Simon, Garfunkel, and homesickness

It has been an unexpectedly hard week around here… really hard… and it has got me thinking along darker lines than usual. In this case about an undercurrent in my life that (when I’m being honest with myself) never really goes away. It is always there. And it has now been there long enough that most of the time my mind relegates it to a mere peripheral. It is like a constant frequency just below the range of hearing, a kind of white noise that most of the time I can completely ignore. But it doesn’t fade, not really. And sometimes, as in the case of these past few days, it comes crashing to the forefront of my perception and no matter what I do, where I am, what I am doing, or who I am with, I can not shut it out.

What I am talking about, in my own round about way, is homesickness. Sounds benign enough, doesn’t it? Well, to many people I know it is only a (perhaps) bittersweet fondness for a place you once knew, but one which you have left behind. It is the past. It is an idea. But it has never been that way for me. I stayed in one place too long for that, and as a result change is hard for me. My family moved only once when I was almost 10-years-old and it was a traumatic experience. Spurred on by the addition of a third child and a suddenly much smaller house, my parents bought a bigger place in a different part of town. They saw it as moving up, but to their eldest child it was a very different story. 10-year-old me–for the sake of convenience let’s nickname this anthropomorphic inner-child “10”–saw it as a new school, a new school bus, and a new set of bullies. Meaner bullies. It was one of the worst years of my life, certainly the worst year I had before adolescence. And the older I get, the more I see how my experiences and choices from those childhood days influence how I react to and deal with things now as an adult.

Since leaving the Southwest about 4 1/2 years ago to move to the East Coast, 10 has had a hold on me. That little inner-child is perpetually homesick and she just won’t let it go. Most of the time I’m here and I’m fine. I have a good life here in Charm City with a comfortable home, colleagues, friends, and a purpose. I also have a loving husband who may not fully understand my longing for a place I used to know, but who seems to have accepted (read: resigned himself to) its presence in my life. It is easy to convince myself that it is okay to be 2,319 miles from the city I was born and grew up in. I can focus on my love for fall colors, four actual seasons, and the fact that I do not miss the unavoidable dry heat of a desert summer. And I can tell myself that Facebook and the occasional phone call to a friend or family member is enough.

Yet even in the best of times when I am not feeling stressed, little things can set me to brooding and briefly put 10 back in charge: the annoying lack of decent Sonoran-style Mexican food in this half of the county, a travel program showing images of Saguaro cacti and craggy mountains, or even the Arizona Highways calendars I ask for every single year for Christmas (like a good little glutton for punishment). Generally, the mood passes quickly. I get nostalgic, mope quietly for a few minutes, and then get on with my life. When I’m feeling romantic and slightly melodramatic, I liken it to the immigrants coming to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who revered and longed for their abandoned home, constantly looking for ways to recreate it in a new place. When I’m feeling cynical and a bit of self-loathing, I tell myself I am being childish. Either way, there is that same muted feeling of distance and longing.

But every time something major happens back home, my first thought is always a wicked curse for being so far away. Suddenly I feel every single one of those two thousand plus miles and I venomously scold myself for choosing to pursue an education and career on the far end of the country. Charm City becomes unbearable to me, work a chore, and local connections seem both fragile and tenuous. The memory of my hometown and the life I led there becomes filtered through the rose-colored glasses of 10 and nothing I have achieved in the past four years feels worth the sacrifice… I not only long for home, I indulge in the dull ache of the distance, like poking a bruise to see if it still hurts.

And when this awful (and frankly unhealthy) homesickness overtakes me, there can be no better reflection of my emotional state than Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 classic, Homeward Bound. It seems that so many of Paul Simon’s songs during his association with Art Garfunkel are poignant and poetically riddled with the blackest despair. Don’t believe me? Have you ever heard the song I Am A Rock? Give it a listen sometime and get back to me. Now not all of their music is so dark, some of it is down right cheerful, but they really were known for two things: their astounding talent and their rocky musical relationship. Maybe that tension is reflected in their songs? It can hardly be denied that Paul Simon’s solo work tended more to the contemplative than the neurotic. Who knows? But while even the most depressing songs in their shared catalog are extremely well done and artfully complex (and let’s not forget infinitely listenable), they can often make a bad mood worse. I tend to avoid them on down days. But this has been an especially bad week and the damn thing just keeps popping back into my head! So now it is my musical treat for you. I even found their performance from the infamous Monterey Pop Festival of 1967, where they are introduced by none other than John Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go have a little talk with 10…