Back to previous post: Conventional views

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Dysfunctional Families: Books on Tape

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

November 22, 2013

Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:09 PM * 70 comments

So I was back in Łódź this week, after more than two years away. Unlike my last visit, this time I didn’t have a chance to go wandering with my camera. By the time I finished work every day, it was already dark. And I wasn’t minded to be abroad in a strange city alone.

Another difference from my last visit is that this time, I came on my own. Without another English speaker along, the bubble of my own culture shrank from a shared conversational space to the surface of my own skin. Although this was useful to the purpose of my visit (about which more never, sorry), it was also tremendously isolating*.

But solitude can be a kind of crucible, you know, and loneliness a sort of still. Thrown onto my own resources, I found myself thinking about my previous reaction to the place. The blog post I wrote then reads like someone searching for gold in sand. I tried to like the city. I talked myself into almost liking it. But really, I didn’t.

What I discovered, coming back, is that Łódź has somehow become dear to me. It’s still a mess, physically†, economically, and socially. And it’s not home, and never will be. But it’s become like a stranger one sees around enough times to take pleasure exchanging nods with, someone one looks forward to seeing without the prospect of ever knowing.

I tried to express some of this to my colleagues, most of whom are from the area. One of them sent me this song by his band. It’s in Polish, about Łódź (the title might be best translated as “A Four-Letter Word”). Both his singing and the accompanying photos are full of the complex yearning of the ambivalent native. I find it compelling.

As a migrant, a seeker of new places, this is the one novelty that I have sacrificed. It’s the one place I’m not likely to ever live: the beloved, impossible homeland.


* I hasten to add that my Polish colleagues were as hospitable as anyone could wish for, from their willingness to speak English whenever I was in earshot to their very kind reactions to my few words of Polish.
† They’re now embarked on their own Big Dig, and things will get worse before they get better. But the new construction includes a lot of planned bike infrastructure, so when things get better, they’ll get better the way I like them.

Comments on Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike:
#1 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2013, 11:37 PM:

You probably didn’t think I did, but I heard
you say that Łódź is just a four-letter word.

#2 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 04:36 AM:

"Cathy I'm Łódź I said though I knew she was sleeping" seems well in keeping with your theme, and there's probably a "Łódź and Found" joke in there as well, but I'm too tired to figure that one out. The difficult thing about Łódź is that the ending is unclear and there are multiple interpretations... Enjoy the veal, I'm here 'til Thursday!

#3 ::: Alex R. Gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 05:46 AM:

I still have some Duck Soup. Hail Fredonia!

#4 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 10:52 AM:

So your bowtie wasn't really a camera.

#5 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 11:15 AM:

Soon our fortunes will be made, my darling, and we will leave this loathsome little town. Silver bells jingling from your black lizard boots, my baby. Silver foil to trim your wedding gown.

#6 ::: Kellan Sparver ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 02:08 PM:

As a migrant, a seeker of new places, this is the one novelty that I have sacrificed. It’s the one place I’m not likely to ever live: the beloved, impossible homeland.

My impression from growing up in such places even though I wasn't of them is that many of the residents would say that their pleasures are overrated, but as a fellow migrant, that perception is mediated by a value system which prioritizes certain kinds of material and social success over social cohesion, and once left such places are hard to return to.

#7 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 02:41 PM:

Kellan Sparver @6:
My impression from growing up in such places even though I wasn't of them is that many of the residents would say that their pleasures are overrated, but as a fellow migrant, that perception is mediated by a value system which prioritizes certain kinds of material and social success over social cohesion, and once left such places are hard to return to.

I've seen that particular tension before, in friends from small-town America who came to Europe. They ended up going back, but not to their hometown. It was clear to them that having left was an irrevocable choice, and they would never fit in again. They moved to a large city nearby instead.

I don't know why my colleagues stay in Łódź. They're all IT professionals, and many of them are young, childless, and relatively mobile. I gather from conversations here and there that staying is a kind of a bond, almost a point of pride.

I think this post arises partly out of a feeling that I've fled the United States rather than staying to help tackle its problems. I admire my colleagues for making what seems to me to be the more difficult, but more honorable, choice.

#8 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 02:49 PM:

Abi, 7: Given what's going on in the US right now, I think oxygen-mask rules apply. Besides, when you decided not to come back, it wasn't that bad yet. Even more, you chose Scotland for love, and after that it was no longer your choice alone.

#9 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 02:49 PM:

abi: as a fellow parent, I suggest that staying in the trenches is a slightly less difficult choice when you're not asking your kids to stay in there with you.

#10 ::: Kellan Sparver ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 03:11 PM:

I think this post arises partly out of a feeling that I've fled the United States rather than staying to help tackle its problems. I admire my colleagues for making what seems to me to be the more difficult, but more honorable, choice.

I struggle with your characterization of it as a more honorable choice, largely because it wasn't mine to choose -- my family left "home" when I was young, and has never since been settled. Inasmuch as I had the choice to settle myself and try to integrate, I chose not to. (And there were a host of factors there, not the least of which being that the place I might have settled was not welcoming to people of my sexuality.)

Choose your battles, I guess might be what I am trying to say, don't let them choose you.

#11 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 04:09 PM:

TexAnne @8, Lila @9:
We considered moving to the US a few years ago, and concluded that we couldn't afford the health insurance. Not that we have preexisting conditions, but it just seemed...uncertain and expensive.

Now, no, neither of us wants to go there. Maybe when things get saner. But I still feel like I abandoned everyone else.

Kellan Sparver @10:
my family left "home" when I was young, and has never since been settled. Inasmuch as I had the choice to settle myself and try to integrate, I chose not to.

I suspect that my children will be in a similar situation. We are in the Netherlands, but not of it. And even if we went back to what they consider their home country (Scotland), they would find themselves already outwith the culture there.

(And there were a host of factors there, not the least of which being that the place I might have settled was not welcoming to people of my sexuality.)

I'm sorry to hear that. That adds a layer of difficulty to the situation.

Choose your battles, I guess might be what I am trying to say, don't let them choose you.

But they always choose us, unless we're entirely in control of our lives. And we're not, even those of us who choose where we live.

#12 ::: Kellan Sparver ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 06:19 PM:

Now, no, neither of us wants to go there. Maybe when things get saner. But I still feel like I abandoned everyone else.

It might just be that I live in a very comfortable sort of bubble, but from where I sit the country is substantially saner now than it was a decade ago. This health care stuff -- it's all over but the shouting. Gay marriage, even, the tide has turned. There's a rump which is very unhappy and willing to do almost anything to express that unhappiness, but they're increasingly marginalized, and demographically they're on the way out.

The pendulum will swing back eventually, of course, and the gains are not evenly distributed, and there are worrying countertrends in other areas, but I think we're going to make substantial enough progress that it won't all be rolled back.

But they always choose us, unless we're entirely in control of our lives. And we're not, even those of us who choose where we live.

I spoke with more certainty than I possessed, but -- I think I could argue that I left rather than fighting to make a place for myself, and that that was dishonorable, but -- it was one of me against thousands of them. Even if I'd succeeded, they would have destroyed me. I don't believe that it's dishonorable to retreat when the odds are against you.

(And I'm uncomfortable with the martial metaphor that I've introduced here for social interactions -- it was the first to hand, but it sets up an oppositional us-versus-them dynamic which I don't like, even though it sure felt true often enough while I lived there.)

I suspect that my children will be in a similar situation. We are in the Netherlands, but not of it. And even if we went back to what they consider their home country (Scotland), they would find themselves already outwith the culture there.

I think a lot depends on the kind of place that you've built for them, and the kind of place that you're in. Being in a large city where there are substantial immigrant populations is a very different experience than being in a small, relatively homogeneous town. (Ironically, like your children I also grew up among the Dutch -- a population who immigrated to the US in the 19th century and stayed remarkably cohesive.)

The stability of their upbringing also matters. I grew up expecting that we might need to move on about a month's notice at any point. We moved remarkably little for how ever-present its possibility was, but I think it was that possibility as much as the fact of our outsider status that drove my alienation.

In a different community, with a different upbringing, I would never have been a native, but I might not have become a migrant in my turn either.

I've been in Boston now longer than I've lived anywhere else, and I'm struggling to learn how to put down roots in a place, and to decide if I want to. All I have of the idea of being settled is from the outside looking in -- I have the image of a child standing at a window in the snow on Christmas Eve, watching the family inside celebrate around the hearth. But I don't know how to build that thing inside, or what I would be trading off to live like that.

#13 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 07:20 PM:

I studied abroad in college, and while I didn't suffer much from homesickness, by the time nine months had elapsed there were certain things about home--food, mostly--that I was quite eager to re-acquaint myself with. In the period of build-up and anticipation before returning home, however, I suddenly realized that once I was back I wouldn't be able to get any of the things to which I had grown accustomed abroad. For the rest of my life, no matter where I was, there would always be something from somewhere far away that I would not have. I would always be missing something, always be caught between.

#14 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 23, 2013, 08:20 PM:

Possibly pertinent: 16 people talk about things they couldn't get people 'back home' to believe about the US.

Some of them I could have predicted, others not so much. Apparently tipping looks 'greedy' on the part of the workers to some people from non-tipping cultures? Instead of what it actually is, which is a moral choice by employers to force customers to pay service workers directly instead of giving them a full wage.

#15 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 12:08 AM:

abi @ 11: But I still feel like I abandoned everyone else.

Your work, here, on this site -- that's the opposite of abandonment. It has changed people's lives, even those of lurkers and semi-lurkers like me. Not all of us are in the US, of course. But many of us are.

There must be folks who've done more to help the US than you've done here. I'd even say I know some of them -- the Catholic Worker couple an hour down the road, for instance. But I also know that the difference you make is real, and extraordinary.

#16 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 01:15 AM:

To continue the questionable martial metaphor, Abi, those of us in the trenches need observers in distant places (hilltops, balloons, and planes, in the WW I version of the metaphor) where they can give us different perspectives on how the battle is progressing, and where we should advance next.

#17 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 06:52 AM:

Kellan Sparver #12 - from Scotland, it looks like the USA has some things in common with the UK - the culture war was won, gay marriage is in the process of becoming legal, sexism and such are more widely known about and the fightback continues, and lots of other things.
However on the economic front, things are getting worse, e.g. in the UK many more people are using food banks, and it is worse in the USA, as well as the important matters of income and wealth inequality getting worse and various forms of political deadlock. (E.g. in the UK the lib-dems decided to agree to all the major disruptive and as it turns out wasteful, greedy and stupid proposals the Conservatives had, concenting themselves with some tinkering round the edges)

So depending on how you look at it, the US and UK are more and less sane than they were 10 or 20 years ago. In some ways we are better off socially, but economically we aren't.

#18 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 07:13 AM:

I lived in Canada for six years, between 1969 and 1975. It seemed a much saner place than here. Still does, despite Stephen Harper and Rob Ford. But I came back, because Canada never felt like home.

What guthrie said.

#19 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 09:30 AM:

It took eight years before I thought at least once a day that moving where I am was a horrible mistake. It then took three years before I'd think of flying back here from trips to the Bay Area as going back home.

#20 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 11:08 AM:

Kellan Sparver @ 12 (cf guthrie @ 17): I think you're being optimistic about even the social direction of the US. Universal health care has been so badly handled, and the House so gerrymandered against the Democrats, that the 2014 and/or 2016 elections could break it; the military tipping \may/ have secured some level of gay rights, but I wouldn't assume it. There are so many people willing to spew lying hate (for leverage or because they truly believe the filth), and so many millions of people who (by all polls) agree with them, that I can't be optimistic about the future. What really worries me is the likelihood that Republican control will finish the economic destruction wrought by Reagan and the Bushes -- at which point the country could very easily slide rapidly backward.
      I've lived in Boston for ~40 years and still wonder how much I mistake local humanism for the attitudes of the country as a whole -- and then I look at the South Boston parade (and the Globe letters column) and realize that even local humanism has holes in it.

Getting back toward the heart of the thread:

What I get about Poland via the MSM suggests a place that has gone seriously conservative, so it's interesting to hear that they are including bike paths; these weren't a part of our Big Dig (and even the mass transit promised as a way to get the money for cars has been repeatedly delayed), but they may get added (now that there's room on the surface) as part of a more recent move.

abi @ 7: I wonder how many of the people who didn't return to their small towns found that there wasn't a town to return to? I'm sure that the explosion in my hometown is off to one side of the bell curve, but a lot of places do change. (Missing features of my childhood: a dairy farm (possibly tax-dodging) across the road, sheep at the foot of the road, a space for traveling-circus tents where a shopping center later (but >40 years ago) opened.) Some of the changes are interesting reversions (the county-seat downtown that was erased in favor of a mall, now replaced by rather twee streets) and some things are strangely stable (the county seat still has a volunteer fire department, although I wonder whether the new buildings that replaced the tat around the erased blocks have to pay more for insurance than in neighboring communities). The Rilke quote about the stranger coming home is only part of it; in the US at least, home can be strange even before the stranger returns.
      I left sort of gradually, over many years -- but I was always looking for some place closer to a major city. (I was never remote, but hardly convenient.) That may be part of the answer to my question above -- "How do you keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree?" is a crude joke, but has a kernel of truth: many of the people willing to leave at all won't be content with what they find when they get back.

#21 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 11:53 AM:

20
When I was a a HS reunion several years ago, we had a walking tour of the main street with a historian. We were remembering what was there when we were in school, and it was stuff she didn't know. Some stuff hadn't changed, or not much.

#22 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 12:04 PM:

One of my real concerns about the US is the hollowing-out of collective goods such as public education. The disjunction between what my kids are studying in their Dutch schools (second language starting at 9, third starting at 12, etc) and what I understand to be the curriculum in the US is pretty notable. And the stories of teachers buying school supplies and the like make me cranky.

Another exaple: roads. Anecdata, I know, but when I was back in California this summer, I was shocked at the state of the roads. Major traffic arteries were potholed, patched, and crumbling. Meanwhile, not only is Łódź redoing its major roadways, but the new (since my last visit!) motorway from Warsaw to the city is beautifully constructed and cuts the journey time in half.

(Dutch infrastructure maintenance is yet another order of magnitude more pervasive, effective and, alas, disruptive.)

A third thing: working conditions. Both Poland and the US have substantial restrictions on how and why you can lose your job. Both of them mandate sick leave, maternity leave, and vacations.

Re returning: Three years ago, I went back to the very rural area where I spent some of my childhood. It's never been a peaceful or drug-free community, but now it's losing young people to meth at a frightening rate. Makes a person long for the good old days of drunk driving and drunk shooting, apparently.

#23 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 12:54 PM:

abi @ 22... One of my real concerns about the US is the hollowing-out of collective goods such as public education

Prop 13 again?

#24 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 01:12 PM:

abi: next time you go to Lodz, try to stay there for Saturday morning and go to the parkrun. Take part if possible, running or walking. See something that brings out the best in people (it's all managed by volunteers, and it's free, and I've never been to the Lodz parkrun but I can practically guarantee that you will be hugely welcomed and find it a great experience).

#25 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 04:40 PM:

23
The charter-school movement, more recently. The charter schools cherrypick the top students.

#26 ::: brotherguy ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 04:47 PM:

From Detroit, I went to school in Boston, then away for grad school; but my dream was always to return to Boston, settle down, and "become a native." I did return. But after 5 years of trying, I realized I would never fit in. I couldn't explain why; I just knew, by age 30, it wasn't going to happen.

So instead I chose to be a nomad. Peace Corps (two years in Africa); academic jobs in a places with no friends or family; and then, finally, the Jesuits, who sent me overseas. OK, I have actually been in the same location for 20 years now; but despite my last name I am not Italian, and never will be. And that's OK.

It's actually a relief, to be honest.

They're moving me back to the US next year. I am looking forward to it in some ways, but I will also miss being able to sneer at the latest American pop-outrage, saying "I haven't lived there in years, you know..."

Two Africa stories:

1: This quip was passed around widely in my Peace Corps group, from a guy the year before ours, an African-American: "I came to Africa to find my roots; and I found out my roots were in Chicago."

2: When I left for Kenya, a friend asked me if I was worried about being homesick and not fitting in. I replied, "well, at least in Africa I will know why."

ps-- that S&G song always sends shivers up the spine, for lots of personal reasons. (For one, I used to live near Saginaw.)

#27 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 05:21 PM:

Brother Guy @26:
When I left for Kenya, a friend asked me if I was worried about being homesick and not fitting in. I replied, "well, at least in Africa I will know why."

Are you familiar with the Philip Larkin poem, The Importance of Elsewhere? It's one of my touchstones as a long-term migrant, for precisely that reason.

#28 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 07:38 PM:

abi... I for one, being the selfish person that I am, would have been happy with the knowledge of your living in the Bay Area because we'd meet more frequently than every 3 years. And your presence would be good for the state and maybe for the country. Just saying.

#29 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: November 24, 2013, 09:47 PM:

I went back to Wales, and found that both it and I had travelled far from each other. I still had enough Welsh to bridle at being called a "sais", but I was not home there. Home is here.

And yet, and yet...

I have what Aboriginal people would call an oak dreaming. I missed the light of home, that endless aching transparent immensity, the clarity; and still the silver-grey and mist of a North Wales morning seemed right to me.

#30 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2013, 12:10 PM:

Re: #23, 25 -- Here in Ohio, some charter schools are crashing and burning. I've only seen one article on a charter that was doing well.

Worse yet, some have "imaginary" students which they are getting cubic buttloads of money for, and now have to pay it back because they either got caught or had to disclose these facts during said crashing and burning.

One of the parts of the school levy that was voted down was a section that granted part of the levy money to charter schools. One more reason why I voted against it. Considering how poorly our board has done at oversight of the public school system, I sure wouldn't trust them to keep an eye on the charters.

#31 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2013, 12:48 PM:

PJ Evans @ 25... Thus taking money away from public schools. Is this more of the GOP's strategy to starve an organization so that it can't do its job, thus justifying its dismantling?

#32 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2013, 01:06 PM:

abi @7, "a feeling that I've fled the United States rather than staying to help tackle its problems."

ha. I fled South Africa for the US in the late 80s and have laboured under a sense of guilt ever since.. a different guilt than that abundantly provided by living there, though, so at least it was a change of sorts. Then again I had a delusional set of notions about the US, which has degenerated faster than I would have thought possible. My children may have to leave America to find a better life.

http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/1721/the-art-of-poetry-no-70-czeslaw-milosz
"A loss of harmony with the surrounding space, the inability to feel at home in the world, so oppressive to an expatriate, a refugee, an immigrant, paradoxically integrates him in contemporary society and makes him, if he is an artist, understood by all. Even more, to express the existential situation of modern man, one must live in exile of some sort."

So, all this wandering would be good for my art, if I had any.. ha again.

#33 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2013, 01:29 PM:

While we're sharing our texts on being migrants, nomads and travelers, here's the one I use to counterbalance the Larkin.

A few pages back, I wrote that a man belonged, in these days, to a variety of countries; but the old land is still the true love, the others are but pleasant infidelities. Scotland is indefinable; it has no unity except upon the map. Two languages, many dialects, innumerable forms of piety, and countless local patriotisms and prejudices, part us among ourselves more widely than the extreme east and west of that great continent of America. When I am at home, I feel a man from Glasgow to be something like a rival, a man from Barra to be more than half a foreigner. Yet let us meet in some far country, and, whether we hail from the braes of Manor or the braes of Mar, some ready-made affection joins us on the instant. It is not race. Look at us. One is Norse, one Celtic, and another Saxon. It is not community of tongue. We have it not among ourselves; and we have it almost to perfection, with English, or Irish, or American. It is no tie of faith, for we detest each other’s errors. And yet somewhere, deep down in the heart of each one of us, something yearns for the old land, and the old kindly people.

Of all mysteries of the human heart, this is perhaps the most inscrutable. There is no special loveliness in that gray country, with its rainy, sea-beat archipelago; its fields of dark mountains; its unsightly places, black with coal; its treeless, sour, unfriendly looking corn-lands; its quaint, gray, castled city, where the bells clash of a Sunday, and the wind squalls, and the salt showers fly and beat. I do not even know if I desire to live there; but let me hear, in some far land, a kindred voice sing out, “Oh, why left I my hame?” and it seems at once as if no beauty under the kind heavens, and no society of the wise and good, can repay me for my absence from my country. And though I think I would rather die elsewhere, yet in my heart of hearts I long to be buried among good Scots clods. I will say it fairly, it grows on me with every year: there are no stars so lovely as Edinburgh street-lamps. When I forget thee, auld Reekie, may my right hand forget its cunning!

—Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters

#34 ::: Clarentine ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2013, 01:36 PM:

Several years ago, we moved out of the suburbs to a friend’s farm, which we had intended to buy once our house in town sold. The house sold, but the mortgage company which had given us mortgage pre-approvals choked when it was discovered the property was valued at considerably more than the house we were living in. (We could still buy the property if we moved from a residential mortgage to a mortgage designed for farmland, and only if we upped our deposit from 10% to 20%--not a realistic possibility.) Needless to say, we wished we had known that before we moved, because now we had to move again, at considerably shorter notice. I’d been anxious since we left the house we’d owned, and this did not help. We’d only been on the farm six months when we left. We hadn’t had time to do any of the grand things we’d imagined.

We did manage to find another small farm to buy (on a residential mortgage, with our 10% down payment, with house value and land value better balanced). I jokingly noted to friends that moving twice in a single year was a wonderful way to downsize one’s household property. And yet, I was still feeling anxious and rushed. Couldn’t settle down on any project. My husband talked about painting the rooms, and I delayed.

It took about three years before I suddenly realized I was waiting for the other shoe to drop again, to have to move again.

I’d grown up in a military family, moving every couple of years as my father’s duty station changed, and I’d gotten very used to coping with the change in community and household circumstances; moving had a lot to recommend it when one never did fit in. I was always prepared to pack and leave. (I remember being astonished to learn a high school buddy still lived in the house where he was born.) I was later in the service myself, and the not setting down emotional roots thing was not uncomfortable, not anymore. Afterward, though, we were in that house in the suburbs for fifteen years and I’d relaxed my vigilance…until we moved.

As a coping strategy, the ability to just up and move is a wonderful thing, but it definitely has long term effects. I realize now that I have never really known home, and am not sure I even can, aside from the home I carry around with me. But I’m damned certain I’m going to try to know this place where I am now.

#35 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: November 25, 2013, 06:34 PM:

An old and sexist simile, which maybe you can save for your circumstances by substituting relationships that are relevant to you.

A man's home town, if he is lucky enough to have one, is like his mother. He never stops loving the place, and it will always be at the root of his life, but once he's left he feels no urgent need to go back. He carries his love for it in his heart. He rarely phones his mother either. Certainly not as often as she wants him to. Its not that he doesn't love her, but his love for her is grounded in the past, not the present, and he doesn't feel the continual need to be reinforcing it.


But the first town he lived in when he left home is more like his first girlfriend. Especially if he went there to go to university and then moved somewhere else. Whether they were good times or bad times they will always be remembered - but you can't go back. Or if you do it will never be the same Its always going to be the land of "might have been", clothed in nostalgia and longing and disappointment which is why there is so much emotionally over the top English literature, especially poetry, about Oxford and Cambridge.

But the place he settles down in and works in and makes a home in is more like marrying a wife. He can't take it for granted, he can't push it aside into fantasy, he has to work at keeping love alive.


But the town he lives and works in is more like a wife.

#36 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2013, 10:11 AM:

abi @ 22: weak language teaching is hardly new. I went entirely to private schools in the 1960s; there was no serious language instruction until 9th grade. I knew what serious language instruction was; as a consequence of my father's age (discussed elsewhere) our post-retirement vagabondage happened when I was 11, but for me much of the travel was replaced by school in French Switzerland. As a result, I had a gut course all through high school; possibly I should have started German, but I can be very lazy.

brotherguy @ 26: did you know Richard Harter at all? (A long-time NESFAn and anti-NESFAn -- don't know whether he was one of the Friday-night-Chinese crowd that gathered at the MITSFS around the time you were Onseck, but you may have seen him as Master of the Universe in Captain Future Meets Gilbert and Sullivan at Boskone ca. 1971.) He moved back to his family home (South Dakota farming community, pop ~1000) to assist his mother's last years and ended up settling there after ~30 years in Boston. In his last years he said that when traveling he'd tell people he came from Baja Canada.
      (I managed not to parse your name in previous posts, and I can't even blame that on caffeine shortage as I don't do caffeine.)

Dave Luckett @ 29: the abovementioned Harter wrote about his return to where he grew up; unfortunately, richardharter.com is not searchable. (I was looking for "I Am a Martian", which IIRC speaks about returning to one's burrow after long adventuring.) It's nice to have such a place exists to go back to; my home area has been "developed" so much that the land I knew is gone. (And I'm not sure it even matters; the first time I rode out of New York City into New England it felt like coming home, even though I'd kept DC roots during the 3 years I'd been based north of NYC. Different people, different bindings.)
abi @ 33: and yet RLS was buried in (IIRC) Samoa; I don't know whether it really became a second home, or returning no longer mattered to him or wasn't possible. (The last wouldn't surprise me -- transporting a corpse such a distance would have been no small operation then.)

#37 ::: CHip has been Gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2013, 10:14 AM:

Thanksgiving leftovers will be an abundance in 2 days -- or do they not believe in jam tomorrow? (one URL, and that as plain text....)

#38 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: November 27, 2013, 04:00 PM:

@37 I'd read all the usual Stevenson novels, but The Silverado Squatters (bought from a secondhand bookstore in Sacramento when we lived there) made me love him..

#39 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 12:55 AM:

My children go to a charter school. Places are filled by sibling preference, and then by lottery. There may be charter schools that cherry pick the best students, but it isn't universal.

#40 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 09:03 AM:

Juli Thompson @39: In Chicago, charters fill their seats by every method imaginable, from straight tests to straight lotterys and weirder things between.

But the unfair advantage that charters have over pure neighborhood public schools -- in Chicago, at least -- is that they can kick kids out that are a problem, or just aren't a good fit. This ends up having a selection pressure on their student bodies, leading to a nontypical mix of kids that generally perform a lot better and pay attention in class and generally really are on board with whatever the charter's education style is.

A Chicago neighborhood school, on the other hand, must take every child who lives within the boundaries and turns up at their door able to prove residence -- even if they turn up in February having just moved in. Even if an extra thirty kids turn up after winter break (having just moved in ... or been kicked out of charters or private schools) and there really aren't seats or teachers to serve them: the school must deal with it, and all of it counts on their 'ranking' scores.

So any time I see a charter trumpeting about their amazing test scores serving 'underserved' or 'underprivileged' populations, I go digging about how many kids were there the first day of school that aren't anymore in May, and why those kids left ... and where they went. There are several south-side schools that regularly get 15-40 kids dumped on them EVERY YEAR right before the standardized-testing day because their previous, charter schools all over the city didn't want them dragging down the score, so 'counseled them out'.

#41 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 12:16 PM:

Elliott @40: That's helpful.

One of the ongoing issues at our school has been between parents who see this as a private academy that doesn't charge tuition and those who see it as a public school that educates everyone. A previous administration fired the entire excellent, Mandarin-speaking special ed staff. There was an explosion, apparently they hadn't processed that the high percentage of students receiving services translated to parental support.

I don't question that schools prefer not to deal with students out of their educational box. It's easier. I also don't have a problem with schools having different boxes, because not all students are alike. I have a real problem with our geographically based system, and I'm glad it's finally breaking down, along with the agriculturally based school year.

The key, of course, is that entrenched priviledge will use this to create a permanent underclass. My efforts in education policy go towards fighting for a decent educational option for all kids. Charter schools can be a part of that.

#42 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 12:47 PM:

My parents moved from a small town in Pennsylvania to Belgium when I was 8 years old. It was prompted by my dad's job. Looking at that now, as an adult, I'm amazed at their nerve. We didn't live entirely in the expatiate "bubble", because we were outside of Brussels. Over the 7 years we were there, I attended a mix of local and American-curriculum schools. I consider it a good experience to have had, and am grateful to my parents.

I'm considering a far smaller change—moving from the People's Republic of Portlandia to Pittsburgh. I did CERT team training, and the more I learned about the San Juan de Fuca subduction zone and the magnitude 8 to 9 earthquakes that hit the Pacific Northwest, the more I wanted to opt-out. They happen on average every 311 years, and the last one was January, 1700.

Pittsburgh came to the top of the list because it has high tech jobs, a lively enough arts scene to include professional theatre companies, wonderful art museums and great universities. It's pretty (the steel and its pollution are long gone) with rivers and hills. The real estate prices are such that I can sell my house in Portland and buy one there in a walkable urban neighborhood like Shadyside or Squirrel Hill.

Anyone have experience with Pittsburgh, or a fervent recommendation of another city? We ruled out Austin as too hot, and I'd feel compelled to spend too much time protesting at the legislature. Boston seemed too expensive, and even nastier winters. Burlington, VT is too small.

#43 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 01:21 PM:

One of the penalties of being a migrant: I feel terribly alone, almost excluded, on Thanksgiving, seeing all of my friends and compatriots celebrating.

Halloween is easier; it's a kids' thing, and there's Sint Maarten shortly afterwards for them. The Fourth of July is in the summer; it's warm and there are plenty of distractions. Christmas is celebrated here as well. But Thanksgiving is pretty isolating.

#44 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 01:23 PM:

janetl #42: No recent experience, alas, as I've been roaming the Southwest for 30 years, but I grew up in Pittsburgh.

It was pretty in the '70s and early '80s, as the steel mills were beginning to decline. Now it's beautiful. There's stil good public transit and great parks. Were it not for my wife's need for a dry climate, we'd seriously consider retiring there.

#45 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 03:38 PM:

I can see how that would feel isolating, abi.

One virtual pumpkin pie (or alternate traditional food of her choice) being delivered to you, with gratitude for your many contributions to the community here.

#46 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 04:38 PM:

Abi, I totally understand that. It wasn't birthdays (even my own), or summers that hit hard having moved away; but it was Thanksgiving, when all my school mates went home for the weekend and I was 3000 miles away.

Eventually, after I noted it, and it turned out there were a couple of people like me (whose families were too far away) and a couple of people who chose to ... stay "too busy to go home" for that weekend; there was an "expatriate" Thanksgiving dinner run as a potluck for a couple of years. It really helped.

Of course that was all in Octobers, Canada being what it is. Cheers to all celebrating (and strength to all organizing and preparing!), and I hope at least the virtual community of ML and elsewhere for those else.

#47 ::: Mycroft W celebrates with the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: November 28, 2013, 04:42 PM:

Ah, the problems with discussing Gunaxftvivat and sympathetic offerings. I hope that this discussion of Zurichian non-holidaying brings memories of home to any expatriate gnomes.

#48 ::: Kellan Sparver ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2013, 03:03 AM:

CHip @36: I think you're being optimistic about even the social direction of the US.

I am being optimistic -- intentionally so, even. (I have to live in some future, after all, and I don't feel like stocking up on ammo and canned goods.) Cautiously optimistic, I think, and there are certainly reasons not to be. I guess I feel it likely that, not matter how good or bad it gets, and however much it hurts in the process, we'll muddle through somehow. Things might change such that that's no longer true, and others may draw their own conclusions from the data available to them, but for the moment, that's where I'm at.

abi @22: One of my real concerns about the US is the hollowing-out of collective goods such as public education.

This is something that concerns me too, and there are trends and counter-trends. The word 'socialism' has lost the taint among young people that it acquired during the Reagan era -- some friends of mine where just talking about a study saying that the average 18-29 year old had a better opinion of socialism than capitalism.

I think the pendulum is swinging back in favor of collective goods, and how useful that is and what form that will take remains to be seen, but the political climate here is in a state of tremendous flux right now, and I think the media picture from outside might not always give the clearest picture of that.

CHip @36, again: I've lived in Boston for ~40 years and still wonder how much I mistake local humanism for the attitudes of the country as a whole -- and then I look at the South Boston parade (and the Globe letters column) and realize that even local humanism has holes in it.

As a local humanist, this kind of thing makes me really happy, actually -- it's important to me to live in the kind of place where dissenting voices get heard, and people can disagree but live peaceably together. I've lived in places where that didn't always feel the case, and that was scary.

brotherguy @26: When I left for Kenya, a friend asked me if I was worried about being homesick and not fitting in. I replied, "well, at least in Africa I will know why."

Quoted for truth.

#49 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2013, 09:45 AM:

janetl @ 42: I'm surprised that Boston's winters seemed nastier than Pittsburgh's; what referents were you using? If I had to guess, I'd say Boston averaged more snow and less cold in the winter and milder in the summer (the sea breeze can reach past the city's heat-accumulation zone), but I don't have numbers (let alone any idea of what's important to you). I'd expect wider theater choices -- Boston hasn't been a tryout city for decades, but there are a huge number of small local companies -- but I don't know the Pittsburgh scene. I do know a Pgh native who moved back there, calling it the US's most livable city after a decade "in" Boston (actually much closer to Worcester), and at least two others who moved elsewhere for cost reasons; how much the salaries balance the costs depends heavily on what you do.

#50 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2013, 12:44 PM:

CHip @49: My weather comparison is shaky, at best. A friend who lived in Boston for awhile remembers the winter wind vividly but that's hardly scientific. I own a house in Portland, and would like to be able to buy a house in our new city without taking on more of a mortgage burden, so the real estate question is less about local prices vs. local salary than it is local prices vs. Portland prices. I'm sure that Boston, New York, San Franciso or Chicago would have more theatre choices than Pittsburgh, but it looks like Pittsburgh has enough theatre and the arts while also having affordable walkable neighborhoods in the city. I'd really like to be able to live where my husband and I can manage happily with just 1 car. I was cheered to talk to a current MIT grad student at Thanksgiving dinner who has fellow students from Pittsburgh. She said, "People from Pittsburgh seem to really love it. They all talk about looking forward to going back home."

#51 ::: Anne Sheller ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2013, 02:14 PM:

janetl - Carrie S. is a Pittsburgh resident. I don't recall her being active in this comment thread, but if you spot one she is in, she'd be likely to have useful info.

#52 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2013, 03:16 PM:

Indeed, I have lived here my whole life, less one sojourn into Southern California--which taught me, mostly, that I cannot deal with a place that has no seasons, and that LA is awful because you have to drive everywhere.

That being said, I don't know what I can say about Pittsburgh that doesn't boil down to "I like it!", and I have very little in the way of comparisons to make to other places, never having lived in any.

#53 ::: Patrick Connors ::: (view all by) ::: November 29, 2013, 05:04 PM:

Carrie S #52:
Well, you have -recent- information, which is more than I have. Last I lived there I was up near Mt. Oliver. Old friends of the family lived there, but retired to Tucson.

Their oldest son stayed, but sold the house and relocated elsewhere in town (he's a Pittsburgh firefighter) when bullet holes appeared in his car. And Google Street View of that part of town is a bit depressing. Where have the supermarkets gone?

#54 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2013, 08:47 PM:

Carrie S. @ 52: I'm pleased to see you diss LA, in contrast with Pittsburgh, "because you have to drive everywhere." I'm hoping that I can get around Pittsburgh, at least in part, by bus. Based on very little research and one brief visit, I'm thinking of looking for a house in Shadyside, or something that would similarly let me walk to restaurants and some shops. I haven't looked into the bus system yet, but I was cheered to see bus stops everywhere.

One thing that gives me pause is references to clannishness. Several sources have described Pittburghers as being wary of outsiders. I'm an extrovert who hopes to make new friends. I'm counting on volunteering on Confluence to meet fellow fans. I can get involved in software development meetups, volunteer in other local things. If I could just manage to master knitting*, I could hang out in yarn shop knitting groups.

*I've tried 3 times, over the years. I'm sufficiently coordinated, but my OCD tendencies make me convinced that I've either added or dropped a stitch, and I end up counting each row after knitting it. This is far too tedious, even for me, and I give up. Counted cross stitch is my natural thing.

#55 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2013, 09:05 PM:

janetl, 54: I just wrote and cut a helpy paragraph about finding friends through textiles. If it would help, I'm sure I can reconstruct it.

re walking: walkscore.com used to be good, though I haven't looked at it in quite a while.

#56 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2013, 09:47 PM:

TexAnne @ 55: I suspect that a kindly knitting group would let me do cross stitch with them, or I could make my 4th attempt at knitting. A friend of a friend who moved to Pittsburgh 2 years ago has joined a choir, but my voice precludes that. You've expressed a lot of happiness with Boston, which is splendid.

#57 ::: iliadawry ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2013, 11:20 PM:

Carrie S. @52: LA has seasons. It has Smog, June Gloom, Who Decided To Make It This Hot in F$@king October, and Rain.

(I am not very fond of it either.)

#58 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2013, 11:47 PM:

57
And today's season is 'What a nice day it is!'

June Gloom (which these days is as likely to be in May) comes with jacaranda flowers: purple and fragrant, covering trees.

#59 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 30, 2013, 11:56 PM:

Pittsburgh's bus system is very good iff you are going between downtown and somewhere else (or between two points that are on a route, of course). They've lately added some routes that go between neighborhoods that aren't downtown, but I haven't integrated them into my mental map as yet so I don't know how good they are. Coverage overnight is spotty, but I understand that's not uncommon in city bus systems.

#60 ::: nerdycellist ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2013, 12:59 AM:

I'm going to go on the record of adoring L.A.s seasons. The smell of orange blossoms that arrives during or slightly after the jacarandas is amazing. I never have to feel the mucus in my sinuses freeze, nor need I wilt in the humidity as I ineffectually swat at mosquitoes. I am not a native here, but have spent over a decade in this region so I feel pretty well-qualified to make these statements without being accused of enjoying the novelty of it all.

Do I have other complaints about Where I Live Now? You bet I do. So, so many complaints (Public Transit, LA. Get it together FFS!!!). Do I feel like I belong? Most of the time, no. And yes, I miss the pizza and Portillo's of my teens and early 20's. But visiting my parents last month reminded me how much I never fit into the suburban midwest, and how much less I do at this point in my life. I came back here with a little more patience for this place. It's irritating and as shallow as the cliches have it, but it does have the habit of sparking my Sense of Wonder at surprising times.

#61 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2013, 01:30 AM:

I've spent several years in Pittsburgh (intermittently, college onwards) but moved to Boston in 2006.

I really liked Pittsburgh. Living is cheap and the food is fantastic. (Both restaurants and shopping.) The museums are, as you say, great. A major down point: very few bookstores. (The Squirrel Hill B&N and the East Liberty Borders are both gone, and there are only a couple of indie places.)

I had a car in Pittsburgh but drove it rarely, except when I had a job Northside. And even then, I preferred a long bus ride (and walk) to a quick car commute, when it was possible.

I haven't found Boston winters notably worse than Pittsburgh winters. A little longer, maybe.

"...Several sources have described Pittburghers as being wary of outsiders."

The fan community and the tech community sprout from the universities; they're not culturally dominated by native Pittsburgh types. These were the social groups I hung out in, and they were like fan-and-tech people everywhere.

I miss Pittsburgh. I don't expect to move back there, though. Boston has *vastly more* fan-and-tech people, and I am now culturally enmeshed. If I ever decide I'm broke, well, we'll see.

Don't know anything about theater.

#62 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2013, 01:54 AM:

Carrie S.@59: Sounds a bit like Houston's.

#63 ::: Naomi Parkhurst ::: (view all by) ::: December 01, 2013, 07:26 AM:

Janetl @56

My knitting group (admittedly nowhere near Pittsburgh) is only called that because most of us knit. There's also crochet, spinning, embroidery, etc. Someone who did cross stitch would definitely be welcome.

It seems worth a shot, anyway.

#64 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2013, 10:07 AM:

Andrew Plotkin @ 61: A major down point: very few bookstores. I noticed that. I did visit Caliban Book Shop, which seemed like a very nice used book store.

#65 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2013, 10:33 AM:

JanetL @ 42

This goes in the "fervent recommendation of another city." Note, please, that no comparison to Pittsburgh (about which my knowledge is minimal) is intended.

My family and I live in Richmond (VA) and love it. Lots of history (from John Smith forward); the river is a never-ending delight; a huge visual arts scene; three very distinct colleges/universities (VCU--best known for arts; U of R, a liberal arts school; VUU, a major HBCU). It's entirely plausible to get around by bus and bike if you live in the city (not as easy in the surrounding counties).

It's a very varied and tolerant city. Everything from Slaughterama (it's a hipster[1] city for a reason) to opera, ballet, and two symphonies.

I can go on at greater length if desired.

A major advantage is that Virginia, as a state, is well-run. The DMV is easy to deal with; the roads are in good repair; the state pensions are well-funded.

1) I tend to think of hipster and geek as the "took it a bit too far" version of good things. "Geek" builds on the "I love it; you love it; let's love it together" impulse, getting you two-hour descriptions of the arcana of a game that you played in a laundromat as a child. "Hipster" builds on the "this is awesome--someone should keep it alive" impulse that keeps rare seeds and animal breeds around, but can become its own parody (nobody goes there--it's too crowded) on occasion.

#66 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2013, 10:48 PM:

SamChevre @ 65: Richmond does look lovely, and I adore how liberal Richmond votes! That's one of the criteria I've been checking on cities.
Can you tell me anything about the high tech job market there? One of the things that looked good about Pittsburgh was software jobs, including startups. I'm not keen on working for big companies, and definitely not the contracting world near D.C.

#67 ::: Xopher Halftongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2013, 05:28 PM:

SamChevre 65: I tend to think of hipster and geek as the "took it a bit too far" version of good things. "Geek" builds on the "I love it; you love it; let's love it together" impulse, getting you two-hour descriptions of the arcana of a game that you played in a laundromat as a child. "Hipster" builds on the "this is awesome--someone should keep it alive" impulse that keeps rare seeds and animal breeds around, but can become its own parody (nobody goes there--it's too crowded) on occasion.

You and I don't agree on much, but I think this is a very kind and charitable description of both. (I don't think 'geek' necessarily means it's been taken too far—I do try not to geek out on things that other people aren't interested in—but other than that this sounds pretty accurate.)

#68 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2013, 10:02 PM:

SamChevre @ 65: what are Richmond summers like? I was very glad to be finally quit of DC's long hot humidity (although I miss the thunderstorms the river valley also generated); I would have guessed Richmond to be worse but have never stopped there.

#69 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2013, 09:19 AM:

Xopher @ 67

Thank you!

janetl and CHip

Richmond summers are hot and humid, but not as humid as DC, because it's a bit farther inland.

The politics are interesting; Richmond is a Democratic-voting city, but it's differently-liberal than, say, Charlottesville (which is a classic limousine-liberal town). One big constituency is African-Americans, who are not-uncommonly both Democratic voters, and conservative on many social issues. Richmond also (like most of the old South) has a very strong class structure, but is also historically very tolerant. So it has had openly gay bars since WWII at least, and synagogues are scattered around the city[1]. It also has a couple openly anarchist spaces--The Flying Brick and The Wingnut.

I'm sorry, but I'm too far from the software development world to comment. (I work on my company's own internal systems, which is a very different space.)


1) It is strange to me to go to northern cities, where there are multiple synagogues in the same area of town and none elsewhere.

#70 ::: Yarrow ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2013, 10:10 AM:

janetl @ 66: Re: high tech job market in Richmond. I'm about to retire from such a job at VCU -- probably a bigger organization than you're looking for, but as bureaucracies go it's not bad, and we've got openings. Might be worth looking at Agile Richmond (maybe overweighted to the big-company side) and 804RVA (a coworking group, and therefore overweighted on the no-company-at-all side. But some time back I met one of the people involved at Occupy Richmond.)

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="http://www.url.com">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.















(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.