Monday, May 9, 2011

On being one with the tumble weed

Posts on Academic Jungle, Alethiography, and Academic-Garden have very different thoughts on the omni-present issue of moving cities as one changes universities and gains seniority as an academic. It got me thinking.

In college, a friend of mine told me that he measured his happiness by how few keys he had on his key ring. Each key represented responsibility, and he wanted the freedom to pick up an leave and see a different part of the world whenever he wanted. I wanted to embrace that outlook, but the first time I found myself key less, I felt stranded, rootless, homeless. I am not good at being one with the tumbleweed. But as scary as it was, at one point in my life, I liked to think of myself as an explorer, armed with my courage (and of course the financial means to travel) setting out to learn what I could of the world. Ah, the heady days of I-just-graduated-college naiveté.

I'm currently living in my sixth metro area, the fifth of my adult life. I used to embrace each move as an opportunity to seek out a new city, discover new things about the world. Learn to live as the locals do of each country and city I've made my temporary new home, and suck it dry, like I was scouting it out as a potential permanent home. It was a grand adventure, I learned more about myself, my heritage, this great country I am a citizen of with each move. The heartbreak of losing touch with friends scattered over the globe is real, but worth the excitement of a new experience.

But this last move to my post-doc has been incredibly hard. It's been nearly two years, and I haven't adjusted. I haven't been able to do make the friends and find that local haunts and search for the heartbeat of my new home in the same way I dove into my last several. My current exploration of cities seems limited to finding which parks are best for which age of infant.

My brother had a different experience. He went to college in the same metro area we grew up in. Instead of traveling and working after college, he went straight to graduate school after college to the second metro area of his life. Recently, he's had to weigh the options of moving away to a different city for a post-doc versus staying in the area to resolve his own budding two-body problem. While I find myself craving the constancy of a permanent position so that I can again find the rhythm of a community, not with the rush and fervor of my past, but with, and on the time frame of my toddler weekend planner, my brother is full of what ifs and regrets about the lost opportunities (the undiscovered coffee shops, the unexplored used record stores)
of not building a home in a new city. What we wouldn't do to change places.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't moved around as much as you have, but I certainly know where you're coming from. Although, I have to say, lately I have been pining for some stability. It just takes so much energy to make new friends in each place, and I feel like I'm robbing myself of some strong long-term friendships. Oh yea, and moving absolutely sucks. But the desire to explore new cultures and places has been just as strong. It's a tough balance. I suppose, one day (hopefully!), that's what sabbaticals will be for, right?!