home again

Visiting my family in Michigan always leaves me feeling a little bit like I’ve slipped the fragile bounds of reality and wound up in an alternate universe entirely.

For instance, one day while I was there I found myself tussling with logs. Like, the wood kind of logs. That come from trees. I don’t know about you, but here in California, I never have any kind of interaction with trees that strays outside the boundaries of looking at them. Sure, we have regular old normal trees in the Golden State, which will certainly come as a surprise to those who think California is one giant tropical beach caressed gently by the shade of palm fronds and overrun by the supertanned gay Hollywood liberal Jewish media elite. And if a tree were to fall down here, where I live, well, I would simply wait for the proper authorities to come and haul it away.

But in Michigan, when a tree gets sad and falls down? Well, ma’am, the proper authority is you. You can’t just leave it there splayed across your folks’ property, you have to go around helping your dad pick up all the branches and twigs that broke off and then sawing up the tree into logs and stacking them. To use as firewood, or something. Or possibly contests involving brute strength. Or maybe you can set up a lawn chair nearby and just hang out. Have a drink. Hi, logs. Hi. What’s going on with you? Feelin’ a bit sappy lately, eh?

Ha ha! Ha! Ahh.

[I haven’t left the house much lately.]

Point being: many things in Michigan1 are different from where I live in California. For example:

  • Don’t bother asking for soy milk. Or flavors, or fancy foams, or anything else besides regular black coffee. They only have cream, and they will put it in your coffee for you before handing it over the counter. You cannot be trusted to handle this task yourself.
  • All green salads involve iceberg lettuce and creamy dressing.
  • “Organic” doesn’t exist.
  • Food is fried.
  • Dinner is at 5:30.
  • Camoflauge and work boots are everyday casual wear.
  • The menfolk talk local gossip, the price of corn, the weather, the Great Fire in the grain elevator in town in the ’70s, who used to farm for whom, taxes, and what kind of drink they should have next.
  • The womenfolk talk local gossip, who they ran into at Walmart and how much the items they bought there cost, children and the raising of them, the weather, and what kind of drink they should have next.
  • Introducing yourself to someone involves citing your family name, your mother’s maiden name, the names of extended family members, what year your parents graduated from high school, the family names of your parents’ friends, what road they used to live on and in between what farms the house was located, and possibly what make and model of car everyone involved drove. This process can sometimes take up to an hour and requires at least two drinks.
  • Speaking of drinks, the most expensive one I bought in Michigan was $3.50. The cheapest one I bought was $1.50, but that was because my uncle is vice president of the Conservation Club.
  • “Conservation Club” is a fancy way of saying “hunting club,” of course.
  • If you don’t wave to every car, you’re rude. And maybe a little snooty and high-falutin’.
  • Deer heads mounted on walls are an unironic method of decoration.

It sounds like I’m poking fun at Michigan, and I suppose I am. But this is where both sides of my family are from. This is where I always came back to as a child. This area and its people were the one constant throughout my life of moving around. I oversimplified those bullet points for the sake of humor, but I’ve no patience for anyone who actually dismisses my home region outright as boring, backwards, and worthless.

At the same time, it’s just that… I don’t really belong in Michigan. I’m keenly aware of the observations I made above because they feel so foreign compared to how I live my life — “alternate universe” was an apt description. I’m an outsider there, just like how I’m an outsider here in my current home on the elbow of California, in this godless socialist Republican spiritualist name-brand-coveting organic-spa-loving $90,000-car-driving P90X-doing gluten-free botox-addicted hippie earth mother paradise.

Oh, hey, there I go making sweeping (and contradictory!) generalizations again.

I’ve long envied people who are settled, and who know where they belong. It seems like it answers a lot of questions, you know? Questions about who you are, for example. Questions about what meaning and purpose your life should hold. But maybe that’s entirely my flawed perception. Maybe my modes of self-identification are askew. Maybe no one ever really belongs to any one place, and I should just shut up and stop trying to make any sense of it.

Yet here I stay. Stuck somewhere beween the forgettable flyover states and the elitist coasts. Somewhere between my blue collar roots and my middle class lifestyle. Somewhere between pride for where my family came from and the cold, guilty knowledge that I could never live there.

Maybe there is no city or region in the world that feels right — that feels like belonging. Maybe just going where you need to go, doing what you need to do, and surrounding yourself with good people is enough. Maybe “belonging” is more of a state of mind than any one place or person.

Yeah. I like this. I think I’ll stick with this explanation for now.

What about you. Do you ever grapple with similar stuff? Have you ever felt settled, or are you still searching?

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1 For the intent and purpose of this post, “Michigan” is defined as “the rural sector located at the tip of the state’s peninsula, surrounded by Lake Huron.”

21 Responses to “home again”

  1. Lyn, oh Lyn…on my drive to work today I was contemplating a post eerily similar to this one – about not feeling “home” where I live and not knowing if I’d feel “home” if I moved away either. I feel like I’ve been waiting to settle down for 5 years now. First I had the place I loved minus the man I loved, then I switched to the man minus the place. I don’t know where I need to be.

    Also the irony of the “conservation club” actually being about killing things is just too much fun for its own good.

  2. Feeling! Sappy! Har har har! (actually you know I loved the pun)

    Anyway, I’m also one who doesn’t really feel like there’s one place that definitely “home.” I guess NJ is it, but I don’t really like it enough to fully commit to it, is the hting.

  3. I did feel semi-settled for a brief period in my life, before himself and I became all certain and relocated and got married. It’s hard for me to feel settled when I don’t know how long I’m settling. When I’m not happy with what I’m doing day in and day out. We’ve come to place a lot of importance on being fulfilled at work, and I know I can’t get everything from work. But I feel trapped, and because I don’t feel settled, I can’t really change that.

    I went “home” last month, and struggled with some of the same not-here, not-there state of being. I don’t think I’d mind the searching except the searching hasn’t really been fun for me; it’s been more a constant state of uneasiness. I’m supposed to be enjoying the here and now, but I ache for a kind of carefree contentment. I don’t want to find it too late. What does too late even mean??

    I need coffee.

  4. Totally. I’ve been there. I used to call it my own Civil War: the battle between the North (where I lived my liberal fancy-coffee-fueled bisexual feminist existence) and the South (where the biscuits are hot, the mountains are beautiful, and the literature is gothic). I’ve settled a bit, but don’t feel like I’m “from here.” But when I go to my home town, I feel claustrophobic and alienated. It just doesn’t bother me as much any more.

  5. My parents are legitimately from Alabama, but they currently live in California. Growing up, I spent 10 years in two different places in Florida, 4 years in Alabama, 4 in LA, 4 in Tennessee. I have lived in my current city for the longest time I’ve ever been in one city, but I’m not “from” here, either. So when people ask me where I’m from, I have no idea. (Sometimes I say that I have no idea, and then they are very confused). But wherever I am, I often feel like my heart is somewhere else, which means that I don’t feel like I really fit in wherever I happen to be. So I feel you.

  6. You have to be more specific than the tip of the peninsula Lynn! The whole state is a freaking peninsula (technically two peninsulas, because those people from the UP do consider themselves Michiganders). But I’m guessing you’re from the tip of the thumb?

    The Michigan you described is definitely not the Michigan I grew up in. I grew up in the Detroit suburbs. It’s a lot more liberal than where you are describing, but there is still a lot that makes me uncomfortable.

    Belonging is difficult, and I’m not sure there is a place on earth each of us totally belong to. We just have to find the place that fits the best I guess.

  7. I can relate to many of these emotions, which is odd – I’ve never really lived anywhere *that* different than where I grew up. I tend to feel that sense of “belonging” wherever I’m not, if that makes any sense. As soon as I move away/go to visit somewhere else, I realize I miss the place I just left, suddenly aware that it is truly home. Which leads me to agree with your suggestion that it’s a state of mind.

    Despite my 18-yr-old self’s best intentions, I’ve learned that I am one of those people who is “settled.” It’s both comforting and unnerving. My entire extended family is planted in one area. B’s family has made their home in the same location. We are the kind of people who want to live close to family. All this adds up to the fact that, for the rest of our foreseeable future, I think we’ll probably stay within a certain distance of where we grew up. This would’ve made me CRAZY at age 18, when I thought that the idea of living and dying in the same state = tantamount to a slow suffocation. Since then, I’ve learned it’s all about trade-offs… and also that you can find things to love about almost any place, if you look hard enough. I’ve surprised myself by how much I can simply decide to love or hate a place, depending on my mood.

  8. YES. I grew up in backwoods Montana, went to college in urban Montana (HA!), spent a year in Connecticut, and now live in suburban Ohio. They’re all about lightyears different. We think that since the US is all one country, there’s continuity. EHHHHH! (that’s my best buzzer sound).

    We’d be better off acknowledging that they’re altogether different.

  9. my dad’s family is from michigan. it was my first home when i was born. it is EXACTLY like you describe it. every time i go back to visit, i’m all, Well…this isn’t how ALL of Michigan is…wait until I go back to Toledo, it’ll be like this too…but no. it’s wild there. bizarre. lots of campgrounds.

  10. I love this post so much.

    I have nothing constructive to add. I’m definitely still searching for Home. I think part of it is tied in with slowly moving away from my family of origin – mum, dad, bro – to my new baby family – me and the hubster and who knows, maybe a sprog or two down the line. Home has always meant my parents’ home, my hometown, the place where I’m from, but gradually I think it might become the place where I live with my husband, wherever that may be.

    Ya know. Where the heart is, etc.

    Also, I know nothing of Michigan, but it sounds awesome. (Or awesballs, as the hubster is fond of saying. I personally think awesballs is a step too far.)

  11. Truthfully, people from all rural areas/small towns do that introductory thing.

  12. Just discovered this blog after some link-hopping, and I swear, I had to fake a coughing fit at work because I started snort-laughing so loudly. Multiple times. So thanks. :)

    Oh, and as a native Ohioan who moved out to LA after college, it is really weird to go back and visit the Midwest. You realize that that culture you grew up with is not some kind of default like you always assumed it was. It is distinctly its own thing, in the same way “New York” or “The South” is, and you wonder why all the people there can’t SEE that, since it’s so OBVIOUS now.

    • Aww, thanks Annie. I really appreciate you stopping by!

      And you hear me, Ohio sister. I feel like the Midwest often gets overlooked as a cultural THING because it’s viewed as so common and middle-of-the-road — the median point. And then SoCal is just such a striking difference from that. I love a lot of it but I can’t entirely jibe with it, both here and there.

  13. The honey’s parents live in Caseville, so podunk the nearest Wal-Mart is like 30 minutes away.

    Yes, I have always felt like I didn’t really have a home. We moved around a lot when I was a kid, and when my mom got remarried we moved into my stepdad’s house, so that didn’t really feel like home. My dad continued to move often, so none of his houses would have felt like home even if I had stayed there for more than a summer. My parents both grew up in the same town in Northern Illinois, so everyone knows me there, but that’s not really home either. None of the places I’ve moved since college felt like home. Even the house we bought doesn’t feel like home – I’d be painting and the honey’d be sanding floors, and it always felt like we were doing it for someone else – the REAL owners. I hate feeling this way, but I think I always will. The upside is that there are lots of places that I really, really love, even if they aren’t home.

    • Caseville? Holy crap. My grandma used to take me to the fun park there when I was a kid. And I know exactly where that Walmart in question is — it’s about a 20 minute drive from where my fam lives.

      And that’s a good way to look at it. I guess I don’t mind spreading the love around.

  14. This is a subject that fascinates me. Home, belonging, identity. So much so that I have been researching it through interviews as development/research for a theatre project I have been working on for almost two years now. :)

  15. I love the Michigan rules. Its hard to feel settled especially having lived in 2 such different areas. I hope you find what works best for you + that that is where you make your home. You can always go back, you just don’t have to stay there. Sometimes its a compromise too, there may not be a perfect place. That doesn’t mean it can’t be an awesome place.

  16. I totally agree with your description of the Thumb, but that’s definitely not what the whole state is like. The Detroit area (where I live) has plenty of soymilk and organic produce and expensive drinks and last weekend I ate dinner twice after 9pm. (Since I’m from here, and still live here, I have a massive chip on my shoulder and instinctive need to defend my state). Glad you enjoyed your visit though!

    • Agreed! The whole state definitely is NOT like that. It’s just the area I always go back to, so for me “Michigan” is shorthand for the Thumb, and vice versa. I have a lot of pride for Michigan — even for that “backwards” area of the state, and I often feel the need to defend it to snotty folks who think the Midwest isn’t even worth looking at from the airplane window above.

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