A bumper sticker makes this fantasy perfectly clear, and why we need to be able to sit with who and what we are, right here, right now
My closest friend Melissa called this morning. She was out driving in her work in elder concierge, which is for both of us a lovely look into what she and I and you and all of us need to do in order to prepare for being a great deal older. Melissa is nearly 65, I am 69. Those she is helping are quite infirm, sometimes even younger, but mostly older.
Such looks into a potential future are important, indeed.
We were discussing a bumper sticker that she saw while making a turn in cold, snowy Denver:
"There is no AWAY."
At a time when the world is again war-torn, when so many of us yearn for "a better time" which never existed in the first place and never will at any rate, the conditions are ripe for growth but only if we will embrace it. Years ago I saw the old saw "Wherever you go, there you are," which is perhaps more truthful now than ever.
There is nowhere you can go, not on this very small blue and green bubble, where we can get away from all of this, whatever "this" is. Even those with considerable wealth are finding out that the world is awfully small. Which is why, even as I make serious plans to perhaps do some ex-pat living in South America, I recognize that "away" is an increasingly distant concept.
Just to underscore that point, I used to live in Spokane. In the late 1990s you could still get a nice house for around $150k. I considered returning there in my house hunt before coming to Oregon. However, this is what's happened to that sleepy little town in the last two years:
Housing prices as a result from those fleeing somewhere else leapt 60%, which is the same thing that happened to Denver, and Austin, and Boise, and long ago Seattle, and and and and and and AND.
I liked Spokane for its small regional airport, mild weather, proximity to Canada and much more. Not for the White Supremacy groups that thrive around the area. But that's just me. Now, Spokane, once kind of a backwater town that seethed in envy over Seattle is getting what it wanted- people and popularity- and I'll bet my bottom dollar lots of folks aren't liking being Austin's "away."
In fact, from the NYT article:
Being an “it” place was something Spokane’s leaders had long hoped for. The city and its metropolitan region have spent decades trying to convince out-of-town professionals and businesses that it would be a great place to move. Now their wish has been granted, and the city is grappling with the consequences.
There is no "away." Soon, Spokanites will be fleeing their high prices trying to find another "away." They will invade someone else's town and change it forever.
This quote from the article really nails it, not just for Spokane, but for all of us:
It’s easier to change where we live than it is to change how we live.
Whether it’s Boise or Reno or Portland or Austin, the American housing market is caught in a vicious cycle of broken expectations that operates like a food chain: The sharks flee New York and Los Angeles and gobble up the housing in Austin and Portland, whose priced-out home buyers swim to the cheaper feeding grounds of places like Spokane. The cycle brings bitterness and “Don’t Move Here” bumper stickers — and in Spokane it has been supercharged during the pandemic and companies’ shift to remote work.
No matter how many times it happens, no matter how many cities and states try to blunt it with recommendations to build more housing and provide subsidies for those who can’t afford the new stuff, no matter how many zoning battles are fought or homeless camps lamented, no next city, as of yet, seems better prepared than the last one was. (author bolded)
But I'm going a lot bigger than just housing.
That's just one symptom of a far larger issue.
At each juncture we fail to see that away doesn't exist. The move I made to Oregon was the realization of a long-time dream to live in the Pacific Northwest. Denver had exploded. As an equestrienne, many of my stables had closed and more than a few other factors influenced my choice to move. However I wasn't seeking an away as much as realizing a long-held desire to be closer to the ocean, which is how I grew up. For me, the PNW was a cooler version of my home: on a lake, surrounded by pine forests, and not far from the ocean.
I just gave up the palm trees, condos and pissed-off New Yorkers. Oh, and the mammoth cockroaches.
My new place will likely draw folks trying to get away from their big cities. I have already heard from people in Boise, who hate what happened to their town as a result of the California exodus. I am struggling with how to respond. Do I really want my small town to suddenly turn into Boise or Denver? I already know the answer.
They're coming anyway.
We do this. We move, migrate, always have. Climate change is forcing our hand, and wartime forces far worse humanitarian problems.
Our habit of destroying where we are and moving to Some Better Place has hit a very hard wall. Those places are dwindling, at best, and resource destruction plus population growth plus idiot humans (Putin, Trump, major corporations, et.al.) are forcing us to face what we refused to face before: we can't just dump our refuse and let someone else clean it up. We have to stay where we are, clean up where we are.
How about we clean up WHO we are?
Mars ain't the answer. As George Carlin once riffed:
As we watch the climate and humanitarian disasters unfold, we will also witness many more people seeking to get "away" from Putin's insanity. Chances are, given the world's increasing hostility to those trying hard to escape war, brutal regimes, gang violence and the like, those refugees are likely to face the same reactions I see right here in America to some poor sot who wants to look into real estate along the Oregon Coast:
We don't want you here. This is our (town, city, state, country).
No matter how rich you are, you can't get away. Some of the islands you own, if you own them, are going under water. The outside air you breathe is polluted, like it is for the rest of us. The oceans you swim in are polluted. I could go on. You get it. All of us are affected, like it or not, and this bubble is beginning to make it clear that there is no such thing as an escape.
Albeit I wouldn't mind if the world's oligarchs did get on a mission to Mars and simply died, leaving their billions for others to put to work to try to regrow trees, clean up seas, and well, fix the mess they left behind. I'm not sure any of them could pull off a Matt Damon potato farm. However, in an interesting twist, Damon's character in Elysium is likely a far more accurate vision of our dystopian future.
Away is a lovely idea. Escape to the mountains in Denver, get stuck in traffic to and from. Escape to the ocean on summer weekends, get stuck in traffic to and from. And either way, the selfish desire to have a spot all to ourselves is met with the reality that seventeen thousand other folks had the same idea, with their ATVs and loud music and screaming kids and dogs whose poop they don't clean up.
My birth home in Central Florida was an "away" for Canadian bluebirds. Last time I was there, what made it a getaway was gone. Those Canadians are heading elsewhere.
On top of that, depending on who you are, your age, your options and the rest, you might be planning an away overseas. I am, at least part of the year, because I love horse cultures, and really want to learn Spanish. As for moving overseas permanently, I dunno. Because when you do that, you also invade other folks' spaces the same way we invade each other's. Our "away" is somebody's home town.
We all too often make ourselves most unwelcome. Ask folks in Cuenca, Ecuador. Parts of Mexico. Panama. Portugal. I could go on. If we would have the courtesy to blend in, learn the culture, language and ways of being, we wouldn't be resented so much. We bring our shit buckets with us and dump them where we land.
My away at the moment is created by several things. In my office I have a small plastic fountain that looks like rock, sounds like a sweet stream. Near it is a sound machine which offers lovely birdsong. That gives me a bit of an "away" right here, with the combination of a water feature and birdsong, albeit from a box, calming my brain, my body and my mind.
Where, with all respect, the only true "away" exists. It's inside us, where we can find solace, peace, perspective. Increasingly, as we have ruined so many of the world's great places, invaded the getaways and made them teeming cities and shat on the ground, into the seas and leveled forests and killed off animals for money, we will be left bereft.
Then the only away we will ever have will be within. For we are very close to this right now:
"When the Last Tree Is Cut Down, the Last Fish Eaten, and the Last Stream Poisoned, You Will Realize That You Cannot Eat Money" - credited to Alanis Obomsawin
No matter where I move, travel or try to find solace, I cannot receive true solace or peace from external sources. I can be surrounded by beauty, as I recently was at Heceta Beach on the coast. But if I am full of hate, jealousy, greed, fear, anger and resentment, I can't see the waves. The beauty. I am blind.
That is perhaps the whole problem. The idea that going somewhere away from all this will fix what ails us is a fundamental lie. That work goes with us, which is why we continue to ruin where we go the same way we ruined where we came from.
We are running out of places to run. Perhaps at long last, then, when we must, we might find our away inside us, in each other, and find a way (pardon the pun) to make humanity finally work. For the true away is right here inside us.
Nelson Mandela discovered that, as has every Dalai Lama, as has every spiritual adept. The true away is within us, always there, always potentially peaceful, always deeply safe, but only if we do the work to create it. And when we do, we also realize that what we have done to our world has to stop.
Meanwhile, I am going to walk the soft footpaths of my inner world, accompanied by birdsong. And find some kind of peace right here inside me.