The stories only go so far. On the telephone, friends and family ask "So how are you doin'?" and "What are you up to?" I offer stories, anecdotes in which I do poor imitations of Mississippi dialects while illustrating the deficits in imagination or innovation or flexibility or... that appear to be fixed characteristics of MS culture. The anecdotes are true but often so outrageous they sound like the stuff of cinema. We gasp and laugh and pontificate theories on human psychology and the decline of Western civilization and then they ask "So how long are you gonna stay there?"
Here in MS, when they find out I'm a newcomer, acquaintances ask what I think of Holly Springs and Mississippi. For several months my standard reply ran along the lines of "Well, like any place, there are some charming features and some less-than-charming features." In the last few months I've abandoned that reply. The charming features are still apparent but the less-than-charming have become tiresome and frustrating and sad. I am losing the graciousness and good humor of my early days here. These days I am more likely to respond "If I could afford to leave I would."
From my time in the parallel universe that exists beyond the state borders of Mississippi, I learned about "self care". Sitting barefoot among the CA redwoods, the sound of glistening ocean waves shushing against the shore beneath cloudless skies providing a meditative soundtrack, I sat with other over-educated political liberals and attended while some teacher or workshop facilitator reminded us that airline passengers are always instructed to secure their own oxygen mask before attempting to save anyone else.
In retrospect, I can see that I stored the idea of "self care" in a little box of keepsakes that I rarely touched. CA culture created an environment that was extremely user-friendly for me: vibrant night life, like-minded friends and strangers, coffeehouses on every corner, interesting sights and sounds readily available. Who needed to focus on self-care when the environment took such good care of me? (though, as is so often the case "you don't know what you've got til it's gone....")
As I approach my one-year anniversary in MS, the results of neglecting self care are unmistakable: increased tearful-ness, evaporating graciousness and humor, miserable muscle tone and dull complexion.
In a recent conversation about the less-than-charming face of MS, a local woman who moved here from New England 10 years ago reminded me that every place requires 2 years of residence before it becomes "home." Yes, yes, yes....two years.
OK. My second year in Holly Springs begins in about two weeks. I am committed to pay more attention to self care this year. There are resources available in the natural environment -- MS landscape is actually very pretty, unspoiled by excessive development and advertising. My yard is a bird-watcher's paradise and boasts a wide variety of plant species. This is good. It's a start. There's always some Light, no matter how dark the room.
The challenge will be finding the books, conversations, music, etc. I need to feed my mind and comfort my soul. I know these resources are scant in Holly Springs but I have a car. And if I'm careful, I have $75 a month discretionary/travel money. I think I'll make another sign to hang over my desk: "How long since you got away?"