Sometimes you just have to write…
Over the last several weeks I’ve blogged about all sorts of things – a Theory of Knowledge workshop I attended in Barcelona, whether or not I missed the US, procrastination, the alternative treatment I’m undergoing to cure my fear of flying – but I just realized that I haven’t blogged about the Big Stuff that’s happening in my life. I’ll write about one of them now, and post the other within a few days.
Big Stuff #1: I’m going to the US in a couple of weeks and staying for a month. This is new and different for me in a couple of ways. First of all, I haven’t been back there in four years, and it feels like even longer.
Despite the fact that I keep up with US news, and that I teach American Studies here in the Netherlands, I have never felt so disconnected from the US as I do now. I look at the trip with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The excitement, of course, is at experiencing some of the things I miss and revisiting some familiar places and faces. The trepidation is harder to put into words. I think it comes down to feeling like I’m a stranger there. For the first time, I don’t feel like I’m going home; I feel like I’ll be visiting a new country.
This is partly, I think, because I’ll be spending much of the visit in a part of the US I am not familiar with: Washington state. This trip is not a holiday, believe it or not. I’m serving as a sort of travel leader for a group of students, all future English teachers, all adults, but all filling a requirement to spend a bit of time in an English-speaking country. It’s the blind leading the blind, since I don’t feel like I know the place any better than they do.
And I suppose I feel like I’ll be visiting a new country partly because of my sense that the US has changed in some really fundamental ways. I already noticed this when I visited the year after 9-11 and was astonished to see the sheer number of American flags waving in my old neighborhood: San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, home of the hippie movement, the quintessential anti-establishment neighborhood. I was shocked at the often aggressive nationalism many people were expressing. On my next visit, in about 2005, I think, I was struck by the backdrop of fear that seemed to inform many Americans’ view of the world around them. My last visit, in 2009, was primarily to visit my 25th college reunion, so that was more about renewing friendships than observing the state of the nation.
But somehow the US has changed beyond what I remember about the place. The acrimonious presidential campaign, with its deep levels of nastiness and bitterness and polarization. The school shooting in Connecticut, and the shrill polemics that resemble debate, but where no one is hearing anyone else’s arguments. The fear of economic defeat and decline. This is not the US I remember. The US I remember had ideals, and optimism. From this distance, I’m not seeing that anymore. Perhaps I’ll be wrong, and it’ll still be there. I hope so.
The other reason this trip is different is that I haven’t been away from my husband for this long in many years. My husband and I met in the 1980’s in Malawi, where I was serving in the Peace Corps. When my contract finished and I went home, we carried on a long-distance relationship for almost three years before we finally were able to live on the same continent together and then eventually get married. Since then we haven’t been apart for more than three weeks at a time.
He and I are very independent people. We have our own activities, friends, and hobbies that we don’t necessarily share – there’s no way in hell I could get interested in stamp collecting, for example. I think that because we spent those years apart – no phone calls, no texts, only letters – we learned to be autonomous individuals, linked by affection but not needing to be joined at the hip. We even vacation separately sometimes. I remember coming home once from two weeks alone in Guatemala and visiting my grandmother. The first thing she asked me, before even saying “Hello,” was “What’s wrong with your marriage?”
But this trip feels weird; I’ll miss him, for all sorts of reasons. I’ll miss his smell and his eyes: still the warm eyes I fell in love with. I’ll miss the comfort and familiarity of the messy home we’ve made for ourselves here. I’ll miss his thoughtfulness and sense of humor. I miss him when we’re apart for shorter periods, but somehow four weeks seems to exceed some sort of barrier.
And, of course, I’ll miss the kids, though given that lately I live the double whammy of teenagers at work and teenagers at home, I might not miss them that much. A little peace might be nice for a change!
I’ll post Big Stuff #2 in a couple of days.