Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Boomerang

It is 8 1/2 years since the debut of this blog (nearly 11 years since the first of my handwritten missives made its way back over the ocean), and this week marks a full five years since I returned to the states and to my hometown and birthplace.

Five years ago I was scared to death because, as I told my friends in Thailand, I was sure if I went back home, I would never leave.

And from the looks of my passport visa stamp pages and my accumulated frequent flyer miles, I was right.

It was also very nearly the end of my blog because, really, what did I have left to write for? Or who to write for?


Then, a few weeks ago, during a discussion about the persistent, painful, and seemingly permanent out-migration of young, working-age adults, a colleague described me as a "boomerang," a young person who went away, studied, worked, traveled, explored, then, while still in productive working prime, brought those skills and experiences back to the place he or she knew best - country home. The best case scenario, as he saw it, for rural America.

The term "boomerang" grabbed my attention and refocused my thinking. And maybe gave me a reason to revive the long-neglected blog. But, first, why "boomerang?"

The book, "Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America," describes what happens to youth in modern-day rural America: the Achievers, who do well in school and are encouraged go get education and to pursue their fortunes elsewhere, the Seekers, who are only average, but are determined to break away from their small-town roots and often use the military or other means as a "way out," and the Stayers, who settle in to a long-term local life. (Interestingly, the book describes Stayers as overwhelmingly male.)

This is hardly surprising news to anybody who has lived in a remote or rural area, and Census data will prove that population numbers drop off a cliff after age 18 for many places. And some places never recover from the cliff drop.

But then there are those that come back. This same book refers to two types of Returners made of the former Achievers and former Seekers. Achievers who have gone and gotten degrees, established careers, and otherwise proven themselves return at High-Flyers, Seekers who return after exploring the outside world are called Boomerangs.

So, I'm not exactly a Boomerang, since I definitely fit into the Achievers category back in the day. But High-Flyer doesn't say "come back home" to me. But, "Returner" doesn't capture my imagination, and I got chided by a member of the clergy when I described myself as a "Prodigal" since I didn't exactly come back in complete ruins, even if I was welcomed into the safety my parents' basement after my return. I don't really feel like a "Homing Pigeon" either. And I strongly believe that I would have needed to scratch the itch to see the world, regardless of academic skill or outside encouragement.

I always do better reflecting when I can identify myself as an outside observer. Boomerang status justifies the feeling I've always had of being an insider and an outsider. So, I am rebranding my blog and myself as a High-Flying Boomerang.

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