Sunday, September 25, 2016

Summer in the Midwest is a season filled with lazy, hazy days, punctuated by gloriously golden evenings, where the sun sinks down towards the horizon and illuminates the cloudless skies with light that lingers long after many have gone to bed.

And apparently, that's what's happening with Autumn in the Midwest, too.

The first few days of fall here in Southern and Central Indiana have been...well..."ball-drippingly hot", as I put it today. It's been frickin warm, with temps in the high 80s and all sorts of air-quality alerts. It's funny, because, on the one hand, I'm SO ready for fall. Ready for hot drinks and cold nights and breath in the air and fashionable boots and not sweating my makeup off, and cozy evenings indoors and tasty soups and...well, all the other fall things. But on the other hand, I am apprehensive about walking on icy sidewalks and starting my car on frigid mornings and lord, do I remember the feeling of hopelessness that rolls around in mid-February when it feels like winter is never gonna end. So as much as I hate sweating my way through these freakishly warm days, I still try to get outdoors and enjoy the last few moments of a summer that overstayed its welcome.

Yesterday, I jaunted up to Indy for the day--the Broad Ripple Home Tour, followed by an evening up in the suburbs of Noblesville, with my friends from my IU days. I always love spending time with Danielle and Robbie--I've known them since my grad school days, and even then, I envied them more than a little. They grew up here in the Midwest, and were high school sweethearts who stayed together all through college and got engaged and got married after Danielle graduated with her Master's. They got a house a year later, and started having kids a couple of years after that, and their best friends from high school live just a few short miles away. They're working hard, and raising two darling boys, and manage to somehow be kind and loving to each other. It's the kind of life that I wish I could live--in an alternative universe, maybe. It's too late for me to do a lot of those things.

But I can bask in the glory of a warm autumn evening, and watch them play catch with their boys, and feel damned lucky to even be a witness to it.
6 months.

Half a year.

We all know how quickly time slips past, particularly as we progress in age. It doesn't make it any less weird or poignant (which adjective applies depends entirely on our moods and how much alcohol we consume). So when I realize that I've been Back Home for half a year now, I feel both amazed and unsurprised.

In June of 2008, I realized that I had lived in California longer than I had lived in Indiana. That was hard to take in--particularly since California still felt so foreign to me. And continued to do so, year after year. For just about 10 years, in fact. Even through marriage and a solid work environment and slowly resigning myself to the fact that I would live and die out there, it still never felt like home. When my husband and I bought our house in March of 2012, I went into a deep depression. There were a lot of reasons for it, but even then I knew that one of the reasons was because I was tied to California more firmly than ever, and owning a property in California was yet another indication that I'd never be able to return home.

Thank goodness, that turned out to not be the case. It took sacrifice and ugliness and even something a little bit close to sawing off my own leg, caught in a bear-trap, but I managed to escape. And so, on March 22 of this year, when I rolled into my new-old home of Bloomington, Indiana, I knew that California never felt like home because it never was home. I tried and I tried, but never fully. And I always resented it there.

I've been home for 6 months--basically, what, about 5% of the time I lived in California? I have 9.5 years to go before I exceed the time I spent in exile out in That Place. But I've been more happy here in these six months than I ever was in that California decade.

Unfortunately, I've also been rather silent on here about those 6 happy months. And so there are 6 months of my experiences with rainstorms (I squee every time there's rain in the forecast), my work (summary: I buy stuff) and my new work environment (big, pleasant, different) and my colleagues (so many people), my social life (God bless Meetup; I've met all sorts of socially awkward geeks and am starting to get a wee bit into gaming), my home (I rent a room from someone and it's a wonderful set-up financially) that I haven't really delved into. I'll try to be a bit better about that. Enough with this profound shit--when I am 60 or 70 or 80 and reading over these posts, I am not going to care about the deep revelations (and let's be honest, I'll be rolling my eyes over them anyway); I am going to want to know what I was seeing and doing and experiencing and so on.

So in my next 6 months, I'll try harder to document the process of Being Home. Let's see how that goes!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

So I Guess You Call This Autumn (2016 Version)

If I listen to the crickets and cicadas, screaming their songs into the balmy night, I can believe it's summer. And then I realize that their cacophony is quieter than it was, even a week ago.

If I glare up at the sun, blazing in a cloudless blue sky, I have no problems at all believing it's summer. And then I realize that this is probably just an unwelcome late-season heat wave, and will soon pass.

If I catch a whiff of freshly-mown grass, I know it's summer, and that someone, somewhere, is tired from the work of mowing. And then I think of the green lawns that will soon transform into grey, brown ground.

The farmer's market is still showcasing the fresh produce. The students are still wearing shorts and flip-flops. The air-conditioning is still running. The children are still running through the parks, screeching and laughing and playing. But the winter merchandise is out, and people talk excitedly of all the punkin spice everything, and their Christmas plans--even as they think beyond the holidays and contemplate the bleakness of the long, cold winter.

Even though it should still be hot for a good few days after today, this is the last day of summer. This heat wave will pass, and the land will know to do what it has always done--cycle into the dormant time of the year. Retreat, hibernate, hunker down. And very, very soon, autumn will begin in earnest. I welcome this change, as I hope I will welcome every seasonal change. But autumn, especially, I relish. The beginning is always the best--the beginning of a relationship, a vacation, a new home, or, in this case, the season of celebration and unpredictable weather. And so I love autumn the best. And it is almost here.

Good-bye, summer. It's been a long time since I enjoyed you. It's been a long time since I eagerly anticipated you. I loved you, and I will miss you, and I will welcome you again, in the fullness of time. But for now, I believe it is time to welcome my long-lost, much-beloved autumn. I am ready for it--the misty mornings and stormy nights, the brilliant foliage that's here one day and gone the next, the punkin spice lattes and Halloween decorations, the crisp air, the boots and peacoats, the soups and grilled cheese, the traditions. For the first time in 11 years, I get the privilege of experiencing fall. Its life will be brief, and its death will be sudden, but perhaps it's all the sweeter for it.

Monday, September 12, 2016

How I Fared at the Fair (and the Fair Fare Upon Which I Fared)

"When they pulled into the Fair Grounds, they could hear music and see the Ferris wheel turning in the sky. They could smell the dust of the race track where the sprinkling cart had moistened it, and they could smell hamburgers frying and see balloons aloft..."  
-E.B. White, from Charlotte's Web

Recently I duped cajoled persuaded one of my new friends--a particularly amiable chap named Jeremy, who is always up for hijinks and shenanigans involving this humble state of ours--into not only accompanying me to the State Fair, but also into going along with the 12 hour schedule of events I planned out for us.

This is not a typo: 12 hours. 

If you think there's not 12 hours of things to do at a State Fair, then you clearly haven't had the privilege to come to a Midwestern State Fair. And also you're probably a bit of an idiot. I don't know what other state fairs are like--hell, I don't know if the Indiana State Fair is always like this, but it being the Bicentennial and all, good golly, there was so much to do and see (and, uh, eat) that 12 hours simply wasn't nearly enough.

We went on a Saturday, after a week of gorgeously sunny, warm weather. As we drove up to Indy, the clouds were gathering in, heavy and close and grey, and--no joke--as soon as we turned on 38th Street and joined the line of cars waiting to enter the Fairgrounds, the skies opened up and the rains came down. It was an annoyance, but not a game-changer--on and off throughout the day, the rain continued. It was never a gully-washer--but it was enough to keep the crowds down a bit, and give us an excuse to spend some time at the Beer, Wine, and Spirits Exhibition Hall (more on that later.)

In the past, when I thought about county and state fairs, I thought about only a few things: food, and the Midway rides, and the carnies and hawkers. But in researching and planning this year's adventure, I got a chance to really think about the backbone of the fair: the farmers, and the creators. Early on, we spent a fair amount of time in the Purdue Science Agriculture/Horticulture Extension Building (and not just because it was air-conditioned!), and I'm glad we did, because it helped put so much into perspective. It was here that Jeremy spun a gourd (this is not an innuendo), and where we ogled the longest gourd (not the same one that Jeremy spun) and where I got to see ALL THE CORN and where we pondered the ethics of keeping a punkin that was on life support...

And where we saw beautiful displays of prize-winning vegetables, and a scarecrow that was legit scary and also won a prize (what the eff is wrong with Hoosiers?!?)

The thing that I found the best about this part of the fair was seeing the pride that people were taking in their produce and livestock, and the ways that they try to do outreach and inform people of the incredibly important work that they do. In a sense, County and State Fairs are like professional conferences for farmers, but open to the public. It's kind of silly--I think there's such a conception of farmers in America being backwards, or hicks, or bumpkins, but they do work that is critical to the survival of our human race. Like, the work that you and I do? It's important to some, but not in the same way that farmers are essential. It's fantastic to see them gathered at the State Fair and celebrating what they do, and the difference they make.

Now, let's talk about the Bicentennial Experience.

As I've mentioned, oh, 2 or 3 or 200 times, it's Indiana's Bicentennial this year, and they sure as hell did a fantastic job of celebrating it at the Fair. They had an entire exhibition hall dedicated to Indiana history, commerce, and culture. I was in hog heaven...

My favorite part was the LEGO display of creations that depicted Indiana life and culture. 

(College rivalries and covered bridges; it's what we are known for)

(And corn, too. We are totally known for corn. I about died when I saw this LEGO 
creation of a Hoosier family farm, complete with corn and soy fields and a basketball 
goal. It was hard to tear myself away from this display.)

Because of the weather (it alternated between "Oh look! More rain!" to literally ten minutes later: "UGH the sun is out and it's so humid!") we ducked in and out of many climate-controlled buildings, most of them filled with either displays related to farms and farming, or Indiana And Why We Are Awesome, or...

Replicas of Indiana farmhouses!
I honestly have no clue. Something needle-pointy? I love it. 
Quilts! Because Indiana. 
Collections of Antiques

Scrapbooking layouts. There is actually an award
 category for this, I think. Again, because Indiana. 
Bug collections. I'm not even kidding.
 There were SO MANY BUGS.

Bunnies who moon you.
It's as if, as my fellow adventurer pointed out, everyone in the state who is motivated enough comes together in Indy for the State Fair to say, "Hi! So this is what I've been up to this past year."

Now. Let's talk about what REALLY matters at a fair...

...the food. ALL THE FOOD.

This is merely one of about 1,816 food venues at the fair. 
About 1814.5 of them feature some sort of variation on deep fried victuals.

This is what the vendor called the "I'm Single Special"--a sampler of deep fried death. AKA Deep Fried Oreo, Birthday Cake, Reeses Peanut Butter Cup, and Cookie Dough.

Deep fried cheese...

 A bacon cheese burger between two donuts. (To be fair, it could have been worse; 
you could have gotten mac'n'cheese on it. Also, I didn't get this; my friend did. So, a win?) 

Funnel cake. SO MUCH funnel cake.  Regular funnel cake, Cookies and Cream Funnel Cake, Red Velvet Funnel Cake...BIRTHDAY CAKE FUNNEL CAKE! (Now, let's be clear: I didn't eat all those different funnel cakes. I'm just saying, there was a variety.) I ended up having a birthday cake funnel cake in celebration of Indiana's 200th birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY INDIANA! I ate that 
funnel cake all for you. It was too sweet.

And my favorite (and possibly the healthiest) things I ate: pig on a stick (AKA a wonderfully marinated pork chop on a skewer) and sweet corn on the cob. Both were indescribably delicious--and perfectly Indiana, too. I'll be dreaming of these yummies until next year's fair. 

After a cloudy yet golden dusk gave way to a humid, drizzly night, after a full 12 hours spent surrounded by folks from all over the state, after we spent all of our money and consumed two weeks' worth of calories, after we celebrated Hoosier history and culture, we trudged back to our car, parked in the vast center of the Fairgrounds. To the west, the Midway lights still twinkled; to the south, the Farmers Coliseum--built during the Depression as a WPA project--stood sentinel over the whole Fairgrounds. We were tired, over-full, but justifiably proud: we had done and seen and eaten just about everything we had planned for. We did right by the Fair, during this special Bicentennial Year. Because of those Bicentennial celebrations and exhibits, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And while I know I will return to the Fair many times in the years and decades ahead, none of them will ever be like this Fair experience, during my first year Back Home. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

In so many parts of the country, highways and roads were no doubt choked with traffic, backed up with holiday weekenders driving back from beaches, lakes, mountains, friends's houses. In a way, I was one of those people--driving back from a friend's place, where I had spent my Labor Day bobbing about on a lake, in a pontoon boat. But on the roads I took to return home late last night, I encountered few other cars. That's one of the blessings of where I was staying--it's in the middle of Nowhere, Indiana, and so the drive to and from Nowhere is really pretty laid-back. As I drove home to Bloomington, my eyes bounced back and forth from this old barn to that pretty farmhouse to all the cornfields. The high point came at sunset, when the sun turned a perfect orb of molten gold, framed with pink, and slowly sank down behind the cornfields. Unobscured by any clouds, the sun gave its rays until the last possible moment, as though eager to share every second of its warmth and light, knowing its time is running down. 

After that, the twilight deepened, and the shadows became almost indistinguishable from the surrounding countryside. Every now and then, a late-season firefly gave a feeble wink--weaker than the sun's strength, but still holding on to whatever life was left in it. The fields, so recently tinged with the sun, became obscured with eerie fingers of mist. 

Thus ends my first Labor Day back home here in Indiana, and I guess, given that I am now in a four-season climate, this means that summer is over. Sure, it was 90 degrees out yesterday, and will be again tomorrow. Sure, summer lasts for another few weeks. But I think we are approaching the descent into the cold months of the year, and I loved that I book-ended my summer with time spent sunning myself in the cold waters of a lake, surrounded by laughter and the sheer joy of being out-of-doors. 

Without meaning to, I totally had "The Summer of Mel." Picnics and cookouts in parks; new friendships made and old ones strengthened; evenings spent on my back patio blowing bubbles and drinking beer and listening to the dull roar of dozens of A/C units close by; more than one night spent dancing the night away at the neighborhood gay bar. It has been the best summer of my life, despite--or perhaps because of--the lack of an Epic Summer Romance. (Actually, now that I think about it, that's probably why it was the best summer ever!)

The roadside stands are still selling sweet corn--but pumpkins are appearing, too. Folks around town have already decorated their front lawns for Halloween. Some of us are ready for the next season, the death of the year, just as by next February or March, we'll be ready for sunlight and warmth again. 

Good-bye, summer. Thank you for...being you, which is hot and humid but not horrible and suicide-inducing. Thank you for reminding me of the proper magic of your months. I can't wait to meet up with you again.