As many of you know, I'm taking two graduate classes right now through UNL. One of the classes--Place Conscious Teaching--is winding down and will end in the next few weeks. This class has been a bit of a struggle. To be specific, the weekly place conscious writing (writing about our places) we did during the second unit was the most difficult part of the semester for me because I don’t feel connected to any place. I wanted to get the heck out of my hometown, I never felt settled in Lincoln, Kearney was nice—but I was a transient college student who was always moving, and Ogallala still feels foreign. So, this essay is my attempt at reflecting on this. I wanted to write at least one piece about the place I live, but it was so difficult because I don't feel connected yet. Sometimes I wonder if this lack of connection is derived from a combination of the isolation we're experiencing, the adjustments we're still making, and the long hours we put in at our teaching jobs. It's interesting how many outside factors can influence a person's sense of place. I posted an earlier version of this back in October, I believe, but here is a more polished version:
Finding a Moment of Peace
About a year and a half ago my husband and I moved to this small town—the Cowboy Capital of Nebraska, Ogallala. Because my husband had never lived in a small town before, we thought it would be a great new adventure. As we drove west down Interstate 80 in our rented U-Haul I marveled at the changing landscape and began to envision myself in a peaceful town filled with people who stopped working at 5:00 and then went home to relax with their families for the rest of the evening. Though we were moving far away from our friends and families, I thought the distance between us and them would bring my husband and I closer together. I hoped this new community would help me to feel settled. We had lived in three communities in a span of three years and never had the chance to set down roots...I was sure this new town was just the place for settling down. At the time, I thought our move was quite romantic.
It’s been a year and a half and the romance of living in a small town has worn off. Today I’ve already put in about twelve hours of work, two hours of homework, snuck in a thirty minute argument with my husband about how our families never come to visit, and I’ve managed to squeeze in a few hours of family time…really, it was two hours spent in front of the TV, but we claim it as family time because we sit on the same couch while we watch TV. Lately I’ve found myself growing disappointed that my town is not like the town I envisioned when we moved out here. I don’t remember the last time I was done working before 6:00 or even 6:30. And I certainly haven’t had every evening free to spend with my husband. Though living out here has brought us closer together, being so far from family and friends has raised another set of issues we weren’t quite ready to face.
Life seemed much easier when we lived in bigger cities like Kearney and Lincoln. I wasn’t constantly grading essays, filling out the endless amount of paperwork that comes along with teaching, and I certainly wasn’t up until all hours of the night worrying about how I could teach more effectively. We were also within a few hours from our close friends and family and could visit them often. Though I was newly married, finishing school, and working as much as my schedule allowed, I managed to have more time and less worries. Ever since we’ve moved out to this small southwestern Nebraska town I’ve felt bombarded.
Tonight, I am wondering how I can feel so stressed. This town really is peaceful. Everything shuts down at five-thirty, there are only two options for grocery shopping, and I only have a short half-mile jaunt to my spot where I can sit and look out over hills covered in wild grasses. I remember the first time I found this place. I had had a terrible day of school and was feeling like a worthless teacher. So I laced up my sneakers, grabbed my dog, and took off down the gravel road that runs near my house. I had never run that hilly road before, and though it was unfamiliar, I kept running until I reached the top. I leaned over to rest my hands on my knees so I could catch my breath. After a few seconds, I stood up straight and was greeted with the most beautiful view. I was looking out over the northern outskirts of Ogallala where hills roll and grasses sway calmly below a pink-orange sky. I stood there, looking out over the town for what seemed like hours. After awhile, I noticed that my breathing became slow and regular and I was aware that my chest was rising and falling in a natural rhythm. I looked down at my dog that had also grown peaceful during our time on the hill. He lay on the gravel road with his eyes closed, but his head was held up like he was meditating, the breeze blowing through his scruffy Terrier beard. As the sun sank below the hills, we turned to head back home and I felt a sense of peace come over me. It was the kind of peace that you feel only when you know you’ve experienced something beautiful and rare. I think it was then that I realized that even though my new life out here was going to be a whirlwind, I was okay.