Thoughts on Living in the Midwest Again, Now That I’ve Been Here for a While

Vaxtyn requested I write about this, so here we go:

The interesting thing about beginning my third year in Cedar Rapids is that I already feel like I’ve been here for a longer period of time than any other place I’ve lived as an adult, even though I know mathematically that isn’t true; I was in Washington, DC for four years, and in Seattle for just over five.

At first I thought it was because I’d been in the same apartment for longer than any of my previous homes, but even that isn’t true; although I’ve rarely maintained an apartment or roommate situation for more than two consecutive years, I did keep my DC apartment for the four years I lived there.

So I think that, in this case, the sense of temporal expansion comes from finally being part of a community.

Arguably, time is supposed to speed up when you do the same things over and over, whether that’s singing with a choir every Sunday or going to the same big outdoor festival every summer. But there’s also this sense of here we are, singing another concert, or oh look, the art museum has a new exhibit that I want to go see, or well, I guess it’s time for another board meeting.

And because everything changes, just a little bit, every time, it doesn’t feel like you’re repeating yourself. It feels like you’re adding on to something.

I didn’t have anything to add onto when I lived in Seattle. There was work, of course, and building my career, but very little of that happened in connection with the city. I can work from anywhere, as long as I have my laptop and access to the internet; so the sense of being in Seattle, as a place, with locations I visited regularly and people I saw on a daily basis, didn’t precisely exist.

It was more like I lived online and, once a month or so, visited Seattle to see a friend or attend an event.

I very definitely live in Cedar Rapids, now. People know me, both in ways I’d like to be known and ways that surprise me. I’ll meet people in a professional context, for example, and they’ll say “wait, I recognize you, you’re always walking the track at the YMCA!”

I’ve also had the privilege of spending time with my parents on a very regular basis, which is very different from seeing them five days a year at the holidays. I wrote in The Biographies of Ordinary People that when you see family only rarely, years get compressed into yesterdays; you’re still viewed as eighteen or twenty-five because that’s how you were the last time they spent any significant time with you. We haven’t gotten to see each other change, so we all work from our last point of context.

Maybe that’s why it feels like I’ve been living in Cedar Rapids for much longer than just over two years (I moved in November 2017). I have all kinds of context now, and memories associated with places and people who are actively present in my day-to-day life.

Which is very different from the kind of life I lived in larger cities.

And yes, moving back to the Midwest is still one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. ❤️

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Living in the Midwest Again, Now That I’ve Been Here for a While

  1. “It was more like I lived online and, once a month or so, visited Seattle to see a friend or attend an event.”

    HOOOOO BOY this hit me right in the solar plexus. Especially factoring in how often I travel away from Portland and find myself catching friends only in fits and starts. I’m trying to cultivate more of that community feeling, but it’s just tough in a larger city! Going home to Ojai (where I’m headed tomorrow, in fact), I run into people who have known me since childhood, who connect with my parents, who contextualize me in a richer landscape. I do love it, even if I’m not quite ready to move there yet. Thank you for reflecting on this shift in your life—I love reading about it.

  2. Thank you for writing this at my request. 🙂

    “It was more like I lived online and, once a month or so, visited Seattle to see a friend or attend an event.”

    This hit home for me too. Part of me likes the anonymity of big city living, but everything you said is true about the repeated encounters with neighbors and parents. That’s how you get tightly woven social fabric, showing up day to day. I’ve lived in my apartment for 4 years. If I moved out tomorrow I don’t think I’d even say goodbye to anyone. If I needed help with something, I’d be more likely to hire someone than ask for a favor.

    I’m sad about the lack of community, but I also appreciate the privacy that I have. There’s a lot of scrutiny in a smaller town – I like going about my business without everyone noticing. Double-edged sword. I imagine that Cedar Rapids is large enough that you get a little of both.

    Anyway – thanks so much! Loved reading this. Would be curious to know more about the specific community building activities too, if you care to write about that in a future post.

  3. Thanks so much for writing this. I love being back in the midwest after time on both coasts, but I still occasionally dream of Seattle (despite the fact that it’s sooo different from when I lived there 20 years ago…). Thanks for reminding me WHY I love living in this area of the country that so many others overlook. And now I need to dig up your book!

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