Saturday, September 22, 2007

One Year In

And so it seems that eight months is an adequate silence. Perhaps.

We have now lived in the PNW for 14 months. So much and so little has changed in that time that it makes my head spin. When I last posted I was probably at the deepest point of a depression that rivaled the one I experienced while helping care for mother as she died. Ironic maybe, for in the last 14 months I feel as though huge parts of me have died and have yet to be resurrected, if ever.

I won't bore you with too many details, though I may have already lost my entire readership. But I write more for me I suppose. Just so it is out there. Just as long as I am no longer keeping it in, but getting it out and hopefully cleansing my broken spirit in the process.

I am still convinced that personally, this move was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Having said that I am also sure that this was probably one of the best things I could have done for my family. Confused yet? Try living in my head.

Even after over a year of living here I still don't know where all the cool and great things are. Whats more, I hear friends emote over what a great place this is to live and I think they must be smoking something. I can only ascribe it to the fact that though they used to live in SoCal, they have lived here too long and never really experienced southern California as an adult with children. Frankly, the schools here in terms of funding, standards and rigor are inferior to L.A. Public services where they do exist, are more expensive than in my former existence. Property taxes are higher, medical insurance costs me more and utilities are more expensive than they are in California. Add all that to the fact that I took a 30 % pay cut when we moved. Is this suppose to make me happy? Why are my friends so beguiled by this place?

My job as an educator here is much more difficult than it used to be in California and much harder than it should be. The curriculum is so idiotic and the 'skills' they want us to teach are so naive that I have a difficult time not laughing at curricular meetings. It seems as though the entire world has changed and the school system in this state is still behaving as if it were 1985 where all kids need is a hug and some social skills and they will succeed in a 21st century gloabl economy. I am literally told that content is not nearly as important as building the social dimension of my classroom and I should be focusing more on whether my students know how to right an annotated bibliography for a state mandated research paper they can't even understand. Forget about the global context and content of world events in the past 500 years, I should teaching my kids how to think about how they feel about stopping genocide when they don't even fully grasp genocide because I don't have time in class to cover it in it's proper historical depth and context. I worry about the education my own children will receive here. Pardon my rant.

Here is where it gets more depressing...

We went back to SoCal this summer for a few weeks. We had a great time with family and did not get a chance to see half the friends we wanted to. But still, it was nice to be home. I felt 'normal' again. I knew where things were. Why things happened certain ways was understandable to me. The streets ran on a grid pattern and did not change names at the drop of a hat as if some crackhead designed the system back in Vancouver.

The Mexican food was great.
The air polluted.
The traffic horrendous.
Trees were few and far between.
People were rude.
The heat was suffocating.
Concrete pervaded the landscape.

Ah, home.

We went back to our old neighborhood. I saw the first home I ever owned and ever lived in and obviously I did not live there any more. Strange. Que the nostalgic music and sense of melancholy.

Along with all the great things about home, I was reminded of the graffiti, the lack of assimilation of immigrants, the smog, traffic, housing prices, the tsunami of humanity all occupying the same small area of land and everyone all wanting the same parking spot. Every one was in a hurry in L.A. and nobody was getting there very fast. After nearly three weeks of being 'home', we left to head back to Vancouver. I found myself looking forward to getting back. Not so much because I love it here, but because I no longer felt as if I truly belonged in southern California anymore.

And here is root of my problem.

It is clear to me that I don't belong here. I just don't feel as though this place will ever make enough sense to me. Based on my summer visit, I don't feel as if my old place is now where I belong. So where exactly do I fit in?

I have and will continue to make efforts to make this place less foreign to me. We will see. Folks in Portland, call my new town Vantucky becuase they perceive it to be nearly as backward as its name sake. Though my friends here, swear this place bares no resemblance to Kentucky. I suppose they lack the gift of enjoying hyperbole as much as I do. I can see how from an urban perspective this place would seem that way though.

And just when you thought this post could not get any more pedestrian.....

It is equally clear to me that I cannot go back to SoCal. I have simply become too visually accustomed to my new surroundings to exchange it for the mangled concrete mess of my homeland. There are fewer people here and I like that. Everyday life goings-on seem less hurried and relaxed. I have seen more wild life in the past year than I have seen in the previous 36 years of my life. There are three great rivers within 30 minutes of my home. I have seen an active volcano close up, walked along numerous lakes, seen four genuine bald eagles, been witness to huge Osprey pluck a salmon the size of a toddler from the Columbia river and fly off right in front of me. Racoons and squirrels frequent my back yard. There are two hawks that live in the forrest behind my home and the world's stupidest woodpecker routinely hammers away at the metal cap of my fireplace at five in the morning. I have even come face to face with a bear.

Not just that, I could not afford to return to the place of my birth from a finacial perspective. I just could not afford the housing. Our old neighborhood is not the same either. We learned recently that there was a break in robbery across the street from our old house and new people that move in are less family oriented than the neighborhood used to be. Good schools are getting harder to get into due to overcrowding.

At the same time, given the depressed nature of my wages here, the annual rise in my property taxes (no Prop. 13 here) and escalating health care costs, I don't know that I can financially afford to stay here long term either. Seriously, I cannot remember the last time money has been as tight as it is now.

What kills me is that we researched this move for years. I thought I asked all the right questions, priced the right kinds of houses. We were very, very wise with the proceeds from the sale of our last house. But alas, it seems as though I was wrong, my research insufficient. And that is what gnaws at me. I am such a cautious person, deliberate in my decision making and it appears that I may have made the wrong choice. That would be fine if my decisons merely affected me, but my family is in turn affected by my decisions. They however, still seem to love it here, especially my wife and my youngest son. Our older boy has adapted remarkably well and has made many friends in our neighborhood and at school, though I think he misses the sun more than he lets on.

It seems as though I am stuck.

Stuck in Vantucky.

Though the last 14 months have brought great upheaval, change and my questioning who I am anymore, one thing remains constant. The love of Christ and the family He has given me. At work, I may no longer be a local celebrity(yes, I'm aware of how arrogant that sounds)and I still don't understand the people, places or students here. I am still husband and father to a remarkable woman and two incredible boys. That is what endures, what remains grounding, humbling and worthwhile. I have no idea how this change in my life will ultimately end up altering who I am, but in the final analysis who I am is defined by the love I give to and recieve from the tribe that resides in my home. These three people that refine me and make me better, whole. That is what I must remember and live for.

As a child I never knew much stabiltiy in friends or family or even school so I always associated feelings of familarity and comfort with the region in which I grew up and the places I knew and a history with. That is why southern California, for all its dysfunction is so dear to me I suppose. Now that that is gone, maybe, just maybe what I always knew is even more true.

Home is not a place, but rather it is people.

If you are still reading...thanks.

Be well.