I read Penelope Trunk’s blog the other day about the rodeo sponsored by a local Ronald McDonald charity in Madison, and I started thinking about fitting in where you end up living, about how much choice goes into a place to live, and about the continuum that ranges from very rural to NYC-urban. And then I was wondering how I came to live here in Madison, and how I managed to live in so many places during my life. And why it’s true that I never have felt like I fit in anywhere. I didn’t come to any clever insight or brilliant conclusions, but I did think a lot about how reality is almost never dichotomous. Everything exists along a continuum. And mostly I’ve been quite content to live in each place I’ve lived in. There usually came a time to go, and so I left without feeling much regret, except for when we left Chantilly, VA. After 13 years in northern Virginia, I left with enormous regret but no choice, but by the time the van pulled away from the piles of junk discarded at the curb, I had talked myself into enthusiasm for Madison, Wisconsin, which has turned out to please me very much, somewhat to my surprise. And anyway, I was getting tired of DC metro traffic. But I’ve never gone to a rodeo here in Dane County or Madison or anywhere in Wisconsin. There are other things I prefer to do.
I went to rodeos a couple times in Hatch Valley, New Mexico, where we lived for 3 years in the early 80s. They were very informal without singing the national anthem or entertaining the crowd with advertising — very different from what PT described in her blog. I had never been to a rodeo before and it never occurred to me at the time to worry about the animals and whether they liked their experiences or not. I couldn’t imagine even then why someone would want to bounce around on a bucking animal and then fly through the air to land on hard-packed dirt. Once in the 1970s I was bucked off a horse in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and landed on my back, unable to breathe for a few minutes. It was not a thrilling experience. So, in New Mexico, I observed the rodeo and it was kind of exciting, but I wasn’t inspired to seek out more rodeos to attend.
I love wilderness and being outdoors, so you might assume that I would want to live in rural areas where I could have a nice house on a lot of land with good views and no one living nearby. However, that’s always been my last choice for a place to live because although I love the outdoors, I don’t like social isolation. 3 years in Hatch, NM, was enough rural for me — a town of 1,000 people in a valley with 5,000 people was the most rural of anywhere I’ve lived. I love the outdoors and try to get to it whenever possible, but I wouldn’t want to live somewhere if I didn’t fit in because of my politics or because of being female and well-educated. Which I think might be the situation for most very rural places. But I probably shouldn’t generalize too much.
On the other hand, I don’t feel like I fit in large cities either. I lived outside Washington DC and hated the traffic, visit NYC often enough to feel like I’m not a stranger there, have lived in Nairobi and Niamey and Long Beach, CA. In the late 70s, I was good at negotiating the Los Angeles freeway in a 70s pickup truck, but it was not a comfortable feeling. I’ve lived in Hartford, CT, and driven a lot in other large East coast cities. I liked exploring all those new places, but nowhere really felt like home. Cities are full of noise and confusion — things I don’t like much over the long-term. OK in small doses.
So now I’m in Madison — not on either end of the rural-urban continuum. Somewhere in the middle. Also, it’s not Milwaukee or Appleton… it’s Madison: state government and the university — big, but you often run into people you know at the grocery store. But not as big as Milwaukee, and certainly small compared to Chicago or Minneapolis. Do I feel at home? Well, not really because I’m not a midwest native. But there is much to like about where I live. I don’t attend rodeos, though, so I haven’t experienced what PT wrote about in her blog. I also don’t go to auto shows or rock concerts or drag racing or Wisconsin Dells. Whatever.
What would I be like now if I’d spent my entire life in upstate New York where my ancestors on both sides go back to the early 1700s? Certainly, I would not likely have married to a native Floridian, nor would I have the two children who call me mom. Perhaps I would not have traveled so much. I would have roots maybe. I would have known more extended family. Then again, maybe not. And how much choice was there in all this nomadic rambling? Some, here and there.
When my parents moved us to Florida in 1963, I had no say in the move, being only 12. I stayed in FL for 13 years and then left for Connecticut and graduate school — no regrets, no nostalgia, never looked back. All those years in Florida and not a single shred of identifying with the state. How did that happen and why? Don’t know. For the moment, I can’t think of any place that I’d really like to return to or move to; I don’t know if I’ll be here in Madison for the duration, or if I will move somewhere else sometime. Mostly, in the past we went places for jobs, unlike Penelope Trunk who researched places to live, chose Madison, and then restarted her work here. Somehow I think most people end up where they are or go somewhere because of work, and stay because they still have work, or leave because they don’t have work. But I didn’t research that, so I’m not sure. I think what I didn’t like is not having a choice about leaving somewhere. As my daughter says, it’s OK to move if it’s your idea. But then sometimes, we don’t have choices. And occasionally perhaps we don’t mind so much not having a choice. But many times, we do mind. So then we can choose to feel resentful, or not. We can choose how we react to things that we don’t have much control over.
Now, PT has me wondering about those rodeo bulls. How do they feel about being in rodeos? And how do dogs feel about being in cages all day while their owners are at work? I wouldn’t know.