There is a petty dissonance down the middle of my mind, about 2000 miles wide, roughly the distance between home and home. And I know I’m not alone in this.
On my 1.5 mile bike commute to work, I see two Subarus. First, a Forester, with an Oregon license plate. Second, an Outback, that while its owner has traded the Doug Fir plate for an Abe Lincoln, the rear window still prominently features a “Heart-in-Oregon” sticker.
I have not met the owners of these Subarus, as much as I want to. I want to ask them if they have also noticed that, from a road-side perspective, our state (2) has beat out the more likely contenders by a function of population and osmosis: New York (0), Texas (0) and California (0). I want to ask them why they too have decided to play the Oregon Trail in reverse.
Nobody truly knows what makes an Oregonian an Oregonian, but like these Subarus I have through little ways resisted assimilation to the city I have found myself in. I still have my Oregon’s Driver’s License. My shipping address, which changes from lease to lease, is different from my billing address, thanks to parents who have stayed put. Even though I walk by Alderman Ameya Pawar’s office on the way to picking up groceries at Jewel Osco, I still am registered to vote in Oregon’s 1st congressional district. I have a sticker on my laptop that proudly proclaims my tribal, er, state identity to the whole coffee shop.
Not that Chicago is a bad place. I really do like Chicago actually, or at least the neighborhoods I have spent time in. I like that just about everything I need is walking distance, I like the fact that there is always something going on, I like having centrally located train stations and airports that make the nation and world readily accessible.
If I had to, I could settle down and live here and be happy.
I could start buying things, like furniture, that do not fit into checked luggage.
So what’s holding me back?
Do I think Oregon just simply scores as the better place? — No. Places are not meant to be quantified.
Do I miss going on runs through forests with elevation changes? — No. Because I’d just as easily miss run-by-witnessing the quirkiness of people made possible by Chicago’s density of population.
Do I just like being different? — Maybe. But even so, that is probably less a weird psychological-ego thing than it is an Oregon cultural artifact.
What I think it comes down to is this: Oregon simply has shaped me in more ways than Chicago has. From the way I think to the way I dress to the way I spend my time and money. If tomorrow I were go and spend a year in New Orleans, or in Tanzania, or on the moon, I would tell people that I am from Oregon. Not Chicago.
I am not complaining about my current situation. I am here by choice, as opposed to the refugees and exiles who are here as a last resort. Nevermind that the “who am I/where am I” question is much easier than the “who are we/where are we” question: a surprising number of my friends have fallen in love not just across state lines but over international borders, and are having to figure out these questions not only in tandem with another but through concrete decisions.
So, as disorientating as it may be, the incongruence between home and home may actually be a normal part of the human experience. A formative part, even.
Maybe there is not supposed to be a right answer. If there is, however, I suspect it is not found by asking “which place should I call home” but rather “did I show up today, or did I run away?” At the very least, we are more likely to know how to answer the latter question.
That all said: my Oregon driver’s license, my state-issued identification card, expires this August. Under ORS 803.355 (and yes, I did look this up), I can only renew if I intend “to remain in the state or, if absent, to return to it.”
Not that the DMV employee is going to ask. Besides, I am confident I could make a legal case for my intention to return to Oregon in the eight-year period I would extend my domicileship, mostly revolving around the fact I see myself going to grad school sometime in the next eight years and that decision is probably going to shut the door on Chicago and there will be a transition period in which Oregon is the only place I could call home.
The more important question is this: am I going to continue resisting assimilation? If growing up in Oregon taught me anything, it taught me the importance of celebrating the places we find ourself in, whether the mountains or the valleys or the coast or the city. I am thankful for this lesson, but how shall I best thank the teacher?
By snubbing the Illinois driver’s license, am I showing up or am I running away?
I have no clue.
I am curious to see what I decide.