Friday, November 14, 2008

Home on the Range

I've been having contentment issues lately about living here in Texas.  It's the weather, and the strip malls, and the bleak prairie flatness thinly disguised by tracts of soulless suburban houses and chain restaurants and, well, more strip malls.

This is our first autumn back in Texas and living in near 80-degree weather in mid-November is fairly depressing.  People have been taking their children to pumpkin patches for a good six weeks now and Grace keeps bringing home fall-themed artwork from preschool; it seems like some mass delusion has taken hold here where everyone is celebrating an imaginary seasonal change.  I guess it's autumn in their minds?  I am trying to remind myself that it is a lot cooler than it was this summer and pumpkins grow quite well in this climate and the leaves ARE in fact falling off the trees.  Into a dismal brown heap which we must rake wearing shorts and T-shirts.  I'm not having great success, if you can tell.  It doesn't help that there has been friction in my family recently and living close to them is one of the Good Things About Living in Texas that I repeat to myself when needed.  I know!  A family that doesn't always interact in an ideal manner!  Who would have thought it possible?  And then Grace has started dropping the -g at the end of gerunds, I suspect due to the influence of her otherwise lovely preschool teachers and their Texas accents.  I admit it makes me a little sad.

Prevalent cultural attitudes here have also been particularly grating lately, on issues from race to materialism to erudition to social justice and the like-- fervor leftover from the election, I suppose.  I know that supposedly the faults that most annoy you in others are reflections of your own failings, which must mean that deep down in my soul I am a frothy-at-the-mouth pietist who thinks it is just fine, in fact probably morally superior, to be a simple thinker.  But no, less facetiously, my irritation IS undoubtedly a reflection of ugliness I share with the culture around me-- a fierce internal conviction of my own rightness, a wrong-headed certainty that the world would be better if everyone just thought like me.

When Rob and I were in the process of applying for residency and post-doc work, I hadn't ever lived outside of Texas and I was pretty eager to go somewhere, anywhere but here.  It wasn't necessarily that I disliked Texas so much as that I yearned for a new experience.  (And of course, I was just applying to academic post-doc jobs at the time and staying in Texas wouldn't have been a viable option for that.)  I really longed to get to know a new place with a new culture and a new climate, and I'm really glad I had that experience.  I have a bit of wanderlust in me, and I find change kind of exhilarating.  When I've lived for short periods in other countries, it makes me so happy to discover that finding your way around town or obtaining groceries is a challenge-- an adventure, even.  All that illustrates why returning here seems a little dreary at times.  I suspect that the things that bother me about living here are not significantly more extensive or serious or fundamental than the things I wouldn't like about living anywhere else, but it feels more grim than, for example, moving away to the Northeast did because there is a gloomy familiarity to it all.

My lack of contentment bothers me most because I believe that being happy is about oneself and not about one's circumstances.  And what do I want to do about the situation?  Move every 3-5 years to somewhere new and different?  Well, actually, yes, that is what I want to do, but we won't necessarily get to do that, and I certainly don't want my sense of serenity to depend on it.  So I shall attempt to focus on the positive things about being here: hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex restaurants, good grocery stores, how affordable things are, living close to my family (yes, of course, still).  And the prairie flatness can be beautiful if considered properly, right?  Anybody want to add something?  I promise to be kind if your "positive thing" is actually one of the things that annoys me.


Anonymous said...

I do have to admit, I really miss the weather up north. But hey at least in Texas, there's... Fort Worth. I don't know, but the downtown area is really cool. I highly recommend it. My girlfriend and I are having a blast exploring all its nooks and cranny. I grew up in Dallas, but never came out here in all the six years that I lived in the area. Okay, it's not New York City, but it's cleaner, upbeat and full of life. People really take an active interest in the city. If you, Grace, and Rob want to make it out here sometime (and you guys haven't been out here before), we'd love to show you around!

Julia said...

I grew up in Fort Worth, actually, and you're right-- there are very fun bits of it, like the downtown area and whatnot. It's pretty far for us on the east side of Dallas for regular jaunts, but if we make it out there, we'll have to say hello.

Beck said...

We live in remote Northern Ontario, which suffers from some of the same problems, apparently. But there's also lots to love - beautiful scenery, closeness to relatives, being in touch with our roots, how cheap things are - and these are not small things.