company picnics. We call it "bad weather" and associate it with sadness and illness and cancellations and staying indoors. But we have to be taught to complain about rain. As kids, we play in it and think it's hilarious that we're sopping wet, and we test patches of mud to see which will make the best pies or hold our bare footprints the longest. To our young brains it's just another element to experience and observe.

Photo from wallsdl.com

You know what else I love? Is how I know Hometown so well that I can just set off in the direction of a particular address and get there without really thinking too hard about it. I also love that I can walk or ride a bike from one side of town to the other.  And that I have ridden my bicycle to a neighboring town and back in the same day.  

Another thing I'm so happy about is that things aren't going wrong all the time anymore. I don't know what it was about Phoenix, but from the day I got there to the day I left, there was always something important going horribly, horribly awry. Almost every single day, something really bad would happen or I'd get some piece of bad news. I started to dread getting up in the morning. My life was not like that before I went to Phoenix, and it hasn't been that way since. I don't get it. Arizona must be cursed. Why else was it a shitty experience each of the 3 times I went there? Maybe it's a conspiracy between the Freemasons and the space lizards that have infiltrated our government. Whatever it is, I can now go through my days normally, without incident, without something embarrassing happening, without a critical project or event falling apart, without a major disaster falling in my lap.