Sunday, October 13, 2013

the centre cannot hold

While going through some of the detritus in one of my detritus boxes from the basement, I came across a map we had made when we first thought about moving to Massachusetts. Using a pencil and a ruler I had drawn lines on a Google map that contained the three places our children live: Littleton, Salem, and Amesbury. I had drawn a triangle, which had turned out to be a perfect right triangle, then had drawn lines from the apexes of two sides to the center of the opposing side. The lines crossed in Andover. I remember looking at Andover and being impressed by how expensive the houses were. When we talked over that map, the possibility of moving was brand new and we were being quite speculative about it. Ultimately, when we began to get serious, we began to steer away from a central location and to think about locating closer to a point. What got us started on Amesbury, what actually got us to start looking at houses, was one on California Street in Amesbury. When we saw it, the house was overgrown, looking strange and mysterious. The house was intriguing and we did look at it twice, but ultimately we decided we did not want a house that required that much work. But the big thing is that it got us started.

That we even got that far was partly because the place where we were living in rural Pennsylvania was changing due to the gas industry, so if we were leaving it, it was also leaving us. The pace of change has slowed down, but there is no question that over the next decade Tioga County will get twisted out of shape. To stay would be to decide to live in a different place, though what kind of different place is unclear, but unlikely to be of our liking, certainly not the rural place we moved to where nature dominated people. It began to make sense to make a deliberate move rather than just slide downhill. So looking at houses in the North Shore of Massachusetts began to seem reasonable.

But moving is not just about geography, not when one component of the move is my retiring. I plan to write and to study mobiles and to get involved in the community and the lives of our children and grandchildren. But still, the shift in identity is a worrisome thing and leaving the university where I teach seemed like a bold decision. However, like the place where we live, the university seems to be leaving me. In response to budget cuts, the administration is cutting positions using a logic symptomatic of a vision of the university that is cramped and commercial. They are not trying to protect the aspect of the university that has led me to keep pouring energy into it—the chance to open up the life of the mind for students who don't even know it exists; if the place continues to exist it will have been so changed that it will no longer be what it was.

So my bridges are burning themselves behind me.

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