I haven’t lived in my hometown for close to two decades now. Most of that time I was relatively close - within a day’s drive - comfortably tucked under the cozy regional blanket of my hometown…my home identity. And while I’ve always given fair and undue thought to what makes each geographical place unique and special, it wasn’t until I left the confines of my region that I was forced to think about how geographical places make us different.
Previously, signs and signals of my home place in the public sphere were more common than not. But as the migration of life continued to expand the radius from the epicenter of my identity, the signals turned to static…an AM radio on a barren rural straightaway between two towers, out of range of each. The resulting static and silence begets a hyper-awareness of where you are - which is not home - and the alien landscape on the other side of the windshield.
But once your antenna picks up the next signal, normality and comfort return and the ride can become again what it once was: an adventure with windows down, sunglasses on, volume cranked, pedal floored, cigarette lit, nary a Smokey in sight…an effin' joy ride.
Some like to fit in; others to stand out. Some enjoy the comforts of home; others the adventure of the new. But no matter the inclination, whether accepting of...comfortable in...a foreign environment or not, there is often some sort of twisted and inexplicable feeling of pride…specialness…to being the outsider, the oddity, the other. It’s a feeling of defiance that summons an innate rebel spirit. Even for those who strive to fit in, we all relish the chance to be unique, for unique and different are often not the same.
And so it is that while I’ve been living away from my home place for so long, for so long I’ve been unique, with degree of uniquity amplified the further afield. And I admit, I don’t think I strive to be different, but I enjoy being unique. (Because who doesn’t? It’s an admirable trait, no?) And in my foreign environment flush as I am with uniqueness, I often find myself pining for the other station, the signal from the tower in my home place.
And so it is again that I find myself surprised when I do visit my home place that I am over-stimulated by the clarity and volume of my home signal. It is loud and everywhere accessible. Even with the dial turned off the signal permeates, persistent and inescapable. And in this moment, back in my home place, my unique edge is dulled and I am relegated to the masses, no longer an other but one of many. What this makes me I do not know. A contrarian. A poseur. An uncomfortable soul, perhaps.
But it doesn’t have to be any of these, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be questioned or scrutinized. Even within the confines and comforts of the home place, sometimes there’s just an urge to turn the dial in search of a different signal. In this there is no shame...only the pain knowing you can never go home again.