I can hear the refrain in my head as I drive down my tree-lined street with dewy, emerald lawns and neighbors doing God knows what inside their shuttered, air-conditioned Midcentury palaces.
“You’ve gone soft in the head and heart, given away your affinity for diversity and culture for what? For Polo shirts, manicured facial hair and Saturday morning golf outings?”
I argue with the voice.
“I don’t play golf, and I prefer old beer T-shirts and athletic shorts on weekends. And yeah, I trim my beard once in a while, so you can have that one.
The voice continues its tirade against suburban life until I pull my truck into the garage, at which time it’s replaced by the babble and permission seeking teens, preteens and 7-year-old who mob me like a popular ballplayer.
It’s Midwestern summer hot outside, so I get inside to the comfort of two wall-mounted air conditioners that sound slightly quieter than a 747’s reverse thrusters and turn on Spotify only to find all the recommendations are for country music, because all anyone at home ever listens to is Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line.
The voice, which is right some times, starts in again, something about my sad lack of musical knowledge these days.
And I get defensive, which puts me in a bad mood, which the children can sense, so they stay away from me.
My wife asks a general question related to food and who wants to grill the chicken so we can eat before 8 p.m. And the teenage boy does not jump up to volunteer, so I grab the tongs and the plate of chicken and stand over the hot grill bantering with myself about how much I enjoy going into the city every day and at least once on weekends.
I’m not crazy, and the voices I hear are a mix of comments and ideas that I pick up during the week. They tend to form a dialogue that is neither healthy nor ever resolved.
It was the same dialogue in Oregon, when I decided I’d had enough of writing about former teachers going to prison for abusing their students in my hometown.
So we packed up and moved to Montana, where the dialogue changed to one that constantly warned against isolation and which hammered at my ego for being so far away from anything that mattered so how could I ever matter?
In Alaska, the voices were merciless, because they played on my predilection for claustrophobia, which seems absurd in the largest state in the union.
But Alaska can feel more closed off than living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
In the verbal battles with myself, which often occur out of sound shot of anyone but me, I’ve always considered it a sense of honor to defend my current position.
Lately I’ve been wondering if these conversations aren’t the deep-seeded cause of my wanderlust. Is this internalized dialogue what lets me nurture thoughts of my next big move, forcing me to abandon the concept of home and hearth that so many others seem to find so satisfying?
If I follow back the line of reasoning, the voice almost always attacks the idea of settlement and permanence. And as soon as it loosens the mortar, I begin to pick away at the foundation of those ideas.
On the cusp of 40, I recognize the duality inherent in all of this. And I wonder what inborn sense recognizes that moment where everything comes together and you just stop wherever you are and start putting down roots.
My great grandparents traveled over the largest continent by foot with not much more than the clothes on their back. So it was understandable that when they finally arrived in a place where they could live and worship as they wished, they stayed there.
I’m fortunate that I did not have to flee from a tyrannical dictator as they did. But some times I believe the flight from mediocrity is lined with more treachery than a strongman’s arsenal.
The voice has been especially loud in recent weeks, perhaps because I have time to look around and survey my world. Repetitive things become annoying, and the collar seems just a little tighter than it was the day before.
And the thing I hate about the voice is the derisive tone it takes when it talks about others. I’m not a judgmental person. At least I don’t want to be.
But the voice often places others in a context that makes me want to crawl out of my skin and flee before I fall into the same complacency.
I used to question the sanity of those who never leave a place. Now I wonder if it’s really strength instead of weakness.
Weekends spent lazily are especially bad for me. Starting on Sunday afternoon, the voice mercilessly picks apart my life starting with the dreams I used to have and plucking the bones of my ideas of any remaining bits of meat.
Sometimes I get in the car and drive to the end of the road and then to the end of the county. And sometimes I drive to the state line, because it’s not too far away.
And crossing a border, even just a little border, makes me feel better. Boundaries, real or imagined, are meant to be crossed, not avoided.
And I’m convinced that I can overcome this self-directed conversation on Monday mornings as I drive through the muggy neighborhood with dewy, emerald lawns and big, whispering oaks.
At least for the next 8 hours or so.