One of the biggest drawbacks, I think, of living in a transient society is that it can become very difficult to figure out what, exactly, “home” means. The other day when I said something about when I get back home to my nephew, he looked at me quizically and said, “But you are home.” But I meant my second home. Portland. Which doesn’t feel like home to me yet, but nevertheless, is where I live and have a life. And when I’m in Portland, I refer to going to see my parents in Arkansas as “going home.” And sometimes, to other people in Portland, I refer to Austin as “home,” and I always tell people that’s where I’m from, because it has felt, and still feels, more like home to me than anyplace else.
Distance frightens me more than it used to. After having lived long enough to realize that no matter how close you are to someone, not living in the same place will gradually drive more and more of a wedge between you. It’s unavoidable, I think, unless you just make it a regular habit to speak frequently, and visit occasionally. Maintaining relationships at the age my friends and I are getting to be is hard enough as it is, but when you live 2,000 miles away from all of the people you love the most, that just compounds the work.
I’ve been feeling very sentimental for Austin lately. Part of it has to do with watching season 3 of Friday Night Lights and seeing little snippets here and there of the city I know so well I could drive it with my eyes closed. When I get really sad about it, I try to remember all of the things I hated about Austin that drove me nuts and made me want to leave, but when it comes down to it, as my good friend told me shortly before I left, “people make a city, not the city itself.”
I had good reasons for leaving Austin. I felt stifled there. I was bored. I was carrying around the baggage of multiple failures that haunted me, and not just relationship failures. I felt like I’d used it all up. I was incredibly restless and increasingly unhappy there. Maybe part of that was just a general chafing against this whole “growing up” business, and I blamed it on the city. What I was sick of (the familiar and lack of surprise), I’ve been craving in Portland lately. It always takes a long time to get used to a new place, to find your own haunts, and settle into your niche. I’m being patient, and I love what I’m doing. I love school, I love my job, I love my co-workers (especially after attending a party last weekend in Portland with some of the lamest blow-hard academics in the land, I want to be friends with some of my co-workers who are just out doing what they think is best, and working their asses off to do it, because they care and they’re real people; nobody at that place gets paid enough to do that kind of work and not care about it), I love my volunteer work. And Portland is truly lovely: a genuinely liberal, open, and forward-thinking and looking city. It achieves what Austin pays lip service to, but doesn’t actually take seriously, which was one of the main reasons I soured on Austin so much.
But, you know, Portland will be ruined soon too, and all the old-timers already think it is (hmm, sound familiar?). The “old” Portland is gone, replaced by boutique grocery stores and high-rise condos and tacky new money. So it goes. At least they’re creating livable, walkable neighborhoods and comfortable, adequate public transportation. So they’re doing something right. Even though there’s not enough Mexican food.
I’m digressing. This is not about Austin versus Portland, because it would pretty much be a dead tie, all things being equal. I guess it was supposed to be about what makes a place a “home,” because I’ve been giving it a lot of thought lately. And whether I can give up certain things to gain others, and still sleep at night. And will I regret it 20 years down the line.
I have no idea, but I can say I’m doing a much better job of just living in the present and accomplishing what I need to get done than I’ve ever done before. I’m too busy not to. But things will pick up. Tom is finally here. Jody is moving into the city and is no longer going to be a 2-hour commute away. I’m getting closer to new people. I don’t regret any of my decisions. But I think in my near future there will be more, and very difficult, decisions to make.
I guess that’s what life is: a series of decisions we make.