The above is a quotation from Ulysses that I like to trot out in the classroom, not only when I'm pretending to be a modernist, but also when I'm teaching The Faerie Queene or Paradise Lost. It's also a statement that I mutter to myself frequently, whether I've just completed a seemingly neverending project or have cleverly circumvented a traffic jam. But although I say it frequently, I've been saying it even more often these last few days.
However, I'm not entirely sure what I mean, this time, by "home."
Part of what I mean, or what I think I mean, is This City: the one that I'm still in, but which I'm leaving in just four days. The thought of leaving depresses me more than I can explain. Yes, I have many friends here, whom I'll miss terribly. Yes, I have years of memories here. But it's more than that. This city feels more profoundly like home, more like me, than anywhere I've ever lived. Even if I didn't know a soul here, I'd still be happy.
I moved here right after graduating from college, and I'd only been here for two months when I went back west to see my family for a long weekend. It was a lovely weekend. But what I remember about that weekend was when I returned: I caught a cab back to my apartment from the airport, and when the city first came into view my shoulders relaxed, I smiled, and I thought, involuntarily (even though a moment later I realized how weird it was to think this), "Ah. Home."
Of course, I do feel "at home" in Northwest City, just as I feel at home in Grad School City; I don't feel as strongly about either place as I do about This City, but I still miss things about both and I enjoy every single visit I make to each. And I'm quite sure that I'll like New City--in fact, I already like it. But I've been crying off and on for the last few days at the thought of leaving This City; it just feels like the worst break-up of my life.
Part of the reason that I'm so afraid of leaving is that I remember what it was like last time. Leaving This City to start grad school was sad, but I was sick of my job; I was looking forward to my program; I wasn't moving too far away; and I'd come to realize how completely and utterly over my head in debt I'd be if I stayed here. Also, I had no idea that I'd be gone for so long--I began grad school as an M.A. candidate.
Within perhaps 15 months, or by the time I was officially a second-year student in the Ph.D. program (I applied in December of my M.A. year, got in, and continued straight on through), however, I lost whatever it had been--excitement? fear?--that had propelled me through year one, and I became deeply, deeply unhappy. Yeah, that's grad school for you, and I knew then that most of my unhappiness was due to academic and social stress, but what I fixated on was how I was going to get back to This City.
For about a year I considered dropping out, but once I'd started to get excited about my research and teaching I decided, instead, that I could move at the end of my fourth year--as long as I had my finances in order and money saved up. I worked a part-time job and stayed in my tiny, cheap apartment, paying down an amazing amount on my credit cards [alas, that debt has now returned, and then some]. I amassed enough money for movers and a rental deposit. And of course, in the interim, I spent many weekends here, I cried every time I listened to certain songs, and each time I talked to my friends here, I'd say, "In a year and a half. . . a year from this month. . . in just over six months. . . in eight weeks. . . I'll be back."
Obviously, I did get back, and I've been lucky enough to have had three years here rather than the two I anticipated. And even though living here involved working even more hours at a different part-time job (and, this year, commuting more than two hours each way to my lectureship), I HAVE been happy to be here, and just about every moment of it; I've certainly been saner and healthier on a daily basis than I ever was in Grad School City.
So I'm afraid of leaving at least in part because I'm afraid of missing this place that much again--even though I know that leaving it for a real job, a nicer apartment and a better life is quite a bit different than leaving it for grad school. And I suppose that I'm at least half hoping-against-hope that I'll be able to work my way back here again in another five or seven years (or that George Washington Boyfriend will get a job here, which is really rather more likely).
That's part of what I mean when I talk--or when my subconscious talks--about taking the long way home.
But good things did happen while I was in Grad School City, and even if I wasn't happy while I was actually there, I returned here as a person whom I like much more than the person I was when I left. So I'm wondering whether maybe I shouldn't be thinking of "home" differently: as a state of comfort and satisfaction with oneself and one's life--personally, professionally, socially. Even if I never love another city as much as I love This City, it's possible that there might be enough compensating factors, elsewhere, that I don't notice the loss.
Maybe that's what my subconscious has meant by that statement all along.