Where to go next?

As my family and I have made our way eastward across the United States, curiously along Interstate 80 from San Francisco to Oakland to Des Moines, IA, to the Toledo, OH, area, we often joke that we’ll continue our eastbound route and end up in Pennsylvania or New York next.

But, neither my husband nor I want to settle farther east. We want to return to the West, possibly to California where we have spent most of our lives and where our families live, or possibly to a new state, like Idaho or Colorado. The problem is that now that we’ve left California and seen it from the outside—the high cost of living the damage a ruinous legislature and ineffective governor has had on state services like public education—it’s harder to return than anticipated.

We live now in a quiet suburban town outside of Toledo, which is a former industrial city famous for supporting Detroit’s nearby auto industry. But much of the manufacturing has left the area, as it has in so many cities across the country, and there are elements of despair and abandonment that hover over this place.

In our little neighborhood, people seem content and settled in their lives. They mow their lawns, wash their cars and walk their dogs with regular routine. They drive shiny cars and take their kids to baseball games. The schools are good, and one of the high school’s hockey team just won the state title. But this neighborhood is in a bubble. Life here is easy.

It’s nice not to have to listen to screaming firetruck sirens racing down your street at 2 a.m., and not to walk out the front door and find a homeless man has defecated on your front stoop. It’s nice to not battle flocks of dirty pigeons nesting on the porch or to weave between globs of phglem-tinged loogies and equally disgusting pigeon poop on the sidewalk. Of course I’m talking about the streets of San Francisco, but I still miss those streets.

So as we look to where we will land next, we have to take into account the benefits and detractors of every possible place. Surely most our decision will depend on where the best job offer comes from, but we do have more of a say in this move than in either of our two prior moves. Taking all this into account, it’s clear we’ve learned a thing or two in our years abroad (in the Midwest).

  • Cost of living is important. We would rather not have to shell out several hundred thousand dollars to buy a house just because it is in a prime location. We want to live comfortably, but not excessively. We don’t want to be in debt.
  • Prime public education. That is almost an oxymoron in itself. But there are places where a solid public school still exists. We live in such a place now, and we are hoping that we can find good schools in a Western state that hasn’t been desecrated by privatization and budget cuts.
  • Work/life balance. There’s nothing that can compare to life as a medical resident. It is a tough road. My husband has been sleep deprived since he started med school in 2006, and we’re very much looking forward to having a balanced life again. Here in the Midwest, people seem to achieve that more than life on the West Coast. People are less busy here. They don’t schedule events months on end. It’s a slower pace, and it seems more sustainable.
  • Proximity to family and friends. Relationships are key. And beyond our own nuclear family, we miss being around our extended family members and old friends. It’s been hard to miss births, deaths, anniversaries, retirements…all the life moments that are huge and small. We’ve been gone for so long. We’ve learned how to live without that support network, but it can get lonely, and I often feel disconnected. Getting back into the fold would be a great additive to our move.
  • Beautiful surroundings. Some argue that the Midwest is beautiful. I agree that there are some parts I consider to be nice. But nothing compares to the jagged cliffs of the Northern California coastline, or the soaring redwood trees. Overlooking the ocean from a cliff in San Diego, watching pelicans glide in the breeze and surfers wait for a set to roll in is truly beautiful. Enjoying the mountains, the rivers, the lakes and everything in between…we miss that.

It’s exciting to think about the next phase of our lives as a family, and where we will end up. But more than anything I am yearning to put down roots, to settle in a spot and stay put. In my twenties, roaming the world and having adventures sounded like the best idea. Now I just want to develop community. I want to get to know my neighbors and feel invested in a place and in people and friendships. I want to plant a garden, knowing I’ll be there the following year to tend to it.

Life can be fleeting, and while I struggle to stay in the moment and be grateful for what life presents me each day, I still can’t wait to move on to the next chapter. We’ve got a year and a half to figure out where that will be, and until then, I’ll be trying to figure out what makes the most sense for a long-term commitment to home.

The results are in!

Well, I do admit that my experiment was not done in the most scientific of ways. Still, I think the results are interesting, and I’d like to share them.

I am looking to see if my Facebook “friends” represent as much diversity as I would like to think that I have among my friends. I looked at Race/Ethnicity, Religion, Political Affiliation and Views and the size of the city or town a person lives in.

Out of 365 Facebook friends, I received 60 responses (15.6%). Admittedly, the sample is not large enough to have a high confidence rate — it’s about 95% confidence +/-20% — to be certain that the responses reflect the true spectrum of my Facebook friends in entirety. Also, I was limited in scope by the bounds of Survey Monkey, which allows only 10 questions before requiring one to upgrade to a paid account. I also, in retrospect, made some deep errors in questioning — particularly in asking about religious identity— and leaving out important categories on diversity, such as disability and geographic location.

Nonetheless, this is what I found:

My Facebook friends are:

  • Politically Liberal
  • Racially White
  • Straight
  • Believers in God

Now these are broad strokes painted from the results. I have decided to analyze the results of each of the 10 questions in the survey. These will be done in a series of posts.

A new experiment

Seems like this blog is all about experimentation.

In a moment of solitude I had myself wondering if my idea of myself, that I’m a relatively open minded person who enjoys a good bit of diversity around her, is reflected among my friends.

I turned to Facebook–a likely destination–where nearly 400 of my “friends” from past lives and selves converge. The thought was, if my Facebook friends reflected the diversity of which I think I have in my life, then all’s well. If not, well, maybe I’m just living in a fantasy world that people really can have a diverse group of friends. It would support the recent reports that like-minded Americans are clumping themselves together in geographic locations.

Stay tuned to see how this experiment concludes…

Christmas Card Friends

I’ll never forget the time I was in anguish about some friend drama when I was in my early 20s, and a close friend of mine said something along the lines of: sometimes friends just become Christmas Card friends.

At the time I scoffed a bit at this comment. I couldn’t imagine any of my close friends, no matter how much drama came with them, demoting themselves to Christmas card-only status. And I didn’t even sent out Christmas cards.

Alas, the time has come when the wise words once spoken have come true. I now have a handful of Christmas card friends. They were once close, but time and distance has ceased regular conversation. We now only get correspondence in the form of Christmas cards. The friend who explained this phenomenon has become one of them. Actually, we don’t even do much of the card exchange anymore.

It’s hard to see friends come and go. People you thought were once so close they could be a sibling become distant memories. People you thought would be your best friend forever or your maid of honor at your wedding didn’t even RSVP. But, this is what happens. Lives change. People change. Paths diverge. It happens to everyone.

I do say, though, that Facebook has created this notion of closeness to friends whom I have not been in touch with in 15 years at least. It’s an interesting social experiment. I don’t necessarily feel closer to these people, but I suppose it deletes the need to have much small talk at high school reunions. You can just get down to the nitty gritty of why you lost touch to begin with and how amazing it is that Facebook brought us all back together again.

In fact, I’ve been thinking that high school reunions are going to become obsolete because we can all peer into each others’ lives through Facebook. How much real conversation are you going to have with someone you haven’t seen in more than a decade once you’ve gotten past that initial cocktail party chit chat? Take this out of the equation and is there really anything else to talk about?

I’d rather just send a Christmas card.

Transitions

It’s that time of year again. People come and go. Like an airport terminal, only with less urgency and more tangled webs caught on their pant legs.

Our lives are set apart in chapters. We arrive. We live. We leave. In late spring, many of us find ourselves leaving or being left behind. I fall into the latter category. These ideas have been ruminating for a while in the dusty attic of my brain that does not deal well with transitions. It’s time for some spring cleaning.

I always thought I dealt with transitions without much angst or worry. One thing led to the next. And then to the next, and so on, until I found myself here: a mother of twins, wife of a medical student, landlocked in the middle of Iowa (read: unemployed in Greenland). It sounds romantic, I know, a life picked up and moved in a freeing sense of adventure and wanderlust. But the dizzying glitter and confetti that rained down on my transition quickly cleared to illuminate the truth of my situation. Transience.

We bought a house. That very move would signify setting down roots. But the nature of our path determines another course. Our timer had already been set, and when the bell rang we would be off on a new adventure: medical residency. No matter who we met or what relationships we formed during our four-year tour of Iowa, there would always be an expiration date. And there’s something there that makes it a little easier and a little harder to see people come and go.

It’s May, so graduations are happening left and right. People we know and have had time to get to know are graduating, getting married, moving to find better jobs. They are progressing to the next chapter of their lives. Yet we remain in purgatory waiting for our time to come. Nevertheless, lives go on. They must. But the fate of the relationships we have formed between us are not so certain. And this is where the crux of the ruminations lies. If life is about relationships, why is it that our culture enables us to so easily pick up and discard our friends like we do our golf clubs or tennis shoes? How deep of a connection can you form and maintain with another person if one of you is planning to leave?

My world has become one of impermanence, and it creates an aura of unsettling discomfort. It creates loose bonds, and it feels like lost time. Yet, it is May, and I must say goodbye to some friends who feel like family. From past experience I know the separation will erode this closeness, and I wonder who will take their place. But the truth is I don’t want anyone to take their place. I want them to stay with me in purgatory just a little bit longer. But they can’t. They must move on. There is no escaping life’s transitions.

Soon my time will come. I will leave, and I will arrive. My choice will be, do I dust off the tangled webs caught to my pant legs and start fresh, or do I bring them with me and incorporate them into my new life? I suppose there will always be some residue that carries over from one chapter to the next.

From Ani DiFranco:

everybody's in a hurry
here in purgatory
except for me
i'm where i need to be

Climate Change

As it approaches the middle of May in Iowa, I find myself turning to the topic of weather. As a bit of background, I will reveal that it is not in my cellular makeup to tolerate extreme climates. That is, I only feel comfortable when it’s between 68 and 74 degrees outside, sunny and with a slight breeze blowing, though it doesn’t seem to matter from which direction the wind blows. It’s not that I’m high maintenance; I grew up in San Diego.

While my forefathers survived and even multiplied in harsh climes, such as the Arabian desert and the icy conditions of Eastern Europe and Russia, it seems as if their abilities to tolerate and thrive in adverse conditions was a recessive trait. I inherited a trait that adapted over the course of just one generation: the nice weather gene.

So, it came as quite a shock when, after being in Iowa for just a few days, the temperature climbed to the 80s in July with about 80 percent humidity. So the heat index—whatever that means—was way beyond my comfort zone. Add to that thunderstorms that bring the rain down so hard it sounds like hail and sends small rivers gushing down the sidewalks, and air so thick when the rain stops 10 minutes later that it actually feels like you could slice it with a machete.

I’ve got three years of extreme weather under my belt now. I’ve lived through sub-zero winters, where the wind whips literally right through you and threatens to burn your skin off (that’s ice burn). I’ve lived through sweltering summers where even at midnight the temeprature hovers at around 80 degrees. Yet, even with all of my  newfound climate experience, I can’t seem to get used to all the variation. The extremes. The horrible, miserable, intolerable Iowa weather.

I try. I do. It has been part of my Embrace Iowa campaign of the late 2000s. I enjoy the 12 perfect days a year to the fullest. The rest of the time I am shedding or adding layers of clothing or adjusting the thermostat and wondering why the he** anyone still lives here.

To answer that question I turn to my native Midwesterner friends. Sometimes their answers involve their desires to be close to friends and family (leaving weather completely out of the equation). Other times they reply that the Midwest feels like home. One friend told me she doesn’t like the people in warm weather states. It’s not the people to be concerned about it, I replied in my head, it’s the weather.

And so, when a friend from northern Minnesota recently accepted a job in northern Maine it really caused me to step back and ask: Would you miss the cold if you took a bold step and moved someplace warm?

After I posed this question to a dear friend living in Duluth (northern Minnesota), she confirmed my suspicions. She said people who live in cold weather feel as if something would be missing if they did not experience the bone-shivering winter frigidness each year. To me it seems like self-inflicted torture. Why not move to Siberia?

So I am now concluding that one’s weather tolerance resides in one’s genetic makeup. Genes mutate and adapt to whatever situation that makes your body thrive. It’s truly a Darwinian process, though I have no actual research to back this up. My genes tell me to live in Southern California. Yet I wonder if they are slowly adapting to the too hot and too cold weather here in my current climate zone. Perhaps. Or perhaps they are begining a sort of mutiny that will force me to relocate to warmer climes.

Until then, I will be content to think that living like this builds character. And I am in the midst of building a really interesting character.

Facebook Nation Part II

So, about 36 hours after venturing into Facebook land, about 12 of those hours have been spent on Facebook. The other hours, obviously, I did much more insignificant things, like child rearing, graduate school paper writing, eating dinner with good friends, working out, getting therapy. You know, the mundane things in life. My Facebook time, actually, has been the most productive, most interesting of those 36 hours.

I have managed to get almost 100 friends in this time. In real life it would have taken 33 years to get 100 friends. Maybe longer. It’s amazine. Here I am going through traditional avenues of trying to meet people: school, work, neighbors, parties, and all I really had to do was sign up for Facebook. Truly, truly fascinating. I also have been privy to exclusive clubs, such as one that punches people in the mouth until they straighten their sh** out, and another that supports the San Diego Chargers. I’ve been wooed by a club that promotes cuddling. I like cuddling. I may consider joining that one.

But I tell you, in strict confidence, I like this Facebook thing. It really does cut down on the need to leave one’s house. All anyone really needs is a wi-fi Internet connection, a laptop, a glass of water and a Facebook account. Especially in these days of Swine Flu and economic meltdown, it’s better to be confined yet still be a part of the living, breathing world. I know that Facebook lives and breathes because it allows me to tell everyone how I’m feeling through this neat trick called “emoticons.” And only living, breathing things have feelings.

It’s calling me back. I’ve been away far too many minutes, and I hear its robotic voice alerting me to new posts and comments that must be addressed in due time. This Facebook thing is a recipe for total cohesion. I really think it could save Humanity.

Facebook Nation

I have just crossed over into the dark side. That is, I have just joined Facebook.

After all my hemming and hawing over the ruins of Facebook and social networking sites, in general, last night I broke down and signed up. I can already feel it sucking the life blood from my veins.

I feel like I’ve lost hours. This is what I feared. Actually, what I feared most was that it would change the way I related to people. No more calling, no more emailing, no more Face time. Just Facebook! It started with Twitter, which was manageable. Then, I broke down. I wanted to be connected. I wanted to see what it is all my friends who were badgering me to get on Facebook were so attached to. They said: “If it weren’t for Facebook I’d have never reconnected with ———(insert old acquaintence’s name here). They said: “You should do it, you’ll like it.” They said: “Everybody is on it.”

Aha! There’s the magic phrase. Peer pressure has always turned me into a sucker. And finally, though I held strong for more than a year since the friend nagging began, I succumbed. And here I am, lost in Facebook land, facing old friends, current friends, acquaintences and a whole world out there that is tuned in and linked in.

I’ll have you know, though, I remain a skeptic. I will post with one eye and five fingers poised to bring down the house. I will hold strong to my cell phone and e-mail accounts. I will continue to reach out on the “traditional” modes of communication, in hopes that I will not forget the roots of communication. If this is the way our human race is going, I mean, if we are all to be linked into each other’s profiles and comment walls and the like, well…I’ll have to get back to you on how that works out.

For now, I will see you on Facebook.

The Ins and Outs

Its funny how people come in and out of your life. You think you will know them forever and then, at the very instant you think that they are gone, chasing some other whimsical flight of fancy. How do people know or meet anybody? I think this is a Malcolm Gladwell topic.

I, myself, am not sure of this. It’s more than playing six degrees of separation. It’s more a game of chance, and maybe of Russian roulette. One out of six blanks will fire an actual bullet, leaving you–the friend–in a state of shock, or, rather, never wanting to play with guns again.

This all came to me after reading an email from a college friend who lives in L.A. We share many mutual friends, most of whom are no longer “friends,” and mere acquaintances. These are the people–the six degrees–who leave you hanging out somewhere in the ether, wondering what happened with that? One of these mutual friends just had a baby. She and I were once closer than she and my L.A. friend, but with conjoining careers and other circumstances, their six degrees shrank to zero. Interesting how people ebb and flow to and fro. Who is closer, who is further. The ins and outs of social relationships. Of friendships.

I have another college friend with whom, while we were studying together in London, was told by our professor that because we were each other’s first friends in college would be “friends forever.” There’s a term that dates back to the days of jr. high school. However, through our own ebbs and flows and the miracle of technology we remain in contact, though geographically separated by two time zones and about 1,600 miles.

I often wonder how to meet like-minded people and kindred spirits. How will my six-degrees of separation bring me toward the chance encounter with more blanks for my game of Russian roulette? I have yet to stop playing. The thrill of the plug keeps me tuned.

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