I’ve spent a very cheerful weekend being very happy where I am. Which makes it a good time to talk about why I love it here.
I took two days off work this week, partly because there were online things I wanted to be around for that I knew would run late into the night. And because it gave me time to do some other things around home that I’d wanted. (Lots of thinking about what I want to do with music and writing projects this coming year, and some cooking, among other things.)
But it’s also been good for another reason. When I was thinking about taking this job, one of the things I thought about was the question of “Do I really want to live in rural Maine?” The answer, five months later, is a resounding “Yes!”
Now, mind, access to a reasonable ‘Net connection helps here. I’m not sure I’d have been quite as confident about it ten years ago, or even five. But right now? I spent a lot of the night of the 21st chatting with a dear friend currently doing research in Japan, and have been chatting on and off all weekend with other friends.
It’s not quite the same as hanging out in their living rooms, but it’s still pretty awesome. And next weekend, I’ll drive down to Boston, and see my mother and various friends. I don’t feel isolated at all, and in fact, my social life is a lot more to my taste in some ways than it was in Minneapolis. (I get lots of downtime during the week, with excursions when I want rather than feeling like there’s several things I’d really like to be at most nights, and then guilty that I’m not at any of them.)
I love the part where everything here is nearby, and easy. My commute to work is under 5 minutes, and if I walk, it’s 10. I ran two different errands over lunch on Wednesday, because things are just that close together. I can walk down to one of the grocery stores, and did on Saturday. And while I’m still figuring out how I want to pick up more local interests and activities, I’m really happy in a fundamentally contented sort of way.
It’s a very good fit for how I want to live my life. And I can’t begin to talk about the variety and range of locally produced foods, given the climate. (And when I want things that aren’t handy here – there’s a pleasant drive through stunningly gorgeous countryside to get to it. Or Amazon Prime, which is surprisingly handy for household needs that I can’t do easily locally.)
But a lot of people dismiss rural areas. Or flyover country, including Minnesota. Which always makes me blink. (Did you know that the Twin Cities has more theatre seats per capita than anywhere else in the US besides New York City? Yeah. Most people don’t.)
My mother and sister were talking on Facebook about a recent Atlantic article about Iowa City, a place they both have a very strong attachment to: my father taught at the University of Iowa for 10 years at the beginning of his career, and my brother and sister were born there. [Interesting responses here, here, and here, by the way, especially the last one.]
And reading it, I can see why they’re irked. Particularly the bits about homogeneity.
I’ve actually been impressed and amazed by the range of people I get to interact with here. No, there’s not as much ethnic diversity as other places I’ve lived – but there’s a huge range of stories and interests and backgrounds. My campus has a big commitment to being a resource for the larger community, not just the university, and every time I sit down to help someone for more than a minute or two, there’s another story, another chance to learn something. (And definitely a chance to make someone’s life better: I love that part.)
There’s no doubt that there are hard things about living in rural America, in all sorts of ways. But I also see, all around me (and on trips to Iowa, and to rural Minnesota, and all sorts of other places) that there’s a great deal of good and complexity and depth that gets overlooked all too often. This world isn’t simple – and that’s as true here as in a large city. And here, in some ways, it’s easier to see.
And that’s something that’s rather core to why I love my job: digging in below the surface, figuring out why things connect the ways they do, how to follow the thread of information and inspiration from one place to another.