Thursday, July 12, 2007

Being rooted...Part One

Recently I went to a party, an annual party, of people from my Activity days. I went mainly to see and say goodbye to the host of the party, M, who is a good friend. She was leaving on a trip a few days later, so this would be my last chance to see her before moving away. My friendship with M always delights me...she's in her mid 50s, and the differences in our lives are so profound. And yet we have this wonderful connection...we always have fun.

I could only be at the party for about an hour and a half, as R had scheduled an impromptu dinner with other friends for that night. As M and I stood and talked in the kitchen, I became a little teary. So did she. I could tell she was in an unusual state. She is sweet and polite, but highly composed and no-nonsense -never one to wear her more complicated emotions on her sleeve. It's very unusual for her to cry, in public at least.

When I had to go, M took me to the foyer to see me off. And broke down, sobbing and gasping. Which set me off, too. She made a little speech through her tears about "wishing me all the best" and "have a good life," which was disconcerting, because in my mind, we'll see each other again! I'll be here, for instance, at winter break! And I left the house, sobbing. It was a jarring and unexpected experience, seeing that kind of emotional display from M. I think I was also shocked at the depth of my own sadness at saying goodbye to her.

Anyway. I walked, crying. Hurried, because I had to meet R and these others for dinner. And I realized as I walked that I was on a kind of auto-pilot...I was heading to the dinner meeting spot, which is in a strange location I don't go to that often, from M's out-of-the-way, strangely situated house, without even thinking for one moment about where I was going or how to get there.

The thing is, this complete ease of movement is because this city is in my blood. I've lived in it for twenty-five of thirty-two years, and I know it intimately. And I love it. I really love it, everything that is mundane and unassuming about it. Even writing about it right now makes me emotional.

This conjunction of moments - the emotional goodbye with M, and the sudden consciousness of my auto-pilot moving through the city - made me think about my current move in a new way. Though my upset about the move has been couched in railing against Scary City, what I am really doing is grieving the leaving of this place. So I thought as I walked and tried to compose myself about how I would be perfectly content to live here, in this city where I was born - where one of my parents, and hell, one of my grandparents were born - forever.

That, for me, is the disconnect in doing a PhD and becoming an academic. I don't want to leave my home. Of course, I didn't think about this as I did a PhD - I didn't plan a thing - and even when the probability of leaving for good loomed on the horizon, I couldn't really feel what it would mean to me. But over the last number of months, while it's been imminent, what I've been doing is grieving the loss of place.

And you know what? That day, as I walked, I thought that I would give up an academic career in order to live here, in Home City. I am not doing that now, obviously, but I don't know what will happen down the road, how much I will miss this place. I am rooted enough here that roots might trump all else. It feels rather antiquated and embarrassing to admit that, as an academic, but there you have it.


Pantagruelle said...

You shouldn't feel embarrassed or antiquated at all. You *do* live in a fabulous city (at least I think you do, if you live in your PhD Uni city).

[Come to think about it... I arrive in your city the evening of June 25th and my relatives with whom I'm staying told me yesterday they are out of town for two days, so I'll have a couple days on my own. When do you leave for Scary City? Maybe we can do that blogger meet-up after all.]

Anyway, I meant to say that everything you described seems entirely normal and reasonable to me. I have the exact same thoughts about my city (further heightened by a certain political attachment to the province as well). I think about it all the time because I don't want to leave my city (and arguably my country) either. Lack of mobility and lack of choice as to where we often end up spending the rest of our lives is the curse of being an academic. Once of my advisors in the first year of my PhD told me how his daughter got a PhD but chose not to be an academic because she didn't want to leave the wonderful state where she lives. If I don't get a decent job this year, or if I can't get one in a somewhat decent location, I'm seriously considering either law school or some kind of 9-5 job in government, despite having been *extremely* ambitious throughout my PhD and publishing now. Non-academic careers don't provide the same freedom to travel and to set your own daily schedule, but at least they offer lifestyle choices in terms of where you want to live your life and settle down. That's something very important that we sacrifice to be academics. My GF has done it too, leaving the most beautiful state in her country to live in the most backwards one for 20 years of her career. My ex-hubby and all of our prof friends at my undergrad uni made the same sacrifice and feel pretty bitter about it too. It is a very big deal.

That said, I think that you are absolutely entitled to grieve the loss of your city, and you shouldn't feel guilty or embarrassed about doing so. It is a very big thing to give up. Savour what time you have left, take in as much of it as you can, and make plans to go back home at winter break and as often as you can!

BTW, if I do get a job, and even better, if I get a job in my GF's state, she's already promised me that we could get a summer condo or sublet back in my city! I think you should seriously consider making plans to go back to your city next summer too. When all the students clear out for the summer, there are bound to be cheap sublets up for grabs. Hopefully your budget will be under control enough by next summer to be able to swing that--and you can always justify it by the fact that Home City has way better university library resources for your summer research! Heck, you could probably even get Scary City Uni to pay your plane ticket home next summer and bill it as a "research trip"! :-)

Pantagruelle said...

Oops, I meant Wed, July 25th, not June. Guess I lost a month somewhere. It obviously isn't showing in my research progress!

Hilaire said...

Pantagruelle, thank you for your vote of confidence. It does help to know that people have made similar decisions.

And, sadly, won't be here when you're in town...I leave on the 18th! We'll have to wait.

Sorry to be brusque in my comments - there's tons to say on the subject, but I'm just running out to go away for a few days.

MaggieMay said...

As you know, I've been thinking about place an awful lot lately. I think we often under-emphasize its importance-- or we like to think that as jet-setting cosmopolitan academics, our "home is the world" or some such horseshit.

And I know exactly what you mean about grieving a place, especially a place you grew up in.

Bardiac said...

This struck home with me, deeply. I think a lot of academics feel out of place. I know it didn't occur to me that I'd end up permanently far from where I imagined myself. What I do for a living, I love. But I don't love living here, mostly.

/comfort I hope your new place feels like home!

adjunct whore said...

oh, i so understand the conflation of grieving place and people and the familiar. when i left nyc i sat in the back of the car sobbing as we drove over the verazano bridge. sobbing. everything for weeks had been that heightened state of emotion, every person and place and gesture another moment to grieve.

it took over a year to stop feeling like an alien in new place and to stop going between running home and staying but in anger. we still long and hope to get back but it does get easier with time.

psychgrad said...

I can definitely relate to what you're describing. For me, I find that moving results in grieving the loss of a feeling that's bound in time. Each goodbye with an individual is representative of that. Returning to the city, I find, doesn't fully return the feeling.

But, with time, I found myself with equivalently grievable feelings when considering leaving the newer city.

Best of luck with the move! I'm looking forward to hearing how the transition goes.