Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Yes, Michigan!

(Aren't these mittens adorable?  You can get them here, in case anyone wanted to get me some.)

Over the long weekend, I was in Michigan attending a close friend's wedding.  I grew up outside of Detroit (which is very different than growing up inside Detroit) and I went to Michigan State for college.  After college, I lived in Lansing for a couple of years, until I moved to California for law school, when I was about 24.  I also spent part of my bar-studying summer in Michigan living at my parents' house (so cool, I know).  So I have lots of friends there, still, and my brother and my sister-in-law, as well as their tiny twins, live in the metro-Detroit area. 

The trip to Michigan was too short.  They always are.  New York has not, ever, been "home" for me.  But this is what always happens, when anyone from someplace else finds out I live here, or someone I meet here finds out I am from Michigan:

Other person:  Oh my god, don't you just love living in New York?
Me (if I'm being honest):  Not really.
Other person:  WHAT?! (shock, incredulity) What do you mean?  WHY NOT?
Me (this is where it gets tricky):  Um, it's really loud.  And the work ethic is sort of crazy.  And... I don't know.  There's a lot of smog?

For some reason, it's impossible for me to articulate what it actually is I don't like about New York.  I can find plenty to complain about.  And there are actually some things to like.  But what it really is, is that for this Midwestern girl, it just doesn't feel like home.  I routinely get lost.  People shout at me when I'm indecisive about ordering my sandwich.  People make fun of my accent A LOT (which I did not even realize I had). 

But more than my love-hate relationship with New York as a city, there's also law firm life, which is completely foreign to most of the old-Erin friends. It's hard to understand it, really, unless you live it. Not that my friends don't accommodate my crazy work schedule, they totally do. But they don't really understand how it grates on you to do it day after day, with not even a close friend's wedding weekend as sacred non-work time. And complaining and explaining gets boring.  For others, yes, but I have also started to bore my own self with complaining about work. It's not only the work schedule, either. It's things like the Diamond Olympics, vacations on tropical islands instead of Niagara Falls, judgement over the '99 Jetta we drive to work, and not knowing how to pronounce pretty much anything on the menus at half the restaurants I find myself in (I'm always asking, "Is that some kind of cheese? Why don't they just say it's cheese?").  And for crying out loud, I do not want to spend $100 on dinner and only get three raviolis.  I want enough to take home for lunch. (I still do not understand why that is not done.  Why is being wasteful more polite?)

This is the surprising part, though.  Michigan doesn't feel like home anymore either.

I guess this is what happens when you move away.  This time, for the first time, I couldn't find my way around Lansing without asking for directions all the time.  I had to use the Garmin to go visit a friend whose house I have been to approximately 1,000,000 times, because I couldn't remember which one was that expressway (a MI term for you) that's kind of right by her house, near the drive-through Starbucks.  When I was at my friend's wedding, I realized that she had made friends with a bunch of people I didn't know.  When I looked at what I had packed for the weekend, there was not one article of clothing in my entire suitcase that was not a neutral, with black being the predominant "color."  I only wear sneakers for running, and I don't mean for running to the mall.  When people ask where I live, I say "Westchester County" without thinking, and only upon them staring at me blankly do I explain that it's outside of New York City.  In spite of some of my best efforts, I have actually assimilated in a lot of ways.  It's like when I came back from my study abroad (which was in London) and ordered ice in my water at the restaurant; they looked at me like I was the strangest person in the entire mitten state. 

You expect culture shock when you are away from your familiar place.  You don't expect it when you return.  But if Michigan isn't home, and New York isn't home, where is home? It makes me feel stuck between worlds. Part of it that is especially hard is that I like Michigan-Erin better than New York-Erin. When I had never left Michigan, life was.... simpler. But you really can't go home. Now that I have lived here, I don't actually want to live in Michigan anymore. I don't fit here, but I don't fit there either.

This is where I feel like I am supposed to write something cheesy about how home is where the heart is, and since Kathy and I have made a nice little life here, at least I am at home in that.  Which is true, to an extent.  But it's not enough.  I miss fitting in.  I miss not having to think about what to do or say in social situations -- in Michigan and in New York.  It all requires so much thought, so much work.  I just want to feel easy.  I want to go home. 

By the way.  Yes, Michigan! is a slogan for a Michigan tourism campaign from when I was growing up, just to give you a little Mitten State trivia.  Also, the state stone is the Petoskey Stone and the state bird is the robin.


  1. yes michigan, the feeling's forever!

    home is a concept i've always struggled with too. i remember asking my parents, who grew up in Cleveland, but have now lived in michigan for 20+ years if Cleveland feels like "going home" or if Michigan is home. they both said Michigan, hands down. i remember it took about 6 months for me to get used to living in Virginia--knowing which grocery store i liked best, and not having to map out directions to work, and figuring out where to park on campus. but assimilation didn't mean it felt like home, but just that i wasn't miserable and missing michigan every second.

    i also remember when i worked at starbucks in lansing, a glove trotting woman had just recently settled down there with her husband, even though she had lived in all sorts of exotic sounding places and grew up in south america. i remember asking her if she missed home and she gave me quite a baffled look and responded, "this is my home now" as if my question was completely stupid.

    i do think home is more of a feeling than anything. there are too many things missing from michigan now--that feeling is gone for you. and NY isn't quite settled and "right" yet--so the feeling isn't quite there either. but you aren't homeless--you're just still setting up home.

  2. I hear ya, sister. About everything... this post really hit me because it is all really true for me, too.