December 3, 2012

Moving to Cascadia

It's been a busy couple of months for me, and as happens, this has left me with relatively little time to write (though perhaps too much time surfing Facebook). The election is past, my side won (yay, me?) and as also happens, the national mood has shifted once again to the mundane.  Journalists, I suspect, don't like incumbents winning - they do what they did before they had to go out and stump to save their seat, and as such there is no "news".  Over the years, I've come to realize that the news industry, were it personified, would be a somewhat vacuous blonde babe with a severe case of ADD "Oh, shiny!" - when there is no news, she gets bored and pouts, just to get something into print or fill airwaves or Internet electrons, or whatever the metaphor du jour is for the media, and she has the attention span of a four year old after eating a dozen pixie sticks.

All that aside, I am writing this from a Starbucks in Issaquah, Washington, under cloudy skies, watching the ravens and seagulls squabble over the various leavings. After two and a half years of Maryland, I am once again back home, where we raised my eldest daughter when she was a toddler and I was a young, wet behind the ears programmer who wrote educational game software. Hey, it was all the rage back then, even though I could replicate everything I did back then in Macromedia Director in most browsers nowadays. It was a racket then, I really don't think much has really changed, save that nowadays we spell educational game software as A-P-P-S. and they're delivered on a tablet with about 100,000 times as much processing power as I had available back then.

So why the move back from Maryland, where there was, arguably, more work for my skills? The laundry list is pretty long, but includes family health issues, the fact that my eldest daughter was going to school here, and a new contract that's at least partly based on the West Coast with a large media company that does a great number of animated movies about princesses. However, there are other reasons, less rational perhaps but arguably of a bigger draw. I grew up as an Air Force brat, and have lived in just about every environment imaginable - the mountainous region of Germany, Alabama's sweltering farmlands, perched aside a mountain in Hawaii, the river bluffs and flat farmland of north-central Illinois, a couple stints in the Appalachians from West Virginia, through Eastern Tennessee and all the way down to Georgia and Florida.

Yet even before I moved there, the Pacific Northwest has already exerted a pull on me, and when I arrived there in 1990, I immediately felt like I was home. I suspect it was because of those early formative years when I was in Germany, where the weather was overcast in the winter, firs and spruce dominated the landscape, and mountains were tall, majestic things that crowned the sky, not just higher hills than average. I've never felt as grounded as I did when I was in the Northwest, almost as if I could feel the solidity of the land around me in my heart. In Maryland I felt curiously adrift, as if there was nothing for my soul to wrap itself around. For someone as rational as I sometimes can be, this may sound perhaps an unusually romantic notion (in the 19th century sense) but I think it's a very real thing.

Yet there are other differences that took me a while to appreciate. Northwesterners are, by and large, quiet, contemplative, introverted, and most especially polite people. Marylanders were friendly, but there is also a tendency there for people in the beltway especially to take on the airs of self-importance and self-promotion that is pretty much a requirement for operating in a highly politically charged environment. Appearances mattered more than skill or talent, conforming to the two flavors of ideology (or the very careful kabuki "neutrality" that was an ideology all of its own). It would have bee all too easy to get sucked into that weird limbo, taking job after job there, but I'm not sure I would have liked what I was becoming.

It's funny. I'm not a religious person, but increasingly I see myself as being a spiritual one. This has nothing to do with the concept of an afterlife. Whether the "spirit" or "soul" survives after death has never been a big concern to me - the "me" will die with my body regardless. Yet what is becoming more pertinent to me is the bigger picture of my role with relationship to the rest of the universe. We do not exist in a self-contained unit - human beings are intrinsically psychically messy, spilling outward from their physical shell with an extended web of relationships, obligations, and temporalities, something that has become only more apparent within the context of social webs and the Internet. There I felt stifled, limited, constrained by expectations and requirements on me that reduced my role to the relevant cog in the machine. It was not the path I wanted to walk, and perhaps it is simply the ticking of that ultimate clock that made me realize that in the end it served only to fulfill some contractor's requirements on a checklist for me to be there, not whether what I was doing was really making any difference (in most cases it was not).

Okay, that's it - no big sweeping surveys of humanity's futures this time around. I'll be posting more regularly (and consistently) from here on out, now that we're no longer in moving limbo. Sometimes it is necessary to concentrate on the local, what's in front of us, and now is that time for me. I'm home.

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