It feels important to not totally lose momentum on writing about why we’re moving.
Obviously, we would not be moving if we were completely content and all our needs were met here, in western Massachusetts. Truth be told, I think Tom’s needs are pretty well satisfied right now, but that doesn’t mean mine are or that Lily’s are. Let it be known that as a family, despite the fact that Tom and I don’t have all the traits of a conventional “couple,” we are entirely united in sharing the value that the needs of each (mine, Tom’s, Lily’s) are important and that our decision-making is guided by looking out for our collective welfare. We are devoted to one another.
What is the impetus for our relocation? Am I hoping for a geographic cure of some sort?
I’ve been wary, in fact. I have been thinking about moving for years. I have questioned my motives, questioned whether I’m succumbing to escapism, questioned whether this will actually bring the benefits I hope it will. The reality is that there are no guarantees that moving will address our issues, in whole or in part.
What it boils down to, what it has always boiled down to for at least the past 20 years of my life, is tribe.
Lily and I need to be among people who will be a regular part of our lives. In person. Doing the things that matter to us—learning, cooking and eating good food, hiking, foraging, gardening, making art, writing, breathing in the magic of the woods, playing, loving, speaking out and taking action against injustice, defining “success” and “a good life” on our own terms, resisting the imperialist narrative that would have us all shuffle off to hierarchical institutions (most schools, most workplaces, etc.) to have our feral dreams warped beyond recognition.
I know there are good people who are part of our tribe here in New England, too. I have witnessed their hearts, their efforts. But it doesn’t translate to our tribespeople being generally around. And it turns out having people around, on a regular basis, in person, with whom we can connect in a substantial way, really matters.
There are barriers to this. I would say a substantial barrier is that a large majority of people are enmeshed in conventional life, held hostage to economic necessity that convinces them that the only way to live is by children going to school and adults going to a conventional workplace. It is inconceivable, for most people, to reject large parts of that way of living. But reject it we have. (With the exception of Tom, I would say. But I don’t desire to speak for him, only to say that I respect his choices as well as his support. I still very much love my convention-enmeshed people.)
Of the various communities to which we have a natural affinity, the most foundational, for me and Lily, is the homeschooling/unschooling community (if it can be called a “community”). The reality is, since we are unschoolers, these are the folks we are most likely to connect with on a regular basis.
I feel encouraged by what I’ve witnessed thus far, having investigated some of the connection possibilities in a certain radius around Minneapolis/St. Paul. There are a whole bunch of organized homeschool groups. There are free and low-cost ways to connect with others. There is a critical mass of other homeschoolers/unschoolers. This is a HUGELY BIG DEAL for me and Lily. One of my frustrations in this region is that it seems like a large number of homeschoolers that we know organize their activities around paid classes for homeschoolers and have really full schedules. This has become a significant barrier for us, since our budget will only allow for so much participation in paid classes. Also, we’re not seeking a packed-schedule kind of life, and it’s daunting to even try to wedge ourselves into someone else’s schedule, if they’re even interested in the same things we are (and homeschoolers have quite diverse interests and needs). As Lily would say, we are really DIY.
It feels like there are some significant differences in regional culture, as well, which could influence our chances to have more social interaction. New Englanders are not exactly famous for friendliness. Add to that the phenomenon of being oriented around achievement, competition, and conventional notions of “success”—which seems to be somewhat heightened in urban areas on the East Coast, and granted, western Mass. is already marginally more relaxed than, say, Boston, but it’s not, you know, relaxed. And then there is the upper Midwest, which by comparison feels very friendly and neighborly. Yes, I have already been warned about the phenomenon known as “Minnesota Nice,” but c’mon, people—I will take “nice”! I don’t expect that everyone is going to be our closest friend. It will take time to get to know folks, but we will have opportunities to find more people who have some room in their lives for us. And being around people who are mostly friendly goes a long way towards easing my customary social anxiety.
Speaking of closest friends, it’s not coincidental that some of ours happen to live in northwest Wisconsin, and the prospect of being closer to them is also a draw. We’re not expecting them to meet all our social needs, but the idea of being able to be in their presence more than once a year is heartening.
Being in the orbit of the Twin Cities is important also in terms of good job opportunities for Tom. The Cities also seem to have quite a bit to offer in terms of performance arts and visual arts, things of great interest to Lily (and me), as well as affinity/support groups for social justice, environmental justice, polyamory, and bisexuality. Granted, we are pretty clear that we don’t want to live right in the city (being country folk at heart), but it seems like a place where a balance can be struck between helping Tom have decent proximity to a job, having my dwelling and Tom’s not be too far apart (unless we opt for a duplex? we don’t know yet), and settling into a place away from too much noise, development, and urbanity.
As if the pragmatic considerations weren’t enough, there is also the fact that I simply feel called there. I do. It’s not explainable. Before 2013, I had never even set foot anywhere in the Great Lakes region. And once I started traveling there, I couldn’t stop. I remember the day that Lily and I first laid eyes on Lake Superior in 2015 and experienced its undeniable, majestic lure. Maybe it was the small stone from its shores that I put in my medicine pouch that wants to return home.