June 2011 Archives

Sobriquet 73.1: On Moving and Starting New Chapters

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Looking out the window this afternoon, I see that today is of the gray, gloomy Southern Tier variety I have grown weary of slogging through during the eight years I have lived in south-central New York State. Were it not for the fact that the hills are green with arboreal life, the day would be indistinguishable from the many similar afternoons that string together to form the monochromatic and melancholy atmosphere for which this region is known, and which spans the nine months between the brief burst of early-to-mid October color and the lush greens of the all-too-brief summertime.

Although many of the towns in the region have fallen on the same hard times as countless other boom towns in America's Rust Belt, it is ultimately the weather -- that seemingly endless shroud of funereal gray clouds that blankets the population calling the area between these fertile rolling hills and glacier-carved lakes home -- that is responsible for the widespread malaise and melancholy that is considerably more severe than in poorer and more decrepit regions. The diffuse light fosters flat tones that sap the life out of otherwise beautiful natural phenomena. The glistening crystalline beauty of snow and ice is muted here; the waves of the Finger Lakes feel leaden without sunlight to bring out the sparkling blue and silver jewels in every tide; the vibrant colors of autumnal foliage seem etiolated.

Not surprisingly, I have wanted to leave almost as long as I have lived here.

My goal for this past year -- my first on the academic job market after having completed my doctorate last spring -- was to find a job that would take me away from here. There was an almost child-like quality to my desire to move away, an unusually open-to-anywhere sort of vibe that permeated my application process. Sure, I had certain geographical preferences, but I was willing to consider moving just about anywhere, from the deepest of the Deep South to the farthest of the Alaskan Far North. When I started to get interviews and had the opportunity to travel to places as varied as Southern California, Maryland, the Midwest, and the South, I noticed the same thing each time I returned home: a sense of feeling let-down, a cloud-induced claustrophobia that grips the very core of one's being and squeezes out the joie de vivre with the efficiency of a boa constrictor crushing its prey.

Now, after having accepted a job offer that will take me away from the Southern Tier and install me in a sunnier region of the country close to some of my dearest friends, I find myself confused by conflicting emotions. When I closed the semester at the university where I have been working since I moved to New York from Quebec nearly a decade ago, I felt more than a little sadness at leaving. For all my laments about the weather and the economic hopelessness, living here has provided me with some amazing opportunities for personal and vocational growth that I doubt I would have found in many other places. I always loved working with my students and I have been positively blessed to have learned as much as I have from them. I am tremendously fortunate to have had the opportunity to design and develop courses that I find both intellectually stimulating and in which I feel a deep personal investment. As I left on my final evening, a swirl of emotions -- sadness, excitement, pride, joy, fear, and other, more subtle feelings lacking proper names -- highlighted to me just how good some things have been since I have been here.

I realized then that, despite my occasionally cavalier attitudes about leaving, I had put down roots in this region, I had begun to feel like this place is home, even calling it "home" when visiting the spot I had called home for decades. I would miss my students and my friends, of course, but suddenly I felt pangs of melancholy about leaving my favorite haunts, the restaurants I'd enjoyed and the hiking trails I spent my days traversing, behind. I had long known I would miss these people and places, of course, but only on an intellectual level. Those last few classes, when I saw faces I knew I would not see again, brought this knowledge home on an emotional level, and that's when things started changing.

I began to experience things as "the last time I would do X" or "the final time I would see Y." Home had, suddenly, become a lame duck. I knew for the first time, really knew, that I would be leaving and, with that knowledge, came the sense that my future was elsewhere, that my past here had helped bring about that future, but that my present was, well, not really connected to either that past or the future I anticipated.

So I am in limbo. I still live here, but my mind has started packing up and, it sometimes seems, packing itself in, steeling itself for what lies ahead.

I hate these gray days, but I also know I will miss them.

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