Sometimes I miss my home so much I can barely breathe

I am an economic migrant to the city, like lots of other people around the world. I grew up in very rural location in northeast Iowa, with rolling hills, farms, and small towns. My early life was spent on a working farm. This makes me pretty unusual among academics. But being a migrant, however, to the city from rural areas puts me in a big 20th and 21st century global cohort.

I’m thinking about this today because I had a convo with one of my undergrads yesterday about what he’s going to do when he finished at USC. He says most people from his home country stay in Los Angeles to work after they graduate. But he feels called home. He’s just not sure he can find a job there, and he wanted to toss ideas around with me about what’s possible. I told him the truth: the opportunities are in the cities, they are easier to find. If you want to stay home, you have to make the opportunities, they are harder to come by, but there are rewards to home. Further truth: this was the first time I told a student that I left my home to chase my career, and while I have been very, very fortunate, and I am happy, when I think of my home my breath catches in my chest and I can barely breathe I ache for it so much.

Reality bites. What I long for is no longer there; I never fit in my town (I never fit anywhere), and I love California and everything about its troubled progressivism, and I can’t stand the short-sighted, hard-hearted, dim-witted Republican twats that appear to have a stranglehold on the Iowa state GOP, rather than the genteel, hard-working, and careful-minded GOP I remember from my youth.

But I still hurt, and my beloved adopted home of California, as interesting as it is, and as good as it has been to me, isn’t the landscape that still calls to me from across the miles.

It is national poetry day today, and along with these thoughts, I got John Browder’s obituary this morning. John was one of my colleagues at Virginia Tech; he was very sweet to me when I was fresh out, and he shall be missed. All of this has got me thinking about Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art:

One Art
The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art” from The Complete Poems 1926-1979. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel.