Monday, November 25, 2013

In Defense of Staying Behind

I have wanted to go my whole life.

The first stories I remember ever writing were about getting away, escaping - to other worlds, to glorious adventures, just anywhere but the boring ordinariness of here.

The first story I was ever enthralled with was Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. There were many reasons for this, but a huge one among them was that here was this boy (in his impressive wolf suit) whose bedroom walls fell away and became trees and a vast ocean and a whole wide world where things could happen. The place where the Wild Things are. I don't think that at 5 years old I ever really saw my bedroom walls as a thing that held me back. Shelter, protection, sure, but not ever a prison. That's the thinking of someone older, perhaps a teenager or young adult. But when I was five I still knew that there were places of wonder and adventure, and that more than anything I wanted to get there, wherever there was, somehow.

I am 27 and I still live in the same town I grew up in. I've been away. I've seen many places in this wide world. North America, Europe, Asia, South America, and there are still whole continents and countries yet to explore. But always, every time, I've found my way back here. Right now (due to financial troubles and the kindness of my parents) I'm even living in the very house I grew up in, inside those walls I once wished would fall away as Max's had that very first time I read Maurice Sendak's book. I am a young woman now, but I am fearful. I am not good at making new friends. It is difficult to let people in. Even with people I've known for years, I can still speak with the awkwardness and shielded replies of a first-time encounter. To go somewhere new for me now would mean to be alone, to have to be brave in ways I'm not sure I've ever had to be. To go, to get away, to escape - it could mean adventure, but I could also very easily end up as one of the first two brothers in all those fairy tales: led astray by my flaws or failings, led to ruin by my attitudes and appetites.

Being a person with this kind of heart, a heart that longs to wander and wilts at being planted, I have met many others who feel the same way but have been braver than me. When I daydream about leaving, they actually go. Where I fly in for a ten day vacation, a tourist and outsider, they find the hidden pathways and local haunts and splashes of color no guidebook would ever think to mention. And it's not just in travel; you see it often in careers as well. Staying in one place in your job is often seen as stasis. Shouldn't you want to climb up that ladder, move to a location that's more convenient for you, find a position that's better paying? Change is akin to growth, is it not? Adding experiences and challenges? (Don't get me started on this. I have a whole other rant about the lost art of apprenticeship that must be saved for another day.) Some people have to update their C.V. every nine months or less, because that's how often they need to add something new. And I've seen it firsthand. I've been in this current job for nearly four years now. In those four years at the library I've seen 15-20 people go, probably more. It's been at least 6 or 7 in this past year alone.

All my life all my dreams have said: go, go, go.

So what's it like to be the person that stays?

For the heart that likes to wander, one of the scariest things about staying is how oftentimes so much is the same. You go to the same place at the same time and sign in on the same timesheet. You fall quickly into routines. Cleaning computers, shelving books, pulling messages, taking down old displays and putting up new ones, submitting program proposals and supply request forms. Quarterly meetings, twice monthly time card submissions, sending birthday cards around to all the staff to make sure everyone signs. There are things you do over and over again until you're pretty sure you don't even need to use your brain to do them. You could put "Sendak" before "Seuss" on the shelving cart in your sleep, and with the way life sometimes seeps into dreams, who knows? You probably have. In the outside world, it's a matter of driving down the same roads every day, going to the same restaurants or local haunts with your friends, feeling like you know every nook and cranny of this place you've decided to call home.

But one of the things you start to notice when you stay behind is how much things change. It may be gradual, it may be little spurts here and there, but it's something. A new park or coffee shop or art gallery opens. New people arrive at work to take the positions others vacated. The outer trappings of a place may stay the same, but with each new person, new ideas and new procedures take effect. New debates are brought to light. New responsibilities fall into your lap. I started this job as a part-time children's librarian and have somehow ended up being the teen services guru at my branch. There are endless surprises. People are constantly changing and growing, whether their surroundings and job titles do or not.

What I've found by now is that it's okay to to want to go and it's okay to want to stay, but ultimately the best possible thing is just to come to peace with where you are, for however long you may be there. When you rush off from place to place you miss seeing some incredible transformations that may take time and patience to come to fruition. But when you become so comfortable in your one tiny little corner of the world you miss out on bigger perspectives and all the glorious people and places and stories this world has to offer. Either way, you limit yourself.

So I'm okay right now being the person that stays. One day I will go. I want to try to find a balance. Like Max, I want to go to the place where the Wild Things are, but to understand when it's time to come back for that warm supper and that comfortable bed and the loved ones awaiting me at home.

No comments: