Leaving Michigan

Until I came here as a freshmen, I had neither ever been to the Midwest nor ever had a close friend from the region. I came clueless, got used to the place over 4 years, and now I leave again in a week indefinitely. It is possible that I never come back to Ann Arbor, even though I now know almost every street and store here. I’ve never gone back to New Hampshire since middle school or to New Jersey since high school. When I stop and think, it feels weird that a place, its people and culture, can consume the whole of my daily life for a long period of time, and become the default environment of my life, and then suddenly vanish from me, never become a daily part of me again, and gradually start to fade away from my memory forever. I’ve repeated this process several times that I am altogether numb about leaving Michigan. It is only when a slice of memory appears involuntarily much later that I’ll be able to feel nostalgia.

I don’t think this is either good or bad; I think it just is. There isn’t a location that I feel cannot be separated from my life, because pretty much every place has already been separated from me. To be sure, it’s not that I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. I certainly feel like I belong here, in South Korea, and in NYC, too. But, all the same, I don’t feel like I am grounded anywhere. I’m not sure if I can name a single place that is the deepest foundation of myself. It’s all scattered, so in order to bring out a cohesive narrative out of those pieces, I need special memories from each place. And having worked hard for something one cares about is always one of the things that can later invoke nostalgia in her mind. Among other things, I think this class will be one of those experiences by which I will remember Michigan.

2 thoughts to “Leaving Michigan”

  1. James,

    This is brilliant! I relate to your experience of moving but never feeling grounded, but I’ve never been able to put that into words. I spent most of my life so far in Malaysia, so for quite some time now I always question why do I feel so connected to Michigan? After coming to Michigan for a short time (relative to my living years so far), why has Michigan able to change me? I talked about this with a friend who shared similar experience and she mentioned that at Michigan is where I spend my formative years. These are the years that, not only me but majority of people, define and find themselves.

    I’ve always thought this is bad. I’ve always criticised myself for being forgetful of where I truly come from despite so much of me now is different than the me pre-Michigan. But you mentioned that this feeling of not belonging to any place is just is. I think this is a new approach I’m going to take now. I agree that a cohesive narrative, then, is a collection of pieces from these different places. However, I still wonder if it’s possible at all to combine all these different memories. I’m not so sure (for myself) of the idea that ‘my selves’ that have identities from very different places can cohere.


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