It feels somewhat appropriate that I am writing these words at one of my old stomping grounds, at the nearest coffee shop to the house I purchased more than nine years ago… so close to what used to be home. That house is now rented to someone I have never met, it is now home to a complete stranger, but this place still familiar, even nostalgic. I’ve written here many times before; undergraduate term papers, much longer term papers as a graduate student and several of the reflections that this blog serves as a repository for. Finding myself right here, right now with a few spare moments to reflect is yet another instance of unplanned perfection.
With just a little more than a day left in 2014, I am compelled to look back at not only the last calendar year, but also the last few years. While distinct lines of demarcation are not common in one’s life story, in many ways a new chapter in my journey began a little more than three years ago. I could never have predicted all that would happen, nor am I able to know what might come next. Indeed, this particular chapter was not even on the radar just a few short years ago. As little a six months ago, I did not know where I would be in a year, but now I do. I will be coming home.
But for any of this make any sense, a very abbreviated recap of the past several years is probably in order. About 17 years ago I hit a figurative brick wall. I moved from Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area to Truckee, California. I moved to where I always wanted to live, away from the hustle and bustle, away from all those people to what was still a sleepy little tourist town nestled near Donner Summit in the Sierras, not too far from majestic Lake Tahoe. I thought I had arrived; I was living in a four-season paradise. But it would not last. A near fatal accident in October 2000 changed everything.
After a long recovery and rehabilitation, I ended up in Sacramento, went back to school in 2003 and in a very literal sense I started over at the age of 40. I had no idea where the path would take me, but at least I was finally doing something again. I transferred to California State University, Sacramento in 2005 and graduated with honors in 2007. It was academic success the likes of which I never experienced before. After trying to make ends meet as a journalist in what was a crumbling economy, I went back to CSUS to start work on an MA in communications studies. I figured that I could use that degree to get a job teaching at the community college level and secure some stabile, long-term employment.
Towards the end of that degree, however, my professors at CSUS persuaded me to apply to doctoral programs at PhD granting (R1) universities. I did not think I was PhD material (sometimes I still don’t), but I applied anyway and got accepted to two schools. One of them, Louisiana State University, offered me four years of funding for teaching two undergrad classes each semester; it was similar to the deal I had at Sac State, except LSU also paid my tuition. A few months before starting at LSU in the fall of 2011, I got into a relationship that turned into a long distance relationship that turned into a long distance engagement that turned into a long distant marriage that ultimately turned into a long distance divorce… and the distance had nothing to do with it. The warning signs were there long before I took the leap, but I ignored them thinking “love will conquer all,” or something equally naïve.
How I made it through school with all that external shit going one is still beyond me, but I did. Now, with just one semester and only a prospectus and a dissertation left, my time at LSU is coming to an end. This chapter is coming to a close. It is time to move on again. While I could go virtually anywhere, it is the draw of my children and grandchildren (mostly), other family and some very close friends that is calling me back to Sacramento. And it is pulling me away from the friends I made in Baton Rouge. I used to joke around that I needed a clone of me to handle all I had to handle, but it is no joke anymore.
But that word – home – has taken on a new, perhaps deeper, meaning. The old cliché, “home is where the heart is,” doesn’t quite do the term justice, but the idea that home is a physical or geographic location is no longer prominent. True, I have a specific or primary place that I operate out of (currently Baton Rouge), but I now have strong ties to many different locales, and now one of them is outside of California, my “home” state. Coming back home to Sacramento means leaving home in Baton Rouge, and I find that idea unacceptable. Somehow, home has to be more than just where I reside.
As I reflect back on where these last several years have taken me, and as hard as it has been, I can only come away with a feeling of gratitude. I did not feel that way at the end of last year. Last year was not a “good” year, but in retrospect it was for reasons I could not see then. I cannot say what the coming year will bring or where it will take me, but at 52 years-old, my life has a newness, or maybe a freshness, that makes me feel at once much younger and much older than I am. And maybe that isn’t such a bad place to be. I have never been one to take the easy path, or the well-traveled path, or the “conventional” path and often enough it has made life harder than it had to be, but at the same time it is never dull. Moreover, it is the life I have and in the big picture, it is worth every second of it.