You Can Never Go Home

As I run around New Jersey for a few weeks, a quote from the 2004 film “Garden State” keeps running through my head:

“You know that point in your life when you realize the house you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of a sudden even though you have some place where you put your shit, that idea of home is gone.”

1693389_3e95cdd45d_oThe character who said it, Andrew Largeman, is a New Jersean living in California who has come home due to a death in the family. A struggling actor in Los Angeles, he had not come back to New Jersey for several years, and during that time, much had changed including the house where he grew up.

It is such a familiar topic that it is probably very easy to strike a chord with people who have felt similar. You grew up in a place that you still refer to as home, although that place that you knew, is no longer what it was. Some never look back and therefore that place remains in tact but only as an idea that appears in dreams or thoughts. Others, like myself, go back to see what has changed, even try to hit up the old familiar places that were part of that era when home was home. Sometimes these visits serve to satisfy that need for nostalgia and to forget that time has passed and life is different now. Other times it is a big flop, leaving a deeper feeling of being in the wrong place and the wrong time. That undeniable feeling that the place you call home is in fact not home anymore.

Does it matter? Is something lost if the feeling of home is lost? Is this a long resolved topic that people have by and large agreed is perfectly natural and not important? Probably. There often isn’t time enough for people to run around trying to recapture the past. We leave that to hollywood and the occasional clever website.

There’s a second part to Largeman’s quote:

“Maybe it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t ever have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I don’t know, but I miss the idea of it, you know. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.”

At some point over the last few years, I realized that is part of what I’ve been busy doing. Creating my home. That it happens to be across an ocean and in a different culture is besides the point. For me, home in the present day wasn’t just something that appeared out of thin air, it took work. It took building. It is a process that continues. It is a process that I enjoy very much.

As for New Jersey, I’m always happy to be back among my fellow people who miss the same imaginary place (and bygone era).

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This Jersey Shore

BoatIn the final and perhaps odd chapter of the middle east- north Africa journey, I ventured home to the state of my birth, to see my family, friends, and continue editing audio from the trip.  Naturally, being back in that part of the world only a few months since the massive storm turned many lives upside down, I went with my family to visit the Jersey shore and see what is happening in many of the communities there.

To begin with I have to mention what a strange juxtaposition it is, like so many tragedies in this world: while some live through terrible ordeals and struggle to satisfy basic needs, others in the exact state are living normal lives and of course- as it was the holiday season – exchanging gifts and enjoy themselves.  There is nothing new or alien about this idea, it is the way of the world, so why not- even in New Jersey  where many people still have no home and no idea how they will afford to rebuild their homes as a result of the storm.  It is the type of situation where I can even be a tourist who drives in from a part of the state where things are fine and in 30 minutes I can be standing between piles of rubble and vanished coast line.

But there they were- one after the other- as we drove along Ocean Av, the typical street name in most NJ shore towns- massive construction vehicles moving and creating piles of sand.  Pushing the soggy beige powder out towards the sea while also building tall hills that will serve as a line defense.  There is little to no sign of the old lines of defense. All there is is half-shells of former houses, a few miraculously untouched properties, empty space, and piles of wood where long stretches of previous boardwalk once stood.  The gigantic machines look like ants in comparison to the vastness and nearness of the ocean. Their work looks flimsy, like at any time it could be wiped away by one massive wave or another round of flooding.  But still they work, as do many homeowners and carpenters, stabilizing houses that are leaning one way or another, houses that might be missing their ground floor, or the kinds that are missing sections of their roofs.

Asbury ParkMany along the route look eager to rebuild.  Like the construction vehicles pushing sand, they’re counting on being ready for the all-important summer months, when the weather is beautiful, life feels relaxing and the tourist dollars flow.  Future hurricanes? Unlikely, their actions seem to say.  Several residents assure me that such storms only come around every few decades so its certainly worth rebuilding and getting back to life as usual .

Along the route we come upon my most favorite Jersey Shore town, Asbury Park – a city long plagued by economic depression, corruption, and a past marked by social conflicts.  Even when their was no storm the place that brought us Bruce Springsteen and the Jersey Shore sound looked like it was barely getting by.  But now even the weathered yet proud old structures that survived that re-development wrecking ball, looked critically wounded.  A series of fences and police guided detours lead the public away from the destroyed boardwalk, the centerpiece of the city that is supposed to be on its way back.

It may be a small story in the grand scheme of this world and all its acute problems.  Or maybe because it happened in the US, in a state where some people live very comfortably, it does not seem like it could possibly be that bad.  But even if people around the world are recognizing the scale of the tragedy that has struck this special place, what remains unclear to me is whether or not people in New Jersey see the big picture of what is to come. Driving through proud shore towns that have their traditions and ways of doing things, it was hard to tell if they will do anything different in an effort to deal with future challenges that may even be worse than this one.

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How Do We Get There From Here

photo by eutrophication&hypoxia on flickr

As the sun disappears behind the concrete horizon, I look across the 10 lanes of highway that are currently all filled with cars moving extremely slowly. Everyone in their own vehicle on their way back from work heading home, everyone hoping this traffic will clear up, just as they hope everyday around this time.  The highway is massive and bleak, with shards glass and tiny nondescript car pieces along the shoulder. The sound barriers couldn’t possibly block out all this sound, but communities along the highways of New Jersey figured that out long ago. Most of them are used to the 24 hour, year after year sound of trucks and cars roaring in the direction of New York or Pennsylvania.

This is New Jersey in 2012. This was New Jersey in 1992. A few decades pass, but other than the shape and design of the newer cars on the road, the feeling has not changed. If anyone happens to tune into news in the car, they could surely hear a report about the state of the world, specifically about the environment and the point to which humans are pushing it through our own collective behavior. But thats just on the news, the story out there is doing the daily routine. Getting through the day. Making that car payment. Paying that mortgage. Living that life we were taught to live.

Along the highway, between the occasional tree or building, there are the billboards. One in particular is for solar energy for your home. There’s a phone number under a picture of a solar panel. I wonder how many people have dialed it and how things are working out for them. A Prius pulls in front of me, I almost forgot there were hybrid vehicles out here among the SUV’s and livery cabs. The exit ramp takes me around and over the highway, the bridge I grew up crossing everyday looks worn and crumbling. The etched date in the concrete reads: 1974. I wonder how much we’ve really learned since then.

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bmtv106 Student Revolt in the US

After the mass student uprising all across Europe in late 2009, the movement has awoken all across the United States this month. Students, faculty, and staff began walking out of their classes and holding marches and rallies at University campuses across the nation.  With the lack of support and resources from the federal government, tuition hikes, staff layoffs, and massive budget cuts from state governments, millions of people are making their voices heard and refusing to go about their business as if nothing is wrong.

I was particularly excited and proud to have seen video footage (included in this video entry) from the school I graduated from in 2001, William Paterson University of New Jersey.  As you can see from the images, that spirit of resistance and dedication to a cause is alive and well at my alma mater. It is particularly wonderful to see the familiar faces and hear the passionate voices of faculty members who played and continue to play a big role in helping me find my voice and choose my path as an activist-journalist.

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