Nostalgia and Stagnation.
This is a nice song to listen to while you're reading this post, I think. I've been listening to The National a lot since Tuesday, when Angel and I got back from our first visit to Ohio in about three years. They're one of the better bands to have started out in the state, and this evokes nostalgia much better than the only other option I know of, "Back to Ohio" by The Pretenders, which just seems so negative. The National are melancholy, but nice.
It was a short visit - 4.5 days - but one of the better ones we've had. We decided to have a good attitude about going home this time (taking vacation time to head to Ohio...YAY!), and a lot has changed in the last 3 years, and overall it was a really nice visit home. Southern Ohio is always just a little bit prettier and a little bit more Appalachian than I remember, with pleasant rolling hills and lots of greens, yellows and browns in the Summer, and thick Johnny Cash accents. We saw a couple of lightning bugs and a big lightning storm, and a bunch of cows and corn, so we checked off the requisites (though I would've liked to have had a chance to go swimming in a warm brown creek). As far as activities go, we did a few fun things: we ran a 5k in the Cincinnati Zoo with my parents (I finished 8th/1200 overall! There's a lot less competition there than here. How's that for a humblebrag?). We also went to the Ohio Renaissance Festival, which is the impressive cultural phenomenon that you would expect. But mostly we just visited with family and caught up with people, and had a bunch of good conversations of the sort that you only have when you stay away from people you love for years at a time and make major life changes in the meantime. My grandpa told me a bunch of interesting stories from my family history that I hadn't heard before, I talked with my parents about religion, and we had a long conversation with Angel's cousin about what he hopes to do after graduation and how we might help him out.
A few things changed. Last time I was home, it was for my grandmother's funeral, and this visit I met my 83 year old grandfather's new wife. They were both acting like teenagers, which was great to see, if not a little bit weird. Also, last time we were home Angel's aforementioned cousin Austin was just finishing 8th grade. Now he's headed into his senior year of high school, working towards State in wrestling and seems all grown up. I pinched his cheeks and told him I knew him when he was 'this' big, and we tried to convince him that he should come to Washington for college. A few other things have changed too, because excepting our parents, all of our immediate family now lives in other states. Our hometown, Camden, seems to have cleaned itself up a bit, painting old buildings and such, and they opened a nice Outlet Mall in Monroe, near the old porn store and strip club. Touchdown Jesus is gone, but they're rebuilding (my favorite thing about this is that PETA wanted to give them money for restoration in exchange for a big sign on the statue promoting veganism. The church declined.)
But I think the thing that always strikes me about home is how things don't change as much as I expect them to. Last time I was home, I noticed a bunch of dilapidated businesses near my hometown in Middletown, and thought, "Man, those are going to be gone soon. Ohio's in bad shape." Three years later, they were all still there, similarly dilapidated. And people still look like they did when I was in high school: Khakis or baggy jeans, striped polos, Old Navy and Abercrombie for the stylish, almost universally carrying an extra couple of pounds if they're older than 20. Haircuts out of the 50's. Lots of tie dye still among the more liberal, and classic rock t-shirts among the rebellious. They're still listening to Rush Limbaugh and country music and voting for Texas Republicans, but they're also still incredibly friendly and completely unpretentious, and probably still sick of snobbish East/West Coaster's criticizing their appearance and culture. All told they're generally really good people - as are most.
Maybe because cultural change happens there at a much slower pace than in the progressive 'future is now' areas that I've been living in for the last 8 years or so, going back to Ohio always evokes a nice, charming sense of nostalgia alongside a deeply troubling sense of stagnation. It might be what Ohio is about - conservative politics, and people just hoping to go back to the golden age when Cincinnati was an All-American city, there was a job for anyone who would work, and the Midwest was the place to be. Or it might just be that Ohio is where I grew up, and so I interpret it that way. But when I go there I always vacillate between "Man, this is really nice - simple, beautiful, peaceful. Maybe I could move back some day?" and "I can already feel this place killing my ambition and sucking out my soul!". I either want to smile, relax, get a supercut and a job at the Sbarro at the mall and just be a part of the place, or to start screaming at people on the street to wake up, like Roddy Piper on "They Live". "PUT THE GLASSES ON! PUT 'EM ON!"
I guess those probably aren't the only two options, but somehow that's where I always seem to end up. I wish I could relate to home in a more healthy way. It's really a pretty nice place, I think - more so than I remembered. One of those "Good Places to Be From" that people talk about. But ambivalence - I'm still stuck on ambivalence.