Okay, right out of the gate here, let me say I never thought this would be a three-part essay. (!) Of course, since it's well known I take "10,000 words to say hello," I guess I probably should have expected it.
I could have left this one long, rambling experience...but then who would read it? (Okay, not that too many people read the blog anyway, but I'm trying to CORRECT that, not perpetuate it. Just sayin'.)
When we last left our CWC, then, she was experiencing a cognitive disconnect. From the point of view of a girl who always thought she was "country," the actual in-your-face manifestation of what living in the country apparently meant to different people was a disappointment...to put it mildly. But the important thing to realize at that point is where the disconnect comes from: simply, it's because the perception of what something is like doesn't fit its reality, at least not in enough ways and places to overlook the rest.
And that's where the "two different paths" idea comes in. Our country girl, upon seeing evidence that not everyone lived in the country the way SHE would live in the country...had one of two ways she could go.
She could choose to ignore the bad stuff, overlook it, and focus on only what was beautiful.
Or, she could decide that the ugly was part of the package that she'd never escape, and realign her future choices accordingly.
As it turns out, I've made that kind of decision before.
When I lived in the city, I encountered equally high instances of sheer ugliness. Yes, the city is beautiful in many aspects: Chicago's lakefront parks, museums, theaters, etc., are wonderful venues, usually pure pleasure, and make the city's appearance sparkle like a jewel.
Unfortunately, however, an equal part of the "city" is truly ugly. And I'm not even talking obvious ugliness like gang crime, crack houses, or the like. I'm talking about the "flip side" of places that, on one level, are stunningly beautiful.
Like the size of the rats that supposedly live in the recesses of all those glowing buildings. (Yeah, I don't want to think much about that, either.)
Like the smell of underground transportation tunnels. Do some people use them as bathrooms? Undeniably. Is that, unfortunately, part of the everyday experience for city commuters and dwellers? Also undeniably.
Or even things that aren't as nasty as those, but are shabby nonetheless.
Like buildings that need paint. Or re-tuckpointing. Or broken windows redone. Or even, heaven help us, just some soap and water once in awhile.
Like structures that have been "let go."
Like graffiti in places where you really don't want to see it (which is pretty much anywhere).
Even little tiny things like dirty windows on commuter trains. (Yes, I know keeping those windows clean and scratch-free would probably be a monumental task. But people are out of work...and those windows are despicably dirty most of the time. Seems to me this is a job, for someone, waiting to happen.)
When I lived in the city, I got to feast my eyes, ears, and nose on lots of things I would have rather not seen, heard, or smelled. But I also knew that that was "part of" living where getting around was pretty easy, where the city's resources were at my fingertips, etc. As one of my friends expresses the "side effects" of any decision, "You get what comes with it."
So for the time I lived there, I tried as best I could not to focus on the shabby. To look for beauty anywhere I could find it, and concentrate on that.
That, however, was a surprisingly arduous task. Because determining not to look at something, not to dwell on something, or to "ignore" something takes as much energy as--or more than--just letting it "wash over" you in awareness but not attention. (I actually kind of envy people who can do that. I, of the hyperacuitive nature, cannot.)
Eventually, I got tired of saying, "Yeah, the roaches in the laundry room are big, but at least they're not in my apartment." And things of that nature.
In other words...I got tired of "yeah but...at least."
Which is a polite way of saying I got tired of making excuses and living with them.
Eventually, this second path also occurred to me in Indiana.
I got tired of pretending that a shabby building didn't hurt my eyes to look at.
I got tired of seeing people with more tattoos than teeth.
I got tired of the rusted vehicles, the junky yards, the bedraggled dogs, and the tangled barbed wire.
I got tired of struggling to pay rent to people who basically considered us "serfs" on their "estate" and didn't hesitate to convey that in all kinds of ways.
And I got really, really tired of limited choices.
Despite myself, I began to realize that I MISSED the suburbs.
I MISSED the endless streets of stores, services, restaurants, and entertainment.
Yeah, I knew there'd be traffic with it. And sometimes that traffic was INSANE.
But for the opportunities that came with that traffic?
I realized that I could, in fact, make that tradeoff.
And even be grateful for it.
Fast forward a year, to where we are now--on the shores of a lake, in a tiny TINY place to live that can't hold half of our stuff. Part of a CONDO, of all things, something I swore I'd never live in. (I despise communal living, as a whole.) But all the things that should be driving "the country girl" absolutely NUTS...somehow are not.
Because as lousy as our country living experience was, that's how nice this place is for us.
We have a tiny TINY yard outside, so we can plant things.
The communal living aspects of this are actually a lot less intrusive than I expected. Have we had some noise problems? Yeah. A couple of times. But largely...not enough to want to run screaming away. The condo association people take care of things almost instantly, as does our landlord. And neither of them is unpleasant in any way to deal with.
Still, there's the lack of space. We really, really want more space--and need it, so we don't have to store half our things and pay every month for that "privilege."
So we went looking at a country place. On 3 acres, with a full basement that could hold all of our storage and save us that rental money.
The landlord seemed like he'd be nice enough...but he lived ON SITE, in a house not too far from the rental property.
Red flag #1.
The house had no gas in it, was all-electric...because it was so out of the way the gas company wouldn't even COME OUT there to run a line to it. Since I'm a foodie, I want a gas stove. Period.
Red flag #2.
In front of our house was a dilapidated shed that held the snowplow/tractor that the owner would use for snow removal and/or lawn mowing. It was, quite frankly, an eyesore.
Red flag #3.
The home was close to PM's work, but not close to anything else we regularly use. We'd have to find new stores for grocery shopping, and the gym would be a half-hour drive.
Red flag #4.
And the house itself was dark. Unattractive. Taking "rustic" to a level I wasn't prepared to deal with--things like a disreputable-looking fan next to the wood stove that had replaced the lovely fireplace in the living room, and paneled walls that made the place both darker and less colorful than it needed to be. It was dirty, which also made appreciating it difficult.
Yet I still toyed with the idea of us moving there. Until I came to my senses.
The ONLY things that would turn the key for this place for me would be the 3 acres with the pond, the everyday presence of wildlife, and the peace and quiet that that would basically guarantee...and the storage space in a basically well-kept basement...if you didn't count the lack of a hand rail on the stairs and having to duck the low-hanging ceiling over them. (And we're not tall, either. :-) )
Yet it was still an interesting decision. For a few hours, hours I can attribute only to a pesky optimism on my part that, while opening opportunities on its good side, has brought me into more than one disaster on its bad side.
And I recognized a potential bad side disaster decision before I made it. Finally.
And I realized that the "country" was no longer where I, in my heart of hearts, lived anymore.
Nor would I probably ever truly want to live there again.
The sole exception to that might be a rolling estate in someplace like Long Grove, with acreage around you--and a handy paved highway, rolling through manicured grounds and estates, to drive to the conveniences that wouldn't be far away. :-)
However, if you check out Long Grove and places of its ilk, you know it's going to be a little while before we get there.
In the meantime, I've gained knowledge that money can't buy.
And a new confidence and perspective about looking before I leap.
Fortunately, we're not in a position where we HAVE to "leap" anywhere. Where we are will do. We'll have to figure out how to make it work better for importing the rest of our books, but the remainder of things in storage would largely be stored in some capacity anyway: boxes of photos, memorabilia, and Christmas decorations. Those would be tucked onto shelves somewhere in a basement or a garage, no matter WHERE we lived.
So for right now? The Catholic Writer Chick is a suburban girl.
And she's probably going to be one for the rest of her life.
It's a surprise--but how you like to live isn't always how you TELL yourself you "ought" to live, either. And I'm just beginning to forgive myself for accepting that as the truism it is.
It could take awhile to fully integrate the fact that, at my heart, I'm not REALLY a "country girl." But I think being able to drive 10 minutes down the road and get anything my heart desires, being able to walk to the gym if I have to, and being able to look out on a lake every day might make that integration a whole lot easier.
It's also serving as a really, really good yardstick against which to measure ANY decision to change our lifestyle in the near future.
And that's peace of mind that's even better than the sound of waving cornstalks in the wind. For now, it's enough.