Two years ago today I slept, for the first time, in my new apartment, where I would start to build a life for myself here, on the other side of the lake from where I grew up. I remember, not that night, but those few days of packing, loading trucks, saying goodbye, driving through michigan indiana illinois and half of wisconsin to get here, saying hello, unpacking, saying goodbye, feeling that elemental loneliness one feels when one's a stranger in a seemingly strange land, one in which the natives wear green and gold and report on any and every peregrination of one brett favre (before he disgraced the pack. oh, wait, they *still* report on him daily...).
But the story begins a little earlier, say, back in the fall of 2006. Back when one ever-increasingly jaded academic declares to her journals and people she trusts implicitly, that if she doesn't land a tenure track job that year, she will walk away. She will move to Traverse City and become a barista. Or attend culinary school. Or live out of her G6/the family hunting cabin. She will not take the rejection and doom one day longer.
After sending out scads of job letters, including quite a few to public and private schools in Wisconsin, she waits. She hears from one Georgia school that wants to interview her at the MLA convention in Philadelphia. She waits. On December 11 she receives a call from one Wisconsin school, wondering if she is still interested in the job, if she knew what it would entail, and so on.
"Yes, yes, I'm interested!" She gushes. Later, she revisits the job description and school website. A good location, an innovative approach. The job she thought she wanted? Not so much. But she is interested.
She waits. A week. No word back from the school in WI. She starts to do that doubty thing. "What did I do wrong? Why aren't they calling?" (she realizes that this conversation with herself nearly perfectly mirrors the conversations that have taken place during her limited dating experiences). She starts making rationalizations, but her heart sinks as she thinks they've gone another way.
She makes a cake for her best friend H's baby shower, and when she's tipping the cakes out of the pans, she sees the name of the town where the school is located pressed into the pan. Serendipity?
A few days later the call comes. They *are* still interested. She's making chocolate babka, drinking an Oregon pinot noir, and eating thick soup with her old college roommate N, and she races for a pen and paper to write down the details. She dances around her tiny kitchen and pours another glass of wine.
January 28, 2007
A ridiculously cold day. She boards the Amtrak in EL, headed for MKE, where she'll drive a rental car to the town where the campus is located. The day is frigid, hovering at or below zero, the sky crystalline blue, the ground barely covered with a skiff of snow. She pulls into town and curves around the lake, looking for her hotel, and for somewhere to eat dinner that night. Everywhere looks closed. She orders pizza and settles in with her notecards and folder of research to practice for the next day.
January 29, 2007
She dresses rather conservatively in her back Ann Taylor pantsuit, a white ruffled blouse, a green cashmere vest. She winds her long hair into a bun and slips on her low heeled black heels. In the lobby, she meets M and B. (B, who will become her bff and co-conspirator of silliness).
The day is grueling--a series of interviews and chats, presentations and happy hours, tours and meals. She's shocked by the smallness of it all--the school, the town. But she's utterly blown away by the kind genuineness of the faculty and staff. She stands outside of the hotel, freezing and exhausted, as C gives her a hug and asks, "Can you see yourself here for 30 years?"
Thirty years? THIRTY YEARS? she thinks, and mumbles something about other interviews, about really liking the school, and hopes she's hidden her shock at the idea of THIRTY YEARS.
Over the next few weeks, she flies to Georgia and Wisconsin for other interviews. She hopes that her fate of living in her car and pulling shots of espresso is fading, but she's never one to be overconfident without some concrete evidence, so she waits.
But while she waits, she wonders. She weighs geography and climate. She considers social possibilities for single girls. She tries to intuit that indescribable "fit," that "rightness."
And when three job offers rush in, she flirts with the possibilities. She envisions herself in the different settings. She imagines her life in small towns in a dairy state versus a bustling metropolis in the new south. It's a cold February, and Georgia has a slight edge. But. When the agonizing decision must be made, she thinks about where she felt most welcome, most at home. And she chooses M. She worries about living in a small town. She worries about being the token single girl in a world of married and kidded colleagues. But. Immediately, they all email congratulations and offer boundless help when the time comes for my big move...and I know, in that deep, intuitive place, that this is the right decision.
July 27 and 28, 2007
Can't sleep--though very sleepy--because today's the day of my move--well, the first day of my two day move. I'm sad, excited--just had the thought: it's time for my life to be my own, to own my own life. I think this move will be very good for me, but also very hard after being so comfortable here--but I also know my life is meant to be bigger than all of of *this*--how to explain? or why is it necessary to explain--is it enough to simply *feel*?
one door closes
and life expands...
And then. The loneliness. The worry about fitting in and doing well. The stress filled stomach, the fluttering heart. The missing my family, my friends. A feeling of utter aloneness. The wrenching goodbyes when I travel from one side of the lake to the other.
Moving to a new, cozier, posher home after five months helps alleviate some of the homesickness, but as temperatures dip ever lower and snow swirls ever deeper, my spirits sink.
Mom and I meet in Chicago one weekend in April and I don't want to come back. I know I can't return to Michigan either, at this point, but I long to be somewhere that feels like home instead of in this in between place where nowhere is home.
Despite a moment in late April when I write "I feel hope for this place," I teeter between overworked burnout and deep interiority, if the pages of my journal are to be believed. I yearn for those visits to and from Michigan, even as I begin slowly making connections here, planting roots in the community through my job and my personal interests. I'm finding pockets of good, kind, caring people who support me. My home is a refuge. And yet...still not entirely home.
Another grueling academic year draws to a close, and I vow to recharge when classes end and grades are submitted. My friend B and I sit in my office and I make some other declarations with laughter and the kind of certainty that only comes with uncertainty, and I step back and wait...
And it's easier to love this place in Spring and Summer, when greens and blues compose a palette of beauty and hope, rather than drifts of snow and ever-present greyness bespeaking dullness and weariness. I cast away all thoughts of winter, of sadness, and head out into the sparkling, shimmering world.
I travel, I visit, I plan. Michigan beckons and I go and glory in the sunsets and the comfort of porches and my oldest, dearest fans and loves. The place wraps around me like a shawl on a cool June day, and I carry it with me, even as I leave, as I drive around the contours of the lake, and walk up the 10+ stairs into my home. I carry it with me as I frolic in the sun, watch the sun rise, and daydream of the future.
I know that home is somehow the place within me, but to be grounded in a place, well, that's to give that internal home a real home. I've lived a temporary life in many respects, since leaving my parents' home at 17 for college, always returning but never to *stay.* I've learned to live with multiple homes, to have my heart torn between places, to not set down too deep of roots as the next degree program or temporary job beckoned.
To be settled, to know a place, to come to love it for its treasures and tolerate its faults, to know its people in real, meaningful ways, and to become, openheartedly, one of them, is a leap, a stretch. It involves an act of letting go and digging in. It requires both a groundedness and a willingness to lift both feet off the ground in order to give oneself over to the place.
And so, we paint walls.
We hang paintings.
We plan events.
We forge connections.
We build relationships.
We come home.