Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The longest way round is the shortest way home

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.


Ianqui said...

It's sad when we have to leave the cities that are most comfortable to us. My most intensely happy period of my life was when I lived in Barcelona, of all places. Because I wasn't so busy when I was there, I had a lot of time to explore and get to know the city well. I knew things that people who'd lived there all their lives had just never noticed, because it was too mundane in their minds. That's why I'm trying not to take NYC for granted--I'm trying to learn and see the weird things, the minutae, so that I don't miss a thing.

Anyway, maybe someday you'll be able to be back, as you hope. And you'll probably be happier that you took the opportunity in the meantime to experience other places and not miss out on anything.

Hilaire said...

Oh gosh - it's not always that you inhabit cities, is it? Sometimes the city inhabits you. This is hard. I will be thinking of you over the next few days. Good luck with your move - which will, of course, be on to great things.

phd me said...

I know exactly what you're talking about. The first time I walked down the Strand and into Trafalgar Square, I knew I'd come home. And I cried like my heart was breaking when I left London. Because it was a little bit. Hugs to you; even though you're off to wonderful things, you're allowed to miss the home of your heart.

App Crit said...

You'll surely make a new home in your New City, with all that makes a home.

But leaving Favorite City is never easy, and something that seems to be intrinsic to the academic life. I myself grow more attached to places, but I have friends who are more attached to the lifestyle.

I enjoyed your post. You bring up something that not many academics discuss readily.

Best of luck with the upcoming move and beginning the new position.


Sfrajett said...

I too dreamed of getting back to The City some day, imagining that I would always want to do so. The City is so nice to us when we're young, even if we're poor. The City loves youth. The City has opera like almost nowhere else in the world. And queer theater. And new places to explore down odd side streets. And Chinese food at 2am. And wierd, cool, amazing people.

But I am in a new city now-one I thought might be temporary, and where I decide to put ever more permanent roots down every day, with every action I take in my life and career. I am still learning to love this city. I love that it is a city, but I also love its simplicity and liveability, which as you know is not the way of The City. I am beginning to feel smug about my city. I am beginning to think that it is remarkable, and that I am luckier than I ever would have been if I had planned to be here.

I think you will feel this way too. I know you will. You will take up hobbies (hiking? driving? kayaking?) that you never would have in The City. You will be glad you took this leap.
And you can have your cake and eat it, and visit The City when you like!

Best of luck with the move.

Anonymous said...

I have nothing intelligent to add, but I would like to say good luck with your move. We are going on a week straight of cleaning (well, that and work). I move into my new place tomorrow. What a pain. I can only imagine what it would be like if I was moving more than 4.4 miles away. And had furniture to speak of.


chutry said...

Like many of the other commenters, I know exactly how you feel. I've just moved from Washington, DC, the place where I have felt most at home in my life to a small city in North Carolina. Good luck with the move and with adjusting to your new place.

Chuck said...

BTW, I should have left the previous comment as "Chuck" because that's the only way you can find my blog....

Anonymous said...

As one who lives close to a house where James Joyce lived (Author of ULYSSES, I'd just like to say "Good on you!". To quote another of my - Irish -countrymen (W.B. Yeats):
"....And pluck till time and times are done
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun."

Remember also that taking a short-cut home can be disastrous - maybe not even paved, and certainly not paved with gold! Beir bua!