Every once in a while someone asks me - "what brings you here?" More often, I will be asked "what college do you go to?" Perhaps they ask this because I am a foreigner, in my 20s, living in a college town in Arkansas. But no, I am actually married and working here - just like you. Sometimes, they will follow up with a question like "what are you doing in a place like this?"
It's a question I often ask myself. If I were a college student, I would just be here temporarily; this town would be a stepping stone where I'd study for a few years and then move on. But I am working full time - there is no set end date to this chapter in my life. I don't blame people for asking what I'm doing here - it seems ironic that a young expatriate in his 20s that grew up in a city and became somewhat famous for talking about city life is now living in small town Arkansas. I love my wife and would live anywhere for her, and so we live here to be close to her family.
We both mutally agree this isn't the place for us in the long term, and this is a feeling that grows stronger with each year that passes by. It has been tough for both of us. My wife has had a tough time with her career here. For me, I'm having a really difficult time accepting this way of life; it's very different to what I grew up with and what I'm seeking in life. I feel like I'm living in a transitional period, than a settling down period. I find it difficult to get emotionally attached to things (our house, material goods), because nothing feels permanent - or, for the most part, real.
Part of this feeling of unrealness may be culture shock because I am in a new country. The culture of Australia and the United States are not too different - but it's different enough that it's not exactly the same. When you step outside you can immediately tell which country you are in. The laws and lifestyles are close, but not exact. It's familiar, but also unnatural and unsettling (I keep thinking of the film The Bothersome Man). Have I fallen into a sort of cultural uncanny valley?
Perhaps it's not cultural at all, and I'm just an urbanite out of place in a small suburban town. I write about Places and Non-Places, yet I feel a sense of isolation and 'nowhere' everytime I step out of my work onto a parking lot along a highway. I write about how much I love intimate, cosy laneways, and public markets in a town that has none. I have become a reference on Traditional Cities despite living in the furthest place from one.
Am I a hypocrite that should stop writing, or am I just out of place and have not yet found my home? These are questions I ask myself every day as I drive to my office campus. If I think about it enough I go crazy, so to cope I write a blog. Analysing the world around me and writing about it helps because it emotionally dettaches me from it when I think about it in third person.
I feel lost and that feeling fuels me to write, it fuels me to travel, and it fuels me to find a place to call home. I like to pretend I already have a home, even if it's just a transient one.