[Editor’s note: For some, traveling during the holidays means going back home; for others, it means traveling away from home. This year, we want to present two personal essays that describe each writer’s sense of belonging in Bloomington and the home they have found here. We’ll publish the second one next week. Happy holidays!]
The casual mentioning of leaving Bloomington to pursue a dream in LA or New York is not an uncommon conversation topic among the twenty-somethings who live in Bloomington. Many people know that Bloomington is, as my friend Leslie puts it, “a bit of an oasis with more diversity than other parts of Indiana and the Midwest,” and yet there seems to be an underlying desire to get out of Bloomington and see what else is available. Bloomington is an oasis in Indiana. It’s the liberal sweet spot in an otherwise conservative state. There is so much happening in the creative culture here that almost anybody would be inspired by our local musicians, poets, artists, and business owners. However, there are only so many opportunities one place can offer someone, and I understand why some people don’t always stay here.
Leslie experienced what I’m sure the majority of Indiana University graduates do, which is wanting to pursue their dreams in other places. She and I both wound up in Chicago after graduation. I grew up in Muncie and spent the majority of my adolescence daydreaming of moving far away from what I always knew and living in a big city. But I missed Bloomington for the two years I was in Chicago. I even lived in Florida for a year, but spent that time devising my plan to get back to Bloomington. A lot of people didn’t understand why I would want to live in Indiana again when I was already living in places several people dream of being. I couldn’t explain it either. Although I enjoyed living in other cities, I always knew that I was homesick for Indiana.
I knew Bloomington was my home the moment I drove away in my little Honda stuffed with the contents of my studio apartment while crying my eyes out. I had no real intention of leaving Bloomington after I graduated from IU in 2012, but I received a job offer during a trip to Chicago to visit Leslie, who is from the area. When I asked her why she decided to move back to Chicago, she replied, “Graduating and the ‘natural’ progression of leaving the college town seemed like the biggest expectation and motivator in leaving. Also, I didn’t have a job and probably wouldn’t find one that could hire me full time in Bloomington. I grew a lot in college and was not the same person I was when I entered Bloomington…. I didn’t feel that I identified with Bloomington in the same way that I identified with my hometown or, now, Chicago.”
Still, I wonder what else makes Bloomington such a transient place. While there is a large population due to the university, Bloomington is a busy city with small-town charm. You will almost always bump into someone you know at the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings or while sipping your coffee at Hopscotch. Like anyplace with a small-town atmosphere, these meetings can be a warm feeling of familiarity or they can be a dreadful reminder of the past. A wonderful woman I know named Michelle perfectly summarized that feeling when I asked her about her decision to move away from Bloomington recently. She explained, “I’ve learned that when you’re happy, it’s nice to have your past all around you. It’s important to have a sense of past — it’s grounding and human. But after a break-up, boy, there’s not much worse.” No matter who you are or where you live, I’m sure you can relate to that sentiment. And with so much world to explore, I don’t think anybody should ever feel stuck in a place when they feel they are being called to grow elsewhere.
Michelle decided to stay in Bloomington after graduating from IU. She eloquently described to me the moment she felt she belonged here. She said, “I had that ‘my home’ feeling the first summer I stayed in Bloomington after my sophomore year. My best friend and I sublet a beautiful old, crooked and creaky studio apartment in a big yellow house on Grant Street. I think I’ve felt at home since then. Some of the magic is gone, I think, because everything was new then. That only gets to happen once, I guess. But that sense of ownership and belonging didn’t stop developing, and that’s a nice feeling.” I know that I relate heavily to her statement about the magic of belonging and how that feeling can fade, as well.
In a way, I feel I have many homes now. A part of me feels at home when I’m walking around Chicago. Maybe I’ll always know The Loop like the back of my hand. I still remember the way my heart would flutter while I silently reflected during my walk from Millennium Station to the office over those two years. I felt so lucky to be there. I still feel lucky that Chicago was the city that taught me how to be an adult — my first real job, first time renting my own apartment, being financially independent, etc. I’m grateful for what that experience taught me. I also still feel at home when I find myself back in Florida near the ocean, grabbing a coffee in Seaside before heading into my favorite bookstore. And it’s not just the physical places but the people I’ve met along the way to where I am now that made these places feel like home. If it weren’t for my restless and somewhat reckless nature, I would have never made certain friends or experienced certain challenges. The challenges helped me learn and the friendships helped me grow into who I am today. I certainly would not have been able to miss Bloomington as much as I did in those three years while I was away.
This summer marked my three-year anniversary back in Bloomington. Although I don’t expect everyone to be as infatuated with this place as I am, I think it’s safe to say that anyone who has lived here can attest to the fact that Bloomington is an incredibly special place. This city helps us grow into who we are wanting to become. And like all living things, we require space in order to grow. I’m glad I left Bloomington when I did. I needed that time to figure out where I wanted to plant my roots. I know myself better for this second round of being in Bloomington, and this perspective holds it’s own kind of magic. Although I don’t know what the future has in store, I do know that I’m just really happy to be here right now.