It’s spring break, and I just got back from visiting family – first to an east coast blue state with a super high population density to see my family, and then down south to a swing state to visit the Flying Buttress’s. I have to say that the first time I knew I was really struggling in my current, ultra-red state (like pure, red food coloring red) was when I went home over Christmas and was over the moon about being in my home state. Ever since I left that place I never had the desire to go back. Until I moved here. And now it seems completely amazing – beautiful architecture! roads that aren’t crumbling! a plethora of restaurants that don’t revolve entirely around steak! not being constantly terrified that i will be killed by wild fires, tornados, drought, or fracking juice in my water supply (that’s the technical term, right?)! Once I really realized that I was driving the same streets that I couldn’t wait to break free of as a teenager practically with my mouth hanging open in awe and jealousy, it really hit home for me how unhappy this red state makes me.
Nothing changed on this trip. This time, FB and I were both smitten with the small city that is about an hour from the very rural town in which he grew up. There is a major University there (his undergrad alma mater) and we spent too much time on the trip fantasizing about him getting a job there, living in a cute southern house, having various decent restaurants to choose from, beautiful national parks and beaches in day-trip distance, a small but active progressive community (we saw multiple queer-appearing people during one dinner out!!! omg how times have changed that that is a notable event), and his niece and nephew close by to snuggle with and read to whenever we want.
I also spent a lot of time trying to explain why I dislike our current location so much. Every time I try it sounds like a list of minor complaints – grocery shopping is a nightmare so we drive an hour to get the organic produce we grew to depend on in our last state, the one gym in town that does the kind of workout we like turned out to be run by an evangelical homophobe who played right-wing talk radio during our 7a.m. workout, most outdoor activities in this state seem to revolve around killing things or consuming a huge amount of gas in giant toys/speedboats/atvs, etc. There are also more serious concerns – I don’t want to get into details but I do want to acknowledge that there are levels of privilege that affect one’s ability to call a place home, to feel safe (physically and emotionally), and to feel like it is a place where one can thrive.
And yet, I feel the need to defend this place, too. Because I don’t think it’s impossible for progressive, queer, or gender non-conforming people to live here. In fact, we’ve found a pretty active Reproductive Justice movement that is very aware of that movement’s intersections with communities that are marginalized based on gender and sexuality. And the student body, while still largely conservative, is much more open minded and has more of a progressive leaning than I would have imagined. When I talk about this place to those who don’t know it, I feel pressure to dispel the stereotypes about red states and to remind people that there is variety everywhere and that this place is not a lost cause or filled with ignorant assholes or a waste of national resources. There are some good things and I’ve met people who grew up here and have dealt with more than I could have imagined and are still dedicated to staying and fighting and also maintaining ties with their families and communities. And that is pretty fucking awesome.
I would love to love it here. I really want that. But I just don’t think it’s going to happen. Maybe it takes growing up here to be able to feel the kinds of connections that I’ve felt in so many other places I’ve lived. I will admit to having a hard time adjusting to new places, but I am much more aware of that difficulty than I was the last time I moved, and I feel like I approached this move with that in mind. I am also not encouraged by the fact that no one we know who has been here for more than a few years has grown to love it. Everyone seems resigned – they’ve tried to get out but academia failed to provide better opportunities and so they just stay. This does not bode well for future happiness. I think it would be better if I were happier with my job (subject of a future post: why the dustbiter does not like her job), but I feel overwhelmed by what it would mean to take steps in a different direction. I have this job next year if I want it. Right now I don’t know how to let go of security and predictability for the lack of those things. I felt kinda destroyed by that last year. Maybe one more year of teaching will drive me to the edge and I will take the plunge.