Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On the Road Again

We all find the familiar metaphors for life useful from time to time.  Likening my experience on this planet to a road, a path, best fits me.  True, the pathways I often discuss on this blog are psychological; I’m recounting or coming to terms with my "journey" through emotional places and intellectual terrain.  But I’d like to discuss here travel across geographic distance, not another episode in my spiritual odyssey.  Geography defines my life, perhaps best explains me, and has given me a name.  Mine is a tale of four cities that span two states and involve lots of time on the road.  Heretofore I have not disclosed specific locations on this blog, but I think I need to do so now, for these places are the central characters in this "story."
I spend most of my time on the road driving the 3½ hours between Madison, Wisconsin, where my family resides, and Rochester, Minnesota, where I teach at a university.  I rent a room in Rochester, in a house nicely located near the downtown area and just a 10-minute walk from my office.  I’ve been doing this driving routine for just over two years now.  I don’t mind it too much, notwithstanding the gas expense and car maintenance.  More significantly, it's taken a toll on my family life; yet I keep telling myself that change is never easy, especially since I've lived in the same city more or less for twenty years.  I was accustomed to being on the road prior to my job in Rochester, though.  I’ve driven all over Wisconsin for years as an itinerant instructor for a private Catholic university.  Maybe as I get older I’ll tire of the travel, as I’ve talked to adjunct instructors my age or older who said they couldn’t keep up this kind of lifestyle because of the wear and tear on their body.  Whatever.  Driving provides me some good alone time, and for the most part the scenery around here is pleasant.  I've written or thought through most of the entries on this blog while on the road.

Madison is a great city.  I completed my graduate degrees there.  Indeed, graduate school was the reason for coming to Wisconsin from California in the first place.  As my wife Teri knows, though, it was never supposed to be the final destination, for me at least.  I didn't come to the Badger State with the intention to end my days there.  For some odd reason, I've always seen my life as tripartite: I'd live a good chunk of my life in three, not two, places.  And it looks like Minnesota might be that third place, though I didn't think it would be just one state over.  So it’s probably not a coincidence, as I think about it in retrospect, that I ardently pursued and landed a teaching job outside the state after almost exactly twenty years of living in Wisconsin.  While I've always felt like a fish out of water in Madison, except when I was with a few good friends with whom I share spiritual and intellectual leanings, the city has been a factor in our lives and has given us another perspective.  I still don't know if I continue to think as a west coaster, or if I've fully absorbed an Upper Midwest sensibility.  If I subtract our stay in Germany and my deployment to Afghanistan during these past two decades, I spent a third of my life there thus far.  Teri has established a career there, and the kids of course have formed their friendships and social identity in the Mad City.  We've bought a home and acquired lots of stuff over the years.

In any event, the family is on the cusp of significant change.  Teri and I are seeing our daughters off to college these days.  Our youngest daughter, Monika, will be a high school senior in the fall, and she’s the class president.  Erika is attending the business school at UW Madison and will be working as an intern at a business in Chicago this summer.  Jessi is leaving for the United States Naval Academy in a couple of weeks.  Perhaps the terrorist attack in September of 2001 had the greatest impact on me during these years in Madison.  Ultimately I joined the military as a result and my life has taken a different turn ever since.  Back in the day I played the smoke-filled clubs there in a progressive metal band.  I worked some odd jobs there to supplement my teaching income.  We've raised a family there.  Yes, Madison has been a great experience.
Still, I have some business east of Madison.  I routinely make my way to Milwaukee, at least one weekend a month for my Army Reserve duties.  It’s somewhat surreal knowing that I have a large office and small staff at this location, though I’m hardly there.  My tenure as company commander will be ending in September and I’m currently looking for a Reserve or National Guard unit in Minnesota.   My responsibilities as commander have been burdensome for the most part and sometimes rewarding.  Last Sunday I conducted a “Commander’s Run” with the more fit soldiers.  We ran through nature trails behind the Army Reserve Center.  It was fun.  As far as Milwaukee goes, it’s time to move on.  I’ve been drilling there since I joined the military.  I need to shift westward, toward Minnesota.  Finally, I’ve been making more and more trips to the Minneapolis this past year.  I’ve been a member of a globalized curriculum program sponsored by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and more recently signed on as an adjunct for a private university which brings me up to Eden Prairie...