Catharsis

Posted: June 16, 2008 in Headspace, Journal, Maine

I’m going to write about home. It’ll make me feel better, and I need to feel better. I’m not going to get it right, though, how I really feel. The English language is failing me, and this is one of those times that I wish I had three or four or eight other languages at my disposal, the better to express myself.

Homesickness is like the grief of losing a loved one. There’s a feeling that you’re so far away from the place you love that you’ll never see it again. And how will life go on if you know that you’re never going to go home again? Now, logically speaking, I know I’ll go to Maine again. I’ll get off a plane somewhere nearby (I tend to fly into New Hampshire since airfares are cheaper than flying into Portland), get a rental car, and make The Drive. The one that always gets my heart singing and my tears welling because my insides are bursting to be homehomehome. And some day, SOME DAY, I won’t have to get back on another plane a week later or two weeks later or EVER AGAIN later, because I will be home to stay.

My God, how it makes my heart thump to think of going home to STAY. It’s a special kind of hell for a country girl craving greenery and proximity to the ocean to be stuck living in the baked asphalt nightmare that is Phoenix, Arizona. I’ve imagined it… imagined how Calvin and I would leave here with our belongings packed in a moving truck, making the opposite and complementary drive to the one I took nearly fifteen-holy-fuck-years ago.

HOW on Earth has it been that I’ve lived here for fifteen years? I could leave Arizona behind and not look back and not regret it for a single second. Within weeks of living back in Maine I suspect it would start to feel like I had just been on a very long, very unusual vacation. Calvin can be considered the very best of souvenirs. Heh.

There’s a hell of a lot of “Old Money” around in Maine – rich old families whose ancestors go back to the original founding colonists, that own thousands of acres of land and mansions with huge footprints and old architecture. There are coastal tourist villages with multi-million dollar spas and B&B’s and hunting lodges and every other amenity you’d ever want, with some more besides. There’s gourmet restaurants with, of course, the best seafood you’ll ever have pass your lips. There’s specialty shops of handcrafted wares and artwork galleries. There’s several rather advanced ski resorts that are starting to (if they haven’t already – it’s been years since I’ve been) rival Vermont’s much ballyhooed facilities. There’s even a handful of fairly sophisticated night clubs in Portland, if you’re looking for that kind of thing. Vacationing in Maine does NOT have to be the rustic experience that the thought conjures – though of course, the outdoors and natural living is a big draw (hellew, LL Bean). There’s BIG money to be had, drawing people from their non-Maine lives toward “The Way Life Should Be”.

But the Maine I grew up in – as did most of my friends and acquaintances – was humble. Economical. Do-for-yourself. Fix instead of buy new. Nothing was disposable. You bought for quality and longevity. You made things yourself – homes built from the remains of barns and other homes, vehicles constructed from the remains of other vehicles, and food that you grew and harvested and canned and preserved and hunted and cured yourself. Work was taken in trade for goods, and vice-versa. If one guy did hauling for you one weekend, you helped him build his shed the next. Borrowed casserole dishes were never returned empty. The fruits of your garden were shared with your neighbors, and vice-versa. Weekends consisted of baked bean suppers held at the local grange, grabbing a couple of beers “down the Legion”, having lobster and steamed clam cookouts, or working at whatever household project was going on at the time. Or, just being a local tourist. I saw many a birthday pass at Range Pond and Reed State Park, plenty of summer evenings strolling along Pine Point or Old Orchard Beach, and people watching from various vantages in Freeport or in the Old Port district of Portland. Boothbay and Kennebunkport were short enough distances away from where I lived, and Bar Harbor, though further away, provided for great weekend trips.

Of course, if anybody got a strange craving for “the city”, it’s a mere two hours to Boston, and four to six to Quebec or Montreal or Ottawa, in Canada.

Mainers are a hardy bunch – well, they have to be, to survive the one convincing drawback of the area, and that’s winter. Mainers are fiercely independent, pragmatic, practical. Unbelievably loyal to their home town and home state. Wonderfully patriotic. Unwise of the ways of the world, but incredibly wise to the ways of life, if you understand the distinction. There’s a boggled bewilderment toward anyone who is from Maine who expresses the desire to move away, and an inherent suspicion (and pity) of anyone who is “from away”, that is either visiting or moves to their town. Though I will say that the latter are eventually forgiven for being “from away”, since they show the good sense to move to Maine.

Tourists are tolerated, barely, with the acknowledged fact that they bring much needed income to the state. Even people coming up from New Hampshire or Massachusetts are viewed with slight contempt – at the very least because of their “flatlander” status and perceived lack of driving skills. Anyone from any further away is accorded the status of an alien being.

Based on conversations with my sister, a red-hot conservative Republican, the somewhat puritanical and conservative nature of the state is being supplanted by the “damn liberals”, which I suspect is a good thing. Not that I want to change my cherished state in the least, but it can be at times rather intolerant. I hope that there are more folks like me, that have lived away for far too long and gained far too much experience and perspective, who want to move back and ease Maine’s way into broader avenues of thinking, but without taking away any of the wonderful qualities that make Maine what it is. It’s pretty darned isolated up there, so the conservatism is very firmly rooted in tradition which should certainly NEVER be done away with. I’m a firm believer in tradition. Just… gentled and leavened with a level of acceptance for other ways and cultures.

I’m botching this horribly and making you dear readers probably think that the entire state is comprised of torch burning prejudiced freaks, but that is most certainly not the case. Just think… small town atmosphere.

What I cherish the most about Maine are the general values held by the people – family, friendship, neighborliness, and a general all-around “decency” of behavior. The community really comes together in times of need… again, since winters are so hard, it’s natural that neighbors help one another out. Each time I’ve taken (dragged? nah…) Calvin there on vacation, he’s always quite vocally surprised at the general friendliness of the people. The lifestyle is simple, and the people are uncomplicated, but certainly not simple themselves. The pace is just so much slower there, and the values are placed not on acquisitions and wealth, but in the living of a good, clean, purpose-filled life.

The enthusiasm of the population is generally focused on all things natural – the harvest fairs, the farmer’s markets, the locally grown and locally manufactured, and the preservation and conservation of precious resources and the state’s natural attractions. When I recall just how MUCH there is in Maine to see and explore and do, I get rather bored with anything that city life has to offer. Can Arizona offer me wide sandy beaches filled with sand dollars just waiting to be collected? Is there a single nearby stream or lake that was NOT man-made in this Valley? Can one see blankets of stars overhead while standing in the middle of the state’s biggest “city”? Can I walk alone through the middle of that same city in the middle of the night and not fear for my safety?

I think not. There just seems to be not one ounce of clean, fresh, happy, calm, replenishing and enriching living to be had here in this desert. Now, I know winters are wonderful here – temperatures in the 70’s rather than feet of snow and all that jazz. But in my opinion the summers here are worse than any winter Maine has to dish out. There’s just something about being unrelentingly BAKED and BLINDED by the bright unfiltered sunlight that’s more depressing and difficult to me than having to bundle up and scrape ice off of my windshield. Summer in Arizona just makes me want to hide indoors, while winters in Maine at least offer skiing and snowmobiling and ice fishing and the like. You can always put more clothes on to get warm, I always say, but there’s just so many you can take off to get cool before you’re nekkid. And don’t even get me started on the lack of GREEN anything – the color of the plants that pass for trees here can’t even compare to the thick forests in Maine. There is no feast and delight for the senses in Arizona, is I guess what I’m trying to say. At least, none that satisfy me. Even the spots that are lovely – Sedona, and Flagstaff – seem to me to be poor substitutes of what I really want and where I really want to be.

And it’s just so damned busy. People are indifferent toward one another at best, harshly violent at worst. Crimes that happen here on such a frequent basis that they can’t even be all mentioned on the evening news happen wonderfully infrequently in Maine, if at all. The traffic is a mess (though not as bad as some states, as I understand it), everyone is in such a wound up state to get where they’re going that they forget to be where they are. It’s always onward, onward, onward. What’s next, what’s more, what’s better. There seems to be NOTHING original here – strip malls crop up with alarming frequency and speed, with the same combination of restaurants and services in each one, so that every corner looks like the one before it and the one after it.

While I know that there are people who are equally as passionate about Arizona as I am about Maine, and can offer counter-points for each point against it that I offer… well, this place is not what stirs my soul. That doesn’t make me wrong, it just makes me different.

Maine is not perfection. There’s crime, there’s indifference, there’s humanity for God’s sake. There’s the winters and the roads and the taxes and the slower economy and the encroaching “damn liberals”. Maine has as much its own share of crap and nonsense as every state in the U.S. and every location on the globe. There is no Eden this side of death. But it’s what’s perfect for ME. It’s quiet, it’s safe, it’s beautiful, it’s rural. It’s the feast and delight to my senses that I crave. It’s what calls to my soul. It’s what drives the running internal chant (sometimes out loud, even), from morning till night every day that I’m apart from it, “I want to go home home home”.

No matter where I happen to live on this planet, or for however long and far away from it that I must live, I will always be from Maine. We WILL live there again.

Someday. Please God, let it be soon.

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Comments
  1. Heather says:

    I’ll say that the traffic in Phoenix was nothing compared to Chicago. But I came back anyway! Like you said, any winter here is better than the summers there. I understand what it’s like to be away from where you belong. I just recently got into an argument with someone for knocking where I live. I guess we, too, are fiercely proud of where we come from and where we live. Where I live isn’t even so much a state thing, it’s a region thing. I’m from Da’ Region and proud of it…and glad to be home. I hope you get to go home soon too, love. Will you stop here on your way through? I’ll make the rest of the trip with you and help you unpack! 🙂

  2. Miss Britt says:

    I think I missed the part where you explain WHY you don’t live in Maine now.

  3. Kim says:

    The way you describe Maine is the exact same way I feel about upstate NY, where I’m from. No matter where else you live, nothing will ever compare to where your roots are. It’s part of what makes you who you are. The winters are what drove my parents from up there to Florida, where I grew up, but I’ve never stopped missing NY. Now I’m a little closer in SC (at least there are four distinct seasons, for hell’s sake!) and I usually make it up there once or twice a year…but it’s not enough.
    I remember reading awhile back about all kinds of preliminary plans you’d made regarding moving; is that on hold for now? Either way, I hope you get back there someday. You seem like the kind of person who makes dreams reality.

  4. Jean says:

    Fertheloveofgawd – go home! Waiting to go is like waiting for ‘just the right time’ to have a baby.

    There is no perfect time. You just have to pick a date and go. Put your house on the market TODAY.

  5. Taoist Biker says:

    Hmm. This brings to mind a lot of my feelings about my own homestead, but they’re so numerous that it seems less intrusive if I blog it on my own. I think I should do that (today if possible – dunno, busy day ahead) and then come back and offer my specific comments on your own thoughts.

    To be continued…

  6. Laura says:

    Heather – It would be AWESOME to get you up to Maine!

    Britt – Basically, we were waiting until my step-daughter got out of high school. Then we started to make tentative plans early last year, and I even went on a job interview in Maine… then the bottom fell out of the housing market, the economy went to hell, and now we’re just kind of waiting for things to turn around again.

    Kim – I’ve been to upstate New York a couple of times and just loved the Catskills. The winters are actually rougher in upstate NY than they were in the part of Maine that I lived in. Regarding preliminary plans, see my response to Britt…

    Jean – Fertheloveofgawd, okay! 😀 Believe me, if I could just pick a date and go, I would!!!

    TB – Damn cliffhangers… 😀

  7. Taoist Biker says:

    I totally deserved that.

    One page (in Word) down, dunno how many to go…

  8. Maria says:

    Don’t wait-do it now. My husband and I waited for the “perfect” time to make a long-awaited change in our lives and he didn’t live long enough to do it. I kick myself every day for not just saying screw it to everything unimportant.

  9. Laura says:

    TB – Heh.

    Maria – Believe me, we’re not waiting for the “perfect” time, we’re waiting for the “possible” time! We HAVE TO get as much out of the sale of our house as we can to pay off existing debt and still have enough for a good-sized down payment on a house. And at last check, we’d lost about $70,000 in equity because of the market down-turn. GAH.

  10. […] Life and other states of existence, TB – The Guy (About the Author)   Laura went into some serious detail yesterday in writing about home, homesickness, and generally a sense of place.  As I told her in a […]

  11. Taoist Biker says:

    There. I think I did an even worse job than you in making my home out to be a seething cauldron of xenophobic hatred, heheh, but there it is.

    As for my comments on your post…

    Like you, I think of Arizona as a totally alien environment. The rocks where there should be trees, the mosaic art alongside the highways where there should be wildflowers, everything is just completely different from what I think of as comforting. It’s fascinating, in some ways, but only to visit. As beautiful as I thought Arizona was, I was never once tempted to make it my home.

    But I must take issue with your “it’s better to be cold than hot” theory. Okay, so I’ve never lived through a Phoenix summer, but I’ve performed manual labor outside in the South and hated every second of it. But I still like it better than those long, dark Midwestern winters. At least when the heat index is 110 and you’ve been sweating outside all day and your arms are coated in a thin layer of concrete from the bags of cement you’ve been moving setting up with the sweat…you can still hop in your car, take a shower, and go out someplace. I spent months in the Midwest cooped up at home because when I asked myself the “Is the trip I’m about to take worth running off the road, tearing up the car, and possibly freezing to death in a ditch along some deserted highway?” the answer was usually NO.

    Like Arizona, frickin’ ass cold places that have snow cover for months (one winter it was over 100 straight days) are good places to visit but not to live. Dis ol’ boy’ll stay down South, thank’ee ver’ much. 😉

  12. Heather says:

    Do you ever wonder if you move to Maine if Calvin, after a while, will feel the same pangs for Arizona that you now feel?

  13. Heather says:

    That didn’t come out exactly right, but you know what I mean. AZ is home to Calvin, do you think he’ll miss it? (I know it’s hard to imagine anyone actually missing it, but… 😉 )

  14. Kim says:

    I don’t think any post from anyone has ever made me want to comment twice. Until now. I forget to add several things.
    1. I also suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder but with Summer, not Winter. In cold weather I feel energetic, optimistic, have great hair and love the clothes. Heat sucks.
    2. I went to Maine with my family on vacation when I was little and still remember how beautiful it was, the fantastic food and how my parents considered moving there even though we knew no one.
    3. Stephen King lives there!!!

  15. Calvin says:

    Last time I checked they don’t make snow tires for the motorcycle.
    I am really ready for a change but I’m not sure if I would be happy living fulltime in Maine or any place that has poor weather six months or more of the year.
    I have lived in Az all my life and it is sooo not what it use to be so I would not mind moving but I would find it very depressing to be stuck indoors for that long or have my mode of transportation limited. The extreme heat conditions here only last around 90 days and the rest of the time is great.
    But Laura is right because of all the changes over the last 40 years Az has no soul anymore and alot of negativity that just might be enough motivation to go.

  16. Amanda says:

    Calvin: as much as you love your bike now, you would probably appreciate it even more if you couldn’t drive it pretty much all year round.

    Laura: A lot of what you said about Maine applies to Nova Scotia, and those are the things that brought me here. Although I grew up in Montreal, I feel that THIS is where I was meant to make my home, as if I was away from home all my life. However, another similarity I’m not so crazy about is the conservative trend around here, but like you said, no place is perfect. I just think that Nova Scotia is pretty damn close.
    I’ve said this before, but I fully support you guys moving to Maine because then you can come visit! The guest room is waiting!
    (Then again, given my line of work – foreclosure paralegal – I also fully support you selling your house for a high enough price that you pay off all your debt!)

  17. Heather says:

    Calvin, here in Chicagoland, the crappy weather is also around 90 days. The rest of the year is fine and dandy. Spring, fall and summer are beautiful. Winter can kick our asses but it only lasts about 3 months. Your mode of recreational transportation can multiply, you can still have your motorcycle but also add a snowmobile. 😉

    When you live in a place where the weather constantly changes, you don’t take the beautiful days for granted. You tend to get out and enjoy them and look forward to them even more.

  18. Calvin says:

    I have been on some form of motorcycle since the age of 5 and have never not had one or been able to ride when I want. So maybe I might appreciate it more when I was able to ride it but we would have to get a snowmobile/ATV to fill the bad weather gaps no question.
    Based on our multiple vists back East I’m sure I would love it and I want to live in a place where the weather changes atleast some as long as certian conditions are met,most of all Laura and I do it together.

  19. Taoist Biker says:

    Amanda, respectfully, that’s not the way a typical motorcyclist thinks during wintertime. Log onto any motorcycle-related bulletin board in January and you’ll see people arguing vehemently over nothing…go back to the same board in July and everything’s hunky-dory. Bikers get reeeeally cranky when they can’t ride.

    Uh, I speak from experience. Ugh.

  20. Laura says:

    TB – I really liked your entry, and it sounds like a lovely place to grow up. Wasn’t it startling, after you grew up and left and then went back again, to realize how ingrained some folks’ reaction to different cultures and races are? I didn’t realize just HOW prejudiced some of my own family members were, growing up. And you and I will just have to agree to disagree on the whole “it’s better to be cold than hot” theory, because I REALLY feel that way. Especially today. I haven’t been cold yet. It’s a hundred and fuck-eleven.

    Heather – Calvin might feel homesick, or at least long for certain things about Arizona. It’s his TURN, though! 😀

    Kim – I’m honored! I am feeling VERY seasonally affected disordered today, letmetellyou. And Stephen King DOES live there! We’re all so used to seeing him everywhere that he doesn’t even qualify as a celebrity siting anymore. Some other folks who live, at least part time, in Maine are Patrick Dempsey, John Travolta and his wife (her name escapes), the Presidents Bush and their families, Bob Marley (the comedian), and Martha Stewart.

    Calvin – What, you wouldn’t want to put chains on the Vulcan?? 😛

    Amanda – HAH! Oh, that’s right, you’ve never met Calvin IRL. I’ll have to get him a snowmobile to make up for the lack of a motorcycle. Also, I am DYING to visit Nova Scotia, and have no idea why I never did when I lived there… all the rest of my family has been there before but me. I did go to PEI once, though… very pretty!

    Heather – EXACTLY! Plus, the increase in S3X in the gloomy weather… it’s why there’s so many July/August/September/October babies!

    Calvin – Warm. Fuzzy.

    TB – A fellow biker speaks! You are SOOOOO RIGHT. We’re entering the “season” now in AZ where biking is less of an option (try getting stuck at a traffic light in 112 degree heat!). Calvin will tough it out for short rides, though, just because he NEEDS to ride. Just last night we went to Chili’s for dinner – he rode and I followed him in our truck. A waste of finite resources, to be sure (heck, it’s like a half-mile away), but necessary.

  21. Heather says:

    Laura – Kelly Preston. 😉

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