Hallmark says that Home is where the heart is, and on principle I’m not inclined to argue with them. I would perhaps suggest the caveat that Home is an issue of personal freedom, the space in which you have the capacity to be confident in yourself and your various iterations, and as such is of the utmost importance to find, regardless of geography. The only problem with such a take is it doesn’t fit easily onto a greeting card, so I guess chalk another one up for the folks at Hallmark.
I moved away from Michigan years agoâ€”I haven’t lived there for longer than a several month stretch since high-schoolâ€”and at some point while I was away it ceased to be my Home. I suppose, based upon the definition I suggested above and given the awkward diffidence of my youth, one could argue that it never really was Home. But I think that was an issue of maturity, of comfort in my own skin, and once again perhaps it’s best to stick with Hallmark’s version.
My trip to Michigan was short, and I think that’s a large reason why I can say I enjoyed myself. It was nice to visit my family, to be around those I hadn’t seen in years, to stifle my smiles at their idiosyncracies, to see how each of us has aged. To experience the slightly sticky feel of humid summer nights, to recall how noisily the crickets chirp in the ditches beside country roads, the way the grasses smell so rich when they’re heavy with dew and how your clothes cling to your back as you walk. To swim in the coolness of Lake Michigan, to skip stones across its unending surface, as wide and imposing as any ocean. To stare out the window over gently rolling hills, to feel the depth of the greeness while the golden heads of the corn in their midst burst and wave like idle flags. Who could ask for more?
But such temporary enjoyments are far different than actually living in Michigan. Several days were great; to imagine an open-ended, indefinite period of time feels like a heavy punishment fit for only the worst of criminals.
There are two major factors at play when I return to Michigan: economics and personal. Presently the state has one of the worst economies in the country, and it shows in all the tangible ways: empty streets and parking lots, boarded up office buildings, barren strip malls, closed down plants, etc. And this isn’t just in Detroit, which is its own mess, but in the surrounding suburbs and rural areas . Yet the more woeful impact of the economy was less tangible, though no less obvious. It was attitudinal, deep-seated, based in peoples’ outlooks, dreary and unrelenting in its daily-ness, and as such perhaps a more powerful measure than the unemployment rate or other indexes. It was an air bordering on despair, sticky and thick-lunged, so lacking in hope and optimism as to be stifling.
Living in Seattle, a city that is still quite economically vibrant in relation to the nation-wide economic slowdown, there is still the belief that one can do anything, business-wise, and it’ll have a shot at succeeding. Want to open a restaurant, start a doll-manufacturer, create designer tee-shirts, start a bicycle repair shop, you name it and there exists the conviction that the business will succeed. There is enough optimism to spur creative risk-taking, and enough disposable income that even the most unnecessary of business ventures might just make it.
In Michigan the opposite prevails. New businesses aren’t simply not being brick-and-mortared, they’re not even being imagined. The hope that spurs the action to try something is markedly absent. The dream of opening a new business is not even being dreamt. Perhaps the best metaphor is body language, for in Michigan one walks slumped over, eyes heavy and downcast, feet sludging through another day towards an end already known. It’s a generalization, I know, and as such limited in its applicability, but there is an undeniable and seemingly unavoidable heaviness in the air that was terribly depressing.
In the personal realm, what keeps me from returning to Michigan are the dynamics of relating that were long ago established between that world and myself. Though I haven’t lived there permanently for nearly one-third of my life, the ways of connecting with my self and my family that developed over those early years remain firmly entrenched. A gravity of regression pulls me backward from the adult I have become in Seattle to the adolescent I was in Michigan. If I am hopeful and upbeat, constructive and articulate in my Seattle life, I am those things reduced by exponentials in Michigan. I return to high-school Aaron, drowsy, disengaged, one-worded and heavy-tongued. The faith in the me who I have become is placed upon shaky ground, and within hours I find myself unsure, desultory, vortexed.
An example: I sat at a dinner with my family, few of whom I’d seen in years ,and after some idle banter there arrived a period during which no one said a word for a solid 30-seconds. This, in real-world, sitting- awkwardly-nodding-at-nothing time is an exceptionally long and painful epoch. Entire species have been eradicated from the planet in less time. And when I think back on the time we spent together as I grew up, sadly such long and open expanses of disconnection were often the case for our family. I imagine we each had so many things to say, yet we found so little of it to articulate, for reasons well beyond my rights to postulate or enumerate in a blog. Still, given such deserted surroundings, how does anyone proactively find and define themselves?
It’s important to be clear that I’m blaming no one other than myself for the devolution that occurs in me upon my returns. No one but myself forces me inwards or ties my tongue, rather I slip back to that because it’s known viscerally, down where my stomach acids churn on a level below thought. It’s simply how I’ve related to my family, to myself in relation to them, for so long, and such dynamics have their hooks in meâ€”in each of usâ€”deep.
Perhaps this is the downside of finding a Home elsewhere from the one you had: you return and the progress you believe you’ve made is suddenly difficult to find. You begin to question whether it even ever existed, and that’s to say nothing of actually employing your new self. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to maintain myself in Michigan, to find that confidence regardless my surroundings, to live up to my own (potentially highly) idealized definitions. Until then, it was nice to visit, but when the time came, though I was ready to return to my Home in Seattle for a little regrouping, the next leg of my trip took me eastward to New York City.