Ten years in exile

The other day, I recalled that this spring I passed the one-decade mark since moving to Ohio, and have made no real comment. Honestly, I suppose that I really have little of great interest to say.

I have spent a large part of my life here, at this point. More than I spent in central Iowa, even if one rolls together the years in Des Moines and the schoolyear residencies in Ames that preceded them. More than half my adult life, even if one starts that clock at 18.

Yet my living here is really still the product of a random life accident. (So long as I remain, people are never going to stop asking “how ever did you end up here?”) I found myself here largely by chance, and have remained because… Let me put it this way:

Cleveland is okay, but it’s just a place. Lakewood is a comfortable corner, but it too is ultimately just a place. I recall the final issue of the 1990s Starman series, when Jack Knight is heartbroken about parting from his beloved Opal City; if any character’s Opal fetish surpassed Jack’s it was the Shade’s, and yet the Shade offers a reality check to Jack’s handwringing: “Opal is a city. Beautiful, but in the end just a city.” That’s about where I am, at this point in life, not just with Cleveland but anywhere else.

The starry-eyed dreams of my 20s are put away. I realize that some people’s lives really do change dramatically as the result of a change of address, whether because a community offers these or those particular advantages, or because they simply fall in love with it. I’m happy for those people. But I’m not one of them and don’t expect to become one. Falling in love is not my strong suit; buy-in is not my strong suit. I always see the flaws. This goes for Cleveland—the decay, the corruption, the incompetence, the hang-ups, the disgraceful senescence of the local media—but it goes for the alternatives as well.

I know that utopia means “no place,” now. I know that incompetence and corruption flourish in most communities. Meanwhile, potentially offsetting advantages are usually offset, themselves, by other drawbacks. Appalling climate. Too far from my family, commercial and social ties. Expense; most cities are too expensive compared with Cleveland, and local wages are unlikely to affect my remote-working freelance income. I keep an eye on things, and some day circumstances may change. I have lots of boxes ready to go should that happen.

Meanwhile, here I am, and I really have no deep observations about Cleveland or Ohio. The closest I can come is to explain that in a lot of ways I have never really left the place I grew up in; a lot of America and indeed the modern world is increasingly generic, these days, but within the prairie core of the Midwest the differences are vanishingly small from one end to the other. There is variation, I’m sure, but I don’t think it has much to do with which region you’re in, within the Midwest. Having lived in all three, I can say with some confidence that the difference between life in a small Iowa city and a large Iowa city is much greater than the difference between a large Iowa city and a large Ohio city.

I do prefer the city, and I think I prefer a city on the scale of Cleveland a bit over the scale of Des Moines (though the difference is shrinking year by year). Otherwise, one Midwestern city (or inner suburb thereof, for the pedantic) is much like another for my purposes, just now. I live in one, it’s okay, and such things as I want to change about my life seem unlikely to be furthered much by exchanging this city for any other within reach.

Unless anyone has an artist-in-residency program, or some other grant incentive they want to talk about. No? Right-o, then.

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