Where Nobody Knows Your Name…

Moving is in that top 10 list of life stressors, along with things like marriage, divorce, childbirth and death. Some say it takes 3 years to really “move-in,” the point at which things become familiar and your home is really yours. You know where the grocery store is, how late you have to leave to get the kids to school on time, and what corner of your bedroom has morphed into the unofficial laundry basket.

But I haven’t been here 3 years. I’ve been here 6 months. And even though this was a move for many good reasons, moving still, in a word, sucks. I used to not think about the effects of moving and considered myself something of a rambler. That’s likely because from 18 on, I moved roughly every two years (with the exception of my longer 5-year stint in Chicago) until I was 32. Moving was the norm in my life, and my mind had adapted to living in an existential suitcase. Friendships were of the moment, to be grabbed by whoever could be found, because you or the other person might be leaving at any time. Carpe Diem made practical, not just philosophical, sense.

And then I had that 10 year lag…the one where I had things like children, mortgages, pets, parent-teacher conferences, annual holiday parties, restaurant special nights, season passes, oh and that job thing. The one where I showed up at the same job for 10 years, the first time in my life I’d had the same job for that long, went to the same office, saw much of the same people. Drove to the same places, saw the same buildings, taught the same classes, walked the same halls. Attended the same stupid, pointless, mandatory start of the term meeting every year. Crossed my eyes and doodled on my brain during the same committee meetings in the same boring rooms with the same glazed over faces dozens and dozens of times for 10 years.


As much as my younger self recoiled at the thought of ever having a routine, the bottom line is I had one. Even when it included the things I didn’t like doing, it was still a routine. I learned how to navigate that space; I didn’t just know how to get around, I knew the backroads including avoiding the train that regularly blocked the entrance to my subdivision. I knew everyone in my neighborhood because my dog and I had walked the same route twice a day for several years and we met everyone who also walked, ran, or biked that route. When I was bored at work, I knew who to waste time with. When I didn’t want to get into a pointless conversation, I knew who to avoid.

Without realizing it, I had created “roots,” even though I wasn’t too pleased about where those roots were. I knew a long time ago I wouldn’t spend my life there, but in spite of that roots still developed and anchored me to a place and a way of life that was, for all intents and purposes, “normal.” It was what I knew.

I have been completely derailed therefore by the experience of knowing absolutely nothing now. Perhaps it was naive`, but I presumed I would bring something familiar with me. I still had my furniture, clothes, car…my family were still the same people and even the dog was still with us. It would just be a matter of changing the scenery, adapting to a different backdrop. I would still be teaching, reading, writing, and all that regular stuff. Life couldn’t really be that different, could it?

Wrong. I have watched every tiny piece of familiarity slowly dismantle itself as it walks across the threshold. The furniture I brought doesn’t fit in the new house. The car doesn’t work. The clothes are for the wrong season. And my family – still the same people, but now as turned around as I am. We bump into each other regularly because we haven’t figured out what direction to move in.

This is figurative and literal; when I get a moment to myself now, I still haven’t any clue where to sit in my own house. I haven’t found “my space.” When I find a spot, I don’t know what to do because I’m not sure how to fill that time. Even the little things I used to do, the hobbies, the activities, the ways of killing time and stretching through boredom just don’t exist the way they used to. Even my job, the teaching thing – it’s true there is an encyclopedia in my head that was written over the last 10 years, but I can’t deliver it the same way I used to. The format I teach in is nothing like what I did before, and every day is an adaptation to a new context. I have had to remind myself that I can put together a sentence and work a room, but my audience is not the same one I had before and I am learning them all over again.

It’s a weird kind of identity crisis. I’ve found myself wanting to volunteer for almost everything, things I’ve never even heard of because I don’t know where I belong. Outfits that I wore in the past don’t seem to match anymore. I am constructing an image all over again and I don’t know what it is supposed to look like.  This is an experiential lesson in social construction; the context of myself is impermanent, my knowledge of me fluttering constantly with the unrecognizable mirror of my unfamiliar social sphere.

I don’t have a clear answer out of all this. And it may seem surprising when I say I like being here. But I have made myself remember things like patience and temperance. Slowly the new little things are making themselves known to me; I recently ripped out a lawn feature left from the previous owner because I could finally say, “that isn’t mine.” I bought 4 pairs of shoes too many in trying to figure out this new fashion only to settle back on my old, reliable set of doc marten’s. I’ve abandoned local television to Netflix binge old seasons of House, the show I was addicted to (curiously) 10 years ago when I moved and started my last job. I bought a new car, and I blast 80’s music on my drive to work.

My spaces are still being developed. What’s it going to look like? I don’t know. Check back in 3 years.

All I Want for Christmas…

Thought I had a blog post. Maybe I don’t. why is it that when you hit your 40’s, you start getting injured for no apparent reason. I’m on my couch because my lower back decided to not work; cause = apparently just being alive.

You’d think I would’ve posted about the shooting in San Bernardino by now. After all, not only is the whole country talking about it, it also occurred practically in my back yard. I’m still settling in to this new place, so I have a weird sense of attachment-not-attachment to what took place. I’ve had a million thoughts and no thoughts, a reaction and not a reaction.

There is a social justice angle, for sure. But does anyone need me to point out how fascism is not an acceptable response to an act of terror? It could be argued that fascism generates acts of terror in the first place, but a despot like Trump seems to have forgotten that. And really, no ones needs me to point out that obvious statement. Also no one needs me to point out that we very easily talk about “radicalization” these days, and apply it to anyone who isn’t Christian, even though it could be argued that many acts of violence have been carried out by self-identified “Christians” also in the name of various aspects of Christianity (let’s try the other recent shooting at a planned parenthood, or anything done by Westboro, or things like internment camps, the holocaust, or slavery just to name a few). Right. I don’t need to say these things because everyone already knows it.

Ok, that sentence might have a little sarcasm built in. It’s clear not everyone agrees with this. There are plenty of people out there who seem to think it is a completely acceptable response to tag Muslims or any other group we become afraid of and start treating them like cattle, to deny them their status of personhood so we can more easily label them as the problem and thus feel less guilt about killing them. If it is wrong to label all Christians as “zealots” then it is likely also wrong to label all Muslims as “extremists.” Perhaps the only good thing about Trump right now is people who think his way is the right way a global society deals with its difficulties are being exposed. Their presence makes it so someone like me doesn’t have to work very hard to say racism – pure, overt, nasty racism, not the innocent, well-intentioned accidental racism – exists.

Painkillers. I need painkillers. My back is screaming at my legs and it’s just a cacophony of angry shouting nerve endings replicating a fight scene out of Enter the Dragon. This is not helping my mood.

It is, therefore, a surprise for me to hear at a meeting held for those affected by the San Bernardino shootings that their biggest fear right now is not the possibility of further terrorist plots but rather, the fear that our own country will turn itself into a replica of 1930’s Nazi Germany. That we will make it okay to lock people away just because they follow a particular religion that is different from what the majority believe. That we will take people from their families and strip them of their freedoms because we contrive multiple reasons to believe we are superior to them. And that the only reason we attempt any of this is because we are afraid, and instead of trying to reach across the boundaries and finally establish a global community, we will engage in isolationist xenophobia and knowingly perpetrate another holocaust. It is also another surprise to hear that attached to this fear that the country will turn, is another fear that those of us who don’t want this to happen will silently stand by and let it happen because we fail to speak up, or act, or do anything at all.

This is a pleasant surprise, by the way. This is an injection of hope.

It also stands out a great deal that the people who are expressing this are the people who live here, people who were directly affected by the shooting, the subsequent car chases, manhunts, bomb threats, school closings, and all the other scary things going on that we are being assaulted with. We who are here, in other words, don’t want to close our borders and cast out the identified “other,” rather we want to speak about the potential for joining together, for reminding each other that we belong to each other and want a better life, not a captive life, for ourselves and our future.

We want to break down prejudice, not support it. We want to expose our biases, not hide them. We want to increase understanding, not prevent it. We want to make friends, not enemies. We want to go outside, not hide in our caves. We want life to be about hope, not about fear.

I feel slightly disingenuous using the word “we” in that above paragraph. After all I’m a new part of this “we.” However, maybe that’s part of it, to realize that “we” doesn’t have to be limited by geography. We are tired of being told what we are supposed to think and say. We are ready to speak for ourselves.

So I guess if anything were up to me, that is what I’d want people to do. Many out there are attempting to express “solidarity” with San Bernardino. That’s very nice, but it would be a little bit more to use your words, not your Facebook profile pic. You don’t need to hold up a sign in order to make a difference. Have a conversation. Talk to a person. Don’t expect to have an answer, don’t expect to prove a point. Just for once try to understand something you didn’t know about another person. Who cares if you agree. But maybe just by talking, by starting this conversation, we can get to more conversations, bigger ones, and maybe it won’t be so scary to talk about what we don’t know, don’t understand, and don’t know how to do. Maybe we’ll learn how to disagree. Maybe we’ll learn how to change our minds. Maybe we’ll finally admit that in reality we can’t control much of anything and will stop trying to control each other.

What do I know…I’ve been debilitated by a pinched nerve and I’m going to spend considerably energy rolling over once I finish this post. Then I’ll 1556847watch House pop vicodin on Netflix. Dunno. Seems fitting.