Monday, April 12, 2010

The way I see it

Today I was back at work, the whole adventure of a week away, living in the van at $3 primitive campsites in the middle of national forests, dissipating like a dream. It always happens like that, but it’s usually a little less sudden. This afternoon I was immediately immersed in the pedantic life that disappears completely from my imagination when I leave it. I keep asking myself whether I even want to get a job once I make the transition south. Do I need a paycheck, or can I make it as a freelance writer/tutor/farmer/yoga instructor/homeless person?

One of the things I did while gone was make an extensive pro-con list for both pieces of land at the top of the list. One is far away, farther from my friends and family, but also farther from development, current and future. It’s also a better deal, if I want to be farther away. But on the con list is: “potentially feel more alien?”

That’s a big question. I have learned, again and again and again, that I don’t belong anywhere. I try to belong, I pull out my chameleon colors and attempt to blend, but eventually the effort becomes to great and I run away to another place I don’t quite belong. Part of me enjoys not belonging. It’s also miserable. I remember crying, driving away from my church in Oak Park, slamming my hand on the steering wheel, saying: “I just want to belong!”

Don’t I?

I continue to have the same problem, especially with churches. I blew off church again this morning, because I can’t convince myself to even make the attempt, especially when I might be leaving again, and soon. And because it’s really hard work.

The more rural an area, the harder work it is. It’s why I felt the most belonging in Chicago, where I could be as anonymous as I pleased. I am consciously choosing the country for the next step of my adventure, but I know how much I hate for everyone else to know my business. I think I’m going in with my eyes wide open, but am I? It’s impossible to say.

When I called the Marion County commissioner to ask about a land survey, she made fun of me. “You’re not gonna find that here, hon,” were her exact words. Lovely. Or the, “You don’t sound like you’re from around here, dear,” I’ve received from landowners I’ve called. Or, “I knew y’all folks ain’t from around here.” Can I let that not bother me? Does it matter that I belong nowhere equally: not Maine, not Massachusetts, not Chattanooga, not Bangkok, not Chicago? It can’t matter much to the people who have known each other since grade school in any provincial town.

Around a campfire, a potential future neighbor told me, with a hug: “Well, you belong now.” Can I believe him? Maybe if I can decide I belong somewhere, everyone else will believe me, too. Maybe the hard part is convincing myself.


Amy said...

Maybe there's a difference between belonging and fitting in. As in, you're never gonna fit in but maybe you'll carve out a niche for yourself. Like maybe that neighborhood/county could really use an eccentric-yoga-teaching-landowning-homeless person to gossip about.

David said...

Everyone is welcome in nature. Not sure if you listen to The Dirtbag Diaries podcast, but the most recent episode is about a woman who leaves the Pacific Northwest for life in Washington DC... only to realize she didn't belong and the career she always wanted didn't make her happy. You should check it out:

Melissa said...

Thanks for the advice, both of you. It's odd, but the more I think about it, the more I think belonging really does have to come from inside of me first. I'm sure everyone's going to gossip about the Yankee moving in, but if I can believe that I belong, then it won't matter. Everyone in small communities gossip about each other anyway--maybe the gossip will just prove I belong.

wfrenn said...

I love Amy's comment! I think you would likely rebel if told how well you "fit in" in as a good ole' southern lady in Alabama. But, if you engaged, attached yourself to the people, genuinely liked them, as you did the Bahamaian local folks you wrote about so well, they will love you.
This is why I asked you if you know much about the folks in Alabama. . . .
If you come to know and appreciate their ways, understand their prejudices (without necessarily agreeing with them), and write about them in an appreciative, authentic way, they will accord you the mantle of chronicler, and be awed that they may be an important part of some of your published prose. In any case, they will hope for a place in your pantheon of characters.
Reading two years of your blog, I cannot help but notice that, while you write well about a great number of interesting subjects (religion, music, adventure, travel, love/hate relations with money, sorting out the future, and some themes of the culture wars) which make your blog thoughtful, you do not discuss human relations or human interactions much. The characters of your novels you say are characterized as rather unlikeable. Obviously, you would need to have some "good" as well as some "useless" characters in any appreciation of Alabama's finest.
Next to silence about developing your human characters in your blog, you do a pretty good job personally of "guarding your heart," though you struggle with this. I had to laugh when you wrote in this accompanying piece, "I know how much I hate for everyone else to know my business."
Anyone who has read with empathy you blog over time knows this about you, but you can see the irony perhaps. I believe that it is not for nothing that you chose to name your beloved boat, "Secret."
So, you are private. Why not?
There is always a tension between the need to "belong" and the need for "solitute" and privacy. If there is too much of either, the spirit rebels, and needs quietude. The greatest happiness is attachment (not "belonging") to someone you love and respect and who gives you
the same, including the freedom to be yourself, which takes patience and a suspension of judgment on others. This is hard to find in oneself and others, even as one strives to have a trusting heart.
Clearly, you have great love and attachments with family and dear friends. Whether they understand you or no, they wish you happiness and success defined in your own terms.
Alabama will accept you on its terms. There will be many who will sympathize with the simplicity of your back-to-the-land desire. They are not so many generations away from the barter economy themselves, and still have a great openness for helping each other by the unofficial economy of trading goods and services.
Like the Appalachian folks unitl the mid-nineteenth century, they lived in a pre-money economy! It was the things they could not get accept through money (salt, mill stones, steel plows, etc.) that gradually seduced them into the use of coin of the realm.
You have some things they would find attractive if they were not afraid: education, imagination, an adventurous sprit, writing ability, computer skills, internat and blogger knowledge, digital photo savvy, yoga, teaching and tutorial experience, and a simple faith. These (and more in your own Pro/Con list) you will have to "barter" with. Get too close to a town and you will be tempted to become a legal aide secretary or some such. Further out, you will develop really innovative relationships with neighbors who will work with you to parley their needs with your skills to give you a simple and hopefully happy way of living.
But certainly the girl from Thailand will not become the permanent settler in Alabama. I think you will always want the world to be your oyster, only now you need a little acre to call your own.
I wish you well!

The Capt'n