Thursday, April 12, 2012

between new haven and shandong

i am waiting, still in limbo. my parents are closing a deal to sell their house by mid-june. i applied for a job in Shandong, China, paying the university there a visit a month ago. the new anthropology department seems interested in hiring me, but bureaucratic issues seem to be holding up a contract offer. so my mind flits through the night sky to Shandong, already imagining living and working there. but the possibility remains that the snarls will not be untangled -- in which case we will move 18 miles west, to New Haven.

i like new haven. but a move there means an end to my academic career, which can only be revived by more and better research than the anemic batch of hash i produced for my dissertation. this is one factor (there are many others, as well) which most impels me to go to shandong. new haven would be clean air, interesting cultural activities, new friends and neighbors, a predictable life. but it would be a dead-end: a prospect of decades of 30K a year in income, teaching 3 or 4 classes a semester.

i also miss living abroad. new haven would be placid. i like the intensity of being abroad -- even if that intensity comes in the form of misunderstandings, and annoyances, and friction, and bad air. i like a challenge. and china's culture is one such challenge. i like being an outsider trying to peer in, and talking to people, and attempting to bridge the gaps between us. that daily tension makes me thrive; even in small interactions, that gap looms. like a high-wire walker, the potential danger makes me stand straighter, all senses on high alert, balanced, taut as the wire i stand on -- alive!

you might think: sounds exhausting. yes, it can be. but inevitably, you find perches of comfort, places and people with whom you feel at ease. and then, the sense of relief is even greater than finding a place of comfort in your own country. in your own land, you expect to be at ease. but to find a place of ease in a foreign land -- yes, that feels amazingly good, an achievement, a miracle! like finding a feather bed in a wintry forest, a sofa in the sky, a cocoon in the ocean. and you feel really like a person of the earth, not a person of any particular country. there is a stretch, and then a reclining, that is a beautiful combination.

it reminds me how good i felt sometimes riding the greyhound bus, back when i rode it across the country. a day or two of misery and discomfort past, gradually the bus would subside into a sleepy peace, and how good that felt! we are angels all of a sudden gliding across the land, our bus purring softly and sun angling in from the west and a quiet conversation or two just barely reaching the ears. . .

there is something in me that loves repose in foreign places. my heart is a nomad. if there was a way financially to just keep moving -- not always to new places, but looping between old routes and some new places -- i would do it. looping around the world. maybe by bike?

don't get me started.

but for now there is Jinan, Shandong, repository of all my dreams.

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