My feelings about this one have see-sawed considerably over the years. I knew when I started that I’d be lucky to have a job, anywhere. During adolescence, I thought exile was romantic, and I kept that attitude for awhile, reading Lorrie Moore characters with a positive spin. I wanted to get a good long way from the people I grew up with, and stay there; grad school took me away, and I didn’t want to go back. What’s more, I had a strained relationship with my family, who moved away from our home state while I was in grad school, so I was happy to get a job a long way from them, as well as from home state. It meant I didn’t have to come up with reasons not to visit. Too far, too expensive, that was simple. I hoped for a job in a particular region (more about that will follow), but that didn’t pan out. Where I am suits me well.
Still, the older I get, the more I miss my home state. I lived there all my life before graduate school, and the climate and plant life still seem “right” to me, as twenty-plus years of “real seasons,” bulb flowers and hardwoods do not. I have lost touch with the friends from high school that I wanted to leave behind. I am now secure in my identity. I’d love to go home, but I’d have to change professions to do that, and I do love my job. There really are no comparable jobs in my home state—the choices would be a much more high-powered institution (not likely), or a significantly higher course load (not desirable, even with palm trees).
Also the older I get, the older my parents get. I don’t like their part of the country either, but if I had a different kind of job, I think I might plan to move much closer to them for, say, five years, and then move on—either back where I am now, or try to go home after they die. As an academic, I don’t have that option. I’m here for good, unless I leave the profession, or turn to adjuncting (right out), or go into administration (still a bit of a gamble as to place, though there are slightly better opportunities to move). I’ll have to rely on FMLA if there comes a time when I really need to be near my parents for awhile.
One thing really helps me, though, and that’s that I chose this life. I didn’t choose where I’d live, but I made a very deliberate choice to leave where I grew up and accept whatever the job market doled out. I am old enough (and my parents are old enough) that I was brought up to marry, not to have a career (aside from some qualifications “to fall back on”). My mother hoped that I would marry a professor at the local university, live in a big beautiful old house, have some babies, and see her all the time. Many of my high school friends stayed in town for college, as did I, so I remained enmeshed in relationships it might have been better to leave behind sooner. In particular, my high school boyfriend and I couldn’t seem to stay broken up, in part because of the way our break-ups affected the dynamics in our group of friends. Having seen similar effects among some of my students, I think if I had stayed home, we might well have wound up married and unhappy. When I left to cross the country for grad school, I was terrified and at least part of me felt that I was ruining my life. The path of least resistance would have been to stay and do what I was brought up to do or whatever most of my friends were doing. And I chose otherwise. I’m proud of that. I have a life I made, not the life someone else expected of me.