Hello, Seattle

Last month, I was pleasantly surprised to discover I had quite a bit of vacation time racked up at work. Once we passed through the busy season, I took the first opportunity to use it. I decided to take an entire week off and go camping - much to the surprise of nearly everyone I told.

Apparently, mine is not an "outdoorsy" dispositon.

Originally, the plan was to head to southern Idaho or Montana. After thinking about it further (and checking the state of my finances), I overruled that decision in favor of a campground we own a lot on in Western Washington. Adjacent to Mt. Pilchuck, itself nestled in the foothills of the Cascades, it seemed like a good place to get away from everything. Plus, I could take two or three days to venture up to Canada and make sure it was still there.

For the better part of four hours, I raced the clouds and the rain across the state. It was only upon arriving in Seattle that I realized they had separated, flanked and beaten me. Outsmarted by the weather yet again.

Thus it was rain, light hail and barely functional windshield wipers that greeted me as I drove into Seattle, Owl City pumping through the speakers. Though it's only been less than six months since I last laid eyes upon the Emerald City, it seemed like considerably longer. Whenever I used to cross the I-90 bridge, it used to feel like coming home, even though I've never lived in Seattle and haven't even had an address on the west side of the state in five years. Apparently, that's starting to catch up with me on a psychological level.

There exists in all of us a struggle between two people - the "ideal" self one aspires to be and the person who truly lives at any given moment. It is not a very "solvable" problem, in that the only way to do so is to stop growing as a human being. Sometimes, the difference between the two is vast. Whereas you might have been dreaming all your life of growing up to be a hot-shot lawyer defending the rights of the downtrodden, you may instead find yourself working a low-paying job as a social worker.

There's nothing inherently wrong or bad about the choices you've made in your life; they're just different than the ones you expected to make. Very rarely do things in life go exactly according to plan, but for most people these slight diversions don't seem large enough to alter the over-arching narrative they've constructed for their life. It's only a slight hiccup, after all. It's not until months or years later that everything hits them at once, that they're not where they expected to be, that the path they previously envisioned laying out before them in fact forked quite some time ago.

My realization was nothing so consequential or monumental as that. But as I drove around Seattle, looking for a place to park and walking around a bit, I realized that my vision of myself was drastically different than the one I pictured in my head.

Ever since I moved to Idaho, I've joked that I never actually admit that fact; I always just say I live in Eastern Washington. As with all jokes, there's a small kernel of truth at the center. In reality, I never even traveled to the eastern half of Washington state until I was 17. Aside from the superficial political difference, the western and eastern halves of the state always seemed to be two completely different places.

The west side was urbane, modern and contemporary. Even if you didn't live in Seattle, it was the place you identified with - and not just when people asked where you were from ("near Seattle" is the answer given by those who live anywhere north of Vancouver, south of Canada and east of the Cascades. It's just easier).

The east, by contrast, moved at a slower pace. Though not all farmers, theirs was a simpler way of life, not nearly so crowded or developed. They had Spokane, which was okay as small to medium cities go, but nothing to write home about.

I've always considered myself to be "from the west side," with everything that entails. During college, I always pictured myself moving back at some point after my sojourn out East, picking up exactly where I left off. But as I tried to navigate through the ridiculously narrow roads, try to navigate without being able to see anything more than the streets and the enormous buildings that rose up all around me, I noticed that - at the very least - I am woefully out of practice for west side living.

Yet at the same time, I felt a pull in the opposite direction, the other half of the dichotomy asserting itself. I still missed just walking around in the rain. I still missed being in a city where you could look up and see buildings towering over you. I still missed the culture that comes with having a million poeple in the same area. But instead of being the primary thoughts I was having, they were instead dancing on the periphery, secondary.

This reprioritization actually came as somewhat of a shock, despite having lived almost 8 months in Coeur d'Alene and the four and a half years prior in the small hamlet of Pullman. Obviously I don't take this as a sign I'll settle down in CdA forever or never move back to Western Washington, but it does come as something of a shock to realize fundamental aspects of your character are far different than you had expected.

Helluva way to start a vacation.