Tuesday, December 25, 2007

"Do you honestly think Jesus would carry a gun and vote Republican?"- bumper sticker, Wichita

Christmas at the Pedrojas, December 18.

2:31am, 24 December. Room 223, I think, eight hours into the 12 it will take us to get back to Lerwick. The sea is thrashing us back and forth, my handbag is sliding towards the door, then back, Matt is snoring in the bunk across the narrow room. I’m listening to the Indigo Girls for the first time since the autumn of 2001 and on the verge of crying. It’s been a weird week of miniature epiphanies and minor setbacks but I’m finally heading back to an island nearer to the North Pole than to Kansas where the sun will be scraping the land for few invaluable hours a day.

This is the first time I’ve not been ready to leave Wichita ever. Ever. I’ve never held a deep connection to my hometown; I spent my youth plotting my breakout, dreaming huge, wishing circumstances had clashed to spit me out of a more exotic locale, such as Los Angeles or New York City, or even Kansas City. And as the story goes, fifteen years later, I become as cliche as millions before me who find themselves with uncomfortable affection to a place they once despised. There are decent galleries; more eclectic cafes than Starbucks locations (thank god); restaurants from places as far-fletched as Nepal, southern Chile, Sweden; theater and film events to rival those of any other city; a promising number of people with “Make the scary Republican go away!” and “Do you honestly think Jesus would carry a gun and vote Republican?” affixed to their rear bumpers. Of their cars, of course. This is, after all, America.
Somewhere in the past two weeks, the shift of frustration has melted with some deep sense of pride for how this city is evolving. It’s chilled-out; its pace resembles that of Portland or Vancouver. People eat out, a lot, in groups, sharing laughs. The American dream of home ownership is attainable. People here travel, because they can afford to spend their two weeks abroad. They dress well and drive nice cars and their homes are immaculate - money goes far here. And the skies are huge, the sunsets glowing in sherbet oranges and reds and yellows.
These realizations took a long time to simmer - it’s easy to point out the ridiculous nature of America and overlook the more immediate self-transformation. Idiots still loom everywhere, edging closer to ruining everything, but the balance is beginning to shift; inspiration for a better planet is everywhere - often subtle, perhaps ill-received, but well-intentioned.
Above, Christmas Eve in Shetland, just before sunset.

I went to dinner with friends I’ve known my whole life. We’re all in our 30s, and are beginning to settle into the lives we’ve created for ourselves. Our stories include divorce, offspring, deaths, heartbreak, cancer, love. Gathered around that table, attempting to stomach insane portions of food, was a group of people far more committed to each other, to their families, to their lifestyles, than to their jobs. This is rare, to be in the company of eleven people who have a clear sense of priority. Work was mentioned as anecdote, not lifestyle. No one moaned about their jobs. Indeed, everyone is in their proper place. Rob has cut down his teaching days to paint; Pete has shelved his camera and dove into his job as a counselor at our old high school; Val shifted her career in social work to a less mentally taxing job; Alex is making a mint selling cars; Justin is a talented contractor. All are with partners who share their passions. Spending the evening with a group of people so content was refreshing. There is much to be said about the balance these people have achieved.

And there is much to be said about not conquering the world, about reveling in where you are, not losing sight of the future but enjoying the now.

Does this make me middle-aged? Yikes. So I got on a plane, traveled halfway round the world and escaped. Only this time it didn’t feel like escaping.
Lodge on the Loch, Aboyne, 22 December.

Matt organized a spa day (bless him!). Musings while receiving a wonderful massage included:
• Five days clad in the same pair of jeans doth not an attractive woman make. Thanks, Air France, for finding my second bag and finally delivering them both five days later with only one visible breakage issue.
• Going through my 2000+ CDs in my parents’ basement was cathartic; rediscovering the songs I had shelved for years had me remembering how far I’ve come as a music consumer, not unrelated to the germination of a personality.
• I’m on the cusp of figuring out my identity as an author, and am in love with the new book I am piecing together, my second attempt of a story that hasn’t bubbled around in the corners of my brain for a few years. This one is working. That feels good.
Christmas Eve in Shetland, 2:20pm. Sunset.

Today, Christmas in Shetland, where Santa plays the fiddle and arrives on a pony. Maybe. Matt's at work, and it's already weird to be alone with the BBC Breakfast show on Christmas Day. It's also Matt's birthday, so I am attempting a cake to take to him later. The light is beginning to wash the land in a strange purplish light, and I'll get out later to wander. But for now, happy holidays from Shetland.


Erik R. said...

Lovely photos and prose as always. Except for that last photo...

Merry Xmas and happy birthday!

Zain said...

Hey KP. For what it's worth our xmas has felt a bit lonely this year too. We've really been missing you guys and I can't wait to catch up at Up Helly Ah. Best wishes for the New Year! Zx.