This blog is about my hometown, which I filmed a little bit of last time I went home. Put the quality on 1080 and see the color green unlike you have before.
A week ago, I made a separate Instagram account to serve two dozen followers split evenly between my childhood companions and my closest friends at MIT. The account is themed around the proteins in gluten, which make me irreparably and violently ill upon ingestion. I use the account to share things that are otherwise prohibited by my heavily restricted digital presence.
I understand the irony of that statement, since I am paid to share my life with thousands of people on a highly visible platform, but I think blogging is different. I am of the opinion that there should be a latency between what we think and what we share online, which eliminates a prolific use of Twitter but does not eliminate planned, long-form posts that require a significant amount of forethought and editing. At least that’s what I tell myself. Some bloggers are more comfortable writing frequent, shorter blogs that are relatively unprocessed. I would be doing readers a disservice to lie and say that was me. In real life, I am an opinionated, fast-talking, hand-waving person, but I am also extremely reserved. Sometimes, when the bloggers meet, I’ll find myself talking about something that is just slightly more vulnerable than usual, and everyone picks up on it, because a breach in my reservedness is a rare and mythical thing. Most of the time I’ll notice and change the subject. I should also say that I don’t believe I am a complex or mysterious person. I also rarely feel misunderstood. It is a weird combination of personality traits.
Anyways, I started the account because I’ve gotten into the habit of obsessively handwriting my thoughts at the end of each day. It’s gotten to the point where I walk across the river multiple times a month with the singular intention to go to Muji and get a fresh notebook just so I can fill it with more writing. Then, I go home, sit at my desk, and handwrite four to six pages. Every. Night. It’s gotten to the point where I believe I am developing tendonitis in my right hand.
Sometimes, I don’t even write in English. If I have a lot to get down and little time to do it, I’ll write one long acronym, with every letter representing a word. In even more dire situations, I’ll write one long continuous scribble as I imagine that I am writing full sentences. If I really need to think about it, I’ll write in Spanish, carefully revising every sentence so that I can communicate it in whatever intermediate grasp of the language I have.
I don’t think this is an unhealthy habit, but I do think it is a compulsion, which I am uneasy about. So, a week ago, I wrote a note on the front cover of my current notebook telling me to give my hand a rest. As a response, I created an Instagram account and started posting massive photo decks of my life. I should mention I also compulsively take photos. Then, I say whatever I want in the caption, which only gives me a couple hundred words, and I turn my phone off. Then I go to sleep. It makes me feel better.
It isn’t all sad things, because the large majority of my thoughts are not sad. I post funny pictures of me and my friends over the last year, and photos of me when I was fourteen and stylistically challenged, and screenshots of all of my internship rejection emails. I talk about how much I love my friends, or how much I’m enjoying my classes. But sometimes, if I think very hard, I’ll write a long and melancholy caption about something I’m struggling with. Some people don’t like that, and they unfollow me. Reasonable. Some people reach out to me and tell me they relate, and we have a nice conversation. Lovely.
The second reason I made the account is because I’ve been missing high school an inordinate amount lately. I come from a very small town, where the people I graduated high school alongside are the people I entered Kindergarten with. There isn’t a lot to do in a small town, so friends usually have conversations in empty parking lots and basements, swapping stories and plans. Because of this, there is an unbreakable bond between Southerners, especially between those of the same age. Generally, after high school graduation, people go into the workforce or stay local for college. There are some socioeconomic factors to this, but I’ve come to realize that Southerners stick together if at all possible. If you decide to uproot and find yourself making small talk over tapas at a table facing the ocean, know that you’ll never be able to look into the eyes of the person across from you and understand quite like you did back home.
Of course, I was the one to uproot. I broke up with my girlfriend, who loved me more than I ever deserved, and told my friends, who stuck by me for fifteen years, goodbye. Then, I got on a plane and came to Boston, a city that at the time I couldn’t point out on a map.
I am so guilty for leaving everyone behind.
When I came to MIT, I quickly met lots of people. Bright, clean, brilliant. Funny. Not in the way that Southerners are funny, but in a way that is less intense and more mechanical and hilarious all the same. I also met extremely wealthy people, who permeate all corners of MIT. Bay Area. Private school. Dad’s credit card. What do you mean you didn’t do competitive math or chess or dance? What do you mean you’ve never seen a house this big? What do you mean you never learned this? What do you mean you’re waiting for your refund to hit?
What do you mean you don’t have anyone from home with you?
It’s not their fault. These are highly intelligent, hard working people, and as much as I despise saying it, I attend the same school, and I am a highly intelligent, hard working person. It’s just hard to not feel disadvantaged when you’re surrounded by people that know what is around the corner miles before they get to it. I have to catch up to the corner and take a good look around before I understand.
All this to say, I met friends I love, even if I don’t believe the large majority of them will ever understand. I made it through the year, and I went back to the South for the summer. And I realized something uncomfortable.
I really miss high school.
I mourn for it. I miss doing manual labor at overtime pay every week. I miss driving home after work, late at night with my windows down, because the roads are so silent and the air is so clean. I miss looking for dogs from missing posters and catching frogs. I miss the farmland. I miss the people who raised me, who loved and supported me and told me that if I wanted to get out, I could. But they would miss me if I did. But they knew it was what I needed.
I miss the precariousness of Tennessee. I miss experiencing the fulcrum that balances stillness and chaos and violence and love, all things one could experience together in a single day. I miss the tornados and taking shelter in my neighbor’s basement. I miss waking up and hearing that half of Nashville was destroyed and we needed to help sort through the rubbish or that an entire block was blown up and we don’t know why. I miss crashing at each other’s houses and holding each other when things go awry. I miss all the ways Southerners acknowledge each other’s existence in small ways, jumping cars and sharing harvest and watching the neighbor’s kid.
I miss all of these things. I always describe the transition between Tennessee and Boston as a jump cut, because I cannot fathom how the two places can coexist on the same timeline. Every time I board a plane, I can’t imagine myself stepping out of the same plane and into Boston, but I always do.
Deep down, I love Boston too. I like the trains, and I like how walking is the default form of transportation. I like the weather, even when it is cold, so long as it isn’t extraordinarily windy. I like the river, especially in the early fall, when the water is still and the sky is impossibly blue. I like the exotic dogs in Back Bay, and most of the time I like their equally eccentric owners too.
But I wonder, even as I swiftly navigate train stations and walk through gaps of traffic, if people recognize that I am not Boston and that there is something unclean and unkept inside me.
One night last year, I went to see a concert in Fenway with some friends. We stood in line for hours next to a sixteen year old who was born and raised in Boston. He realized we went to MIT and asked where we were from. When I told him I was from Tennessee, he said he couldn’t have guessed it.
What a weird thing, to be so terrified of being outed as a Southerner in a place like Boston and a sixteen year old boy tells you that you act like you’re from California.
That night, I wrote pages about how I wish I could uproot MIT, put it on a plane, and take it to Tennessee. I’d put it right on a farm surrounded by cows, just like my high school. I’d let it steep in write-in elections and blue collar jobs and rainwater, and my friends from home would come to classes, and I wouldn’t feel so damn guilty about leaving everyone behind.
But I know I can’t do that, just like I know I’ll never let my hand fully heal.