Once upon a time …
… in the land of Aesop’s fables the story of these two rodent relatives was created. The posh city mouse comes to visit his country cousin, and teases him about his simple life. The city mouse invites his cousin to his home in the big city to show him how life is bigger, better, brighter in comparison. Over dinner they run into a problem with the neighbors (dogs) and they have to hide to save their lives. The moral of the story is revealed when the country cousin goes home to his country comforts, declaring he would rather live a simple life than live in fear.
Terrible portrayal of the city! What – is the mouse living in Camden? There have been many variations on the story since it was first created. I always thought the story had to do with two people leading separate lives differently but happily. The moral of my version: One size does not fit all.
Well I’m the city mouse. Now masquerading as the country mouse, I set up shop in a one bedroom apartment in a small Midwestern town and I am slowly fading away, far from city comforts. I do have my fair share of noisy neighbors .. although they aren’t dogs, they act like them.
I am plagued by cravings. I crave noise and people and twenty-four hour stores. Mom and pop restaurants, my favorite coffee shop and the people. Where did all the people go?
My students give me the eyebrow of disbelief when I tell them that I am an expert on culture shock. It’s not that they question my authority on the subject. What they don’t believe is that I gave up another year in Europe for some work experience in the cornfields. There are days when I don’t believe it either.
Moving to the Midwest is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It beats moving to Europe, going to college, taking the GMAT (twice). It is isolated and flat, empty and quiet. I have to drive over an hour to go somewhere like Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, Barnes & Noble. While we do not close for siesta, we are closed on Sundays for religion and rest and inconvenience.
There are things I do like: the cheap rent, the absence of a highway speed limit. I’ve never been somewhere where I can see for miles and miles over the same terrain. Perched on a mountaintop, sure. Standing in a field, never. The sun rises and sets in the most brilliant colors that blow out the landscape for endless minutes. As a result of this unobstructed view, a sunset can consume you. Literally swallow you and pull down the day with a gulp, and you with it.
I see things in photographs, eyelids like shutters. Red barn and a silo – click. Single naked tree – click. Long empty roads – click. When I see the skyline of Chicago, I could weep. My eyes aren’t open wide enough to catch the lights, the colors, the people. As though I need to stock up on the stimulus before I head back to the stillness. The train ride home is the longest, with the city receding behind me as we move along the tracks.
Being the country mouse has its own luxuries. Uninterrupted cooking and a kitchen to myself. No need to roll up the yoga mat or turn down the stereo. Do laundry at weird hours, walk around in my underwear. Plenty of time to write, read and reflect. I am an only child after all, solitude is important to me.
But .. wow.