A Sense of Place


My hometown is boring. It’s a nondescript, largely blue-collar town that has maybe one good non-chain restaurant and virtually nothing to do. Oh, I’m becoming involved in the trappings of community life. My oldest son is joining Little League. I’m probably going to be signing up my youngest for some kind of Kindermusik or Suzuki lessons in the next year or so. The mere act of being “plugged in,” however, does not constitute a lack of boredom.

I sit quietly by myself at school events because I can’t really relate to any of the other parents that I’ve met. I should cut the moms some slack, but I will say that I have yet to meet a mom who loves aliens and zombies as much as I do. My oldest son told me recently that he wished I hung out at his school like “the other moms,” but the truth is that I do go to all of his events, and I help out in the computer lab with the other first grade mothers, and if you ask me to do anything else at the school I will pretend that I’m trapped under something heavy because it’s so dreadfully boring. I live in this town, in the ugliest house in town, and I carry out my existence there. I don’t really connect much outside of its confines.

I used to think that escaping the town would make me happy. I checked out many different places around New England and pestered my husband to move. I envisioned myself planting a garden in Vermont or owning a boat in Maine. I thought that maybe if I retreated into the country and hid among the tall trees in a little cape house I would find contentment. I envisioned myself in Connecticut’s Litchfield hills or in the quiet woods near the university. Culture and quiet would make me happy. I had to get out of this unobtrusive, vanilla town.

Then, something funny happened. I became happy in the place that I had been dying to escape. Oh, it’s still Dullsville, don’t get me wrong. No culture, no architecture, no great cuisine. At the same time, I find that I don’t care about my insufficient surroundings as much as I used to. When I cleaned up my internal landscape, I started to be less motivated to do things like watching HGTV constantly to see how I wasn’t keeping up with the neighbors. My house is ugly, but it’s kept me sheltered. My town is plain and lackluster, but my kids like their schools and it’s close to my husband’s job. The truth is that I just don’t notice its shortcomings the way that I once did. I’m happier with my life, and happiness is pleasantly distracting.

I used to think that if I tried hard enough, I would find myself in a magical geographic location where I could feel as though I belonged. I have realized now that that slight sense of awkwardness and not belonging have been my constant companions for 35 years and probably always will be. I’ll never love fashion or cooking more than I love robots, no matter how the other mothers may feel about our cyborg overlords. No matter what my latitude and longitude is when I look in the mirror, the same me is always staring back. She will look and feel the same no matter where I live.

“You can get glad in the same pants you got mad in,” as my mother used to say. In the same way, I can get glad in the same town that I used to think of as a dull, stifling killer of creativity. Not glad in some creepy, pasted-on smile Pollyanna way, but glad in a way that makes me want to wake up in the morning, brew some coffee and feel relatively satisfied with my world. Vanilla may be predictable, but it’s also consistently sweet.

 

 

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