He's Leaving Home, Bye Bye

16 November 2001

This week, one of my friends discovered that his plans had been changed for him. He had planned to get a Master's degree at the university in the city where he lives, the city where we both grew up. But there's not enough interest for them to have the degree program, so the university has passed him on to another university a few hours away. He needs this Master's, so off he goes.

But my friend went to college in Omaha. He's never left, and he's afraid that leaving is going to take away the part of him that's part of Omaha, or the part of Omaha that's part of him, or both. I've been trying to reassure him, but in some ways he's right. He won't ever be a lifelong Omahan (or Ralstonite) again. Even if he moves back, he'll have a gap. It will be different.

Sometimes leaving home is the best thing you can do with it. If you don't leave home, you don't know what it's like when you come in on the plane in the dark, and you can trace the little towns along the highway getting bigger and bigger, until pretty soon you're watching the office buildings you've known for years flash by, all lit up. And you don't know what it's like to come around the curve of the road where you can finally see it laid out before you, home. You can't do that if you still live there. It's not the same, it's just how things are. It's like trying to appreciate your own living room. You can do it, but it takes some effort.

When you leave home, you have incentive to call the friends you keep meaning to call, when you're back in town. You're only in town for a week! You have to get something scheduled, or you're not going to get to see them! When you live in town, you tell yourself you'll call them next weekend, and often you don't. You tell yourself that soon you'll have the time to sit down and talk to Mom about what it was like when she and Dad were first married, and you don't do that, either.

When you leave home, all the things that used to be annoying change somehow. If the traffic on 72nd St. is impossible because there's still road construction, you shake your head and laugh. Or talk about that time when Jeff was convinced you were going to kill everyone driving down 72nd St. because everybody was a total jerk to you when you got your license, only now it's kind of funny.

When you leave home, you can finally give something back to your parents, because you have places that aren't their places. You can show them things, the way they showed you once, when you were too young to remember. You can do the cooking, give the directions, point out the landmarks, pull out the surprises.

When you leave home, you get to realize what you really, truly love about it, and not just what you've seen as obvious, how "everywhere" is. You lose some of the insider quality, but you can see it whole, from the outside. And you can take what you want of it when you visit. If you want it back, you can move back, although it'll never be quite the same. Isn't that one of our big cultural assumptions? "You can never go home again." It's true. But you don't have to be able to, always. Sometimes it's good enough to go where home used to be.

It's no accident that fairy tales and folktales often involved people going on quests. It's no accident that that form is popular today, either. It doesn't mean we lose our roots. It means that we become aware of them, and sometimes that we choose them. Some Omahans I know need to move back there. Some have decided that their roots aren't in the place -- their roots are in their families, their friends, or their ideals, or in a more general Midwestern culture. It's okay to love a place and leave it. I promise.

You know what? I'm not even sure I believe half of that. I just think my friend needs a change of scenery. Ask me again in half an hour, and the grand justification above will probably hold. But half an hour after that, nope, change of scenery, that's what's really important here.

Right then. The latest issue of Speculon is up! Go read it. I have a book review in it, which I will link as soon as I can -- @ Home is dealing me some fits on that topic, but I'll get it fixed and enjoy the whole issue eventually, and I know you will, too.

@ Home is Dumb. But we knew that already.

So last night, after we had Everybody's Chicken and I'd talked to Amber and we watched "The Tick," we ended up in a big discussion of alternate histories -- not so much the theory, since we've already been over that ground several times, as the practice. What's interesting, what's not. What people "had in them," considering their exhibited personalities; what they could never have been. We ended up speculating a lot on John Calvin in the absence of Martin Luther -- if Luther had died as a baby rather than starting the Reformation, what would Calvin have done? Our ideas were lots of fun, but we're still casting about for the one that "feels right" to run with. And now I'm going to have to go do research on Juana la Loca, because I've gotten just a little fascinated there, maybe a short story worth of fascinated. Let's hope it's a short story worth. My short story project list may be huge -- is huge -- but my novel project list is not even manageable at this point. It's just not.

I have lots of other stuff to say, but I already babbled a good deal, and I think I'm done for the day; I'm going to work now. Happy birthday, Cath.

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