05 December 2010

Still Here

It's long since I have written but I once again take the thing out and dust it off. I recently returned home from a visit to the US, my second since coming to Korea, and my reaction to that journey seems to require some comment, if only as a way-point for my own personal reference. This blog, after all, has been if anything a record of dis-orientation, beginning with my first dizzying days in a foreign land, progressing through my gradual (and sometimes difficult) acclimatisation, and even, though only referred to by the absence of any post whatsoever, to a level of comfort where further comment seemed either completely unnecessary or merely trivial. I have always allowed myself the illusion that I am writing for myself alone which might excuse to some extent the content if not the tone of these missives.

To come to the point, or a point, my recent trip home was not much fun. I enjoyed seeing my family and friends and I ate enough melted cheese and fried potatoes to regain about 10 pounds of hard lost fat but overall it was just not a satisfying experience. I realized at some point that I had been expecting a vacation and that I had had failed for the simple reason that one cannot take a much-needed vacation in one's own hometown. It is not a get-away, it is not a relaxing retreat. It is home. And even though I have been away from the place for quite a while and the people and place have changed significantly, it is still at the end of the day my hometown. And as the song says: "Nothing brings you down like your hometown."

Now perhaps I am doing it wrong. I initially chose Thanksgiving as an opportunity to see as many family members as possible at one gathering. Now, with my cousins all marrying and going everywhere, the gatherings are becoming more of a drive-through affair than an all-day affair. Certainly there is no strong motivation to see me, and I am not hurt about that. We all have our own lives now. Perhaps it is just as effective to keep in touch over Facebook and leave it at that. I had felt that there was some obligation on my part to be physically present periodically but this may not be the case. Reassessment. Now my mother is another story and as the primary reason that I return each year she should be addressed separately. She does require my physical presence and I require hers and for that reason some annual journey is required. And there are my two grandfathers, to whom every visit is a gift granted by time. But it is my current speculation that the next meeting will not be at Thanksgiving.

One problem with November in Illinois however is the weather. I saw the sun for about three hours in the week I was there. It is a cloudy depressing place in late fall when all the leaves have fallen and all you can see for miles is grey and mud. And, I hate to say it, but I have started to become sensitized to what I might describe as culture of lazy obesity and waste, TV-addicted couch potatoes complaining at the drive-up windows of the Taco Bell. I was shocked to see what would have never shocked me before I left, a huge woman in an electric wheelchair dragging a grocery cart through the "frozen-sin" section of the Shop-N-Save, too fat to reach the donuts. It would simply be impossible where I live now for that woman to exist. And I have a right to be critical, yes I do, because that was, to some extent, ME.

And I am none too happy about discovering this sense of overall dissatisfaction with the stereotypic Mid-westerner (who is, I'm sorry, obese). It is as if I woke up and didn't like who I was and decided to change and become different and, once I had, saw myself as I was before and realized that I in some way missed that person. I miss my beer-driven mediocrity. I can still appreciate the feeling of a summer breeze drying the condensation from a can of Busch pulled directly from a cooler full of ice. I chuckle to remember the calls through a creaky screen door to "light the other grill," the quintessential and uniquely Mid-western American problem: Too Much Meat. And I miss the stupefying simplicity of that life, the lack of competition (driven by an appalling and culture-wide sense of entitlement), the glacial pace, the contentment with cultural objects deemed classic merely because they were on the radio twenty years ago. All of this would seem, looking from the other side of my brain, the one I would suppose has become "urbanized" if that is an accurate diagnosis, to be disturbingly quaint at best and abjectly hopeless at worst.

So while I was at the aforementioned supermarket on my first day back I had a bit of a panic attack at the sight of everyday hometown humanity and the only word on my mind was "Escape." At that moment I actually wanted more than anything to go back to the airport. We left what few things I had gathered (I was looking for some small "American" gifts which, note, do not exist) and went back out to the grey parking lot. I can laugh about it now but there was one vivid instant where I didn't know who I was.