On the way up to Maine this weekend (my first time in Maine), I was feeling intractably out-of-place, sort of fundamentally alienated, when we came upon Portland. It seemed like a cute little city. I looked up the population in our road atlas.
“Just over 62,000,” I reported to my husband. “That might be a nice-sized city for us. Maybe we should live there next.”
I’ve always moved from place to place. As a child, I didn’t have a say in it. As an adult, I have more of a say (except maybe for this last time when circumstances pretty much gave us the boot out of Utah), but I keep trying on new places like I’m shopping for a pair of jeans. I try one pair after another, looking for one that fits or at least that feels right on me. Even when I find some that seem to fit, they inevitably stretch or I lose or gain a couple of pounds or have a baby and change shape in some subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) way, and I find myself questing again.
When I was a kid, my mom used to buy the Levi’s Shrink-to-Fit jeans. She’d put them on wet and wear them around the house until they shrunk to her particular shape. Looking online as an adult, I find articles that suggest that, with a little time, these jeans can be the best-fitting jeans of one’s life.
This seems like a reasonable idea, but I’m still hesitant. It’s quite a commitment, wearing wet jeans all day, dyeing anything I sit on (or anything that sits on me) indigo blue. And what if I put in all of this effort and they still don’t fit? I’m back to square one plus I’ve had all of that extra discomfort and wasted time. Although according to what I’ve read, I could just wet them and wear them again until they feel right.
I have a great deal of trepidation and longing around finding a place where I fit in (we’re back to talking about geographical locations again, in case you hadn’t caught up yet). I’ve known for years that this moving around habit I have is just a distraction and that this sense of alienation isn’t dependent on geographical location. Perhaps my perseverance is misplaced and rather than continuing to try new places, I should just give one place a try for a long-ish time. But it feels like such a risk to stay in one spot and wait for the fit to come with time. What if it never feels right? When do I decide to cut my losses and get out?
Driving across Nebraska, I looked out the window and saw houses in what seemed to me to be the middle of nowhere. Even in the middle of nowhere, there were people. I was perplexed by the idea that there are people who call this place home. Maybe they were born here, or maybe they’ve moved from somewhere else, but for whatever reason, they’ve thrown their lot in with Nebraska.
I’ve never had that. I’ve never had a place I’m from, and while it feels dangerous to put down stakes, you’ve got to die somewhere, right? Why not Nebraska, or Ohio or Massachusetts or Nova Scotia or Alaska? Or Bhutan or Fiji or Russia?
In Maine we saw friends we’ve not seen since we moved from California and met their friends and family for the first time. I’m sure I was a real treat to be around in this existential funk. At least I didn’t drink too much. Instead, I did my best to just let myself feel uncomfortable. I noticed the beauty of the water, the smell of the sea on the breeze, and the little frogs that I hope I didn’t smash as they hopped across the road in the glare of my headlights. I noticed these things and did my best to let them be foreign and to let myself be foreign among them.
It was a nice trip.
On the way home, just as we crossed into Massachusetts, a song by Magnolia Electric Company/Songs:Ohia came on and asked, “Why put a new address on that same old loneliness?”
I can’t outrun it, so I might as well just hang out. Maybe it will be gone once my jeans dry. If I can wait that long.