In a Foreign Country, California.

I haven't really ever heard so much chatter about the "midwest" until I moved to California. That makes sense as when you're living in something, you aren't really that reflective on where you legitimately are. But being so far away, literally and figuratively, I realize how much I reference where I'm from and why I'm proud of that.

In some ways, I feel like an ex-pat. There are so many differences that it's easy to long for something familiar. Sometimes Paul and I seek out "flat" hikes because it reminds us of our flat hiking days. We watch Michigan football every Saturday now and are still trying to find that perfect pizza place. But there is some power in being from the Midwest in that other Midwesterners seek you out like smartly trained hound dogs.

Serious. Many of my co-workers hail from back East and they always talk about the "Midwestern work ethic" with raised eyebrows. They pat me on the arm and say, "I'm so glad you brought some Midwestern normalcy here." So I decided to dig deeper into this as my "Midwestern work ethic" is just how it is and has never had a clarifying title until now. Fascinating.

The laid back California attitude is real. It's refreshing after living inside the anxious rush of the city without really realizing it until I had something to compare it to. But when you're hungry and your waiter is taking her time getting to your table, it's hard to not get impatient. Then you remember that Tahoe Time is a real thing. 

It's not that people are lazy or rude or don't care about your well being: it's that time doesn't really matter to anyone. No matter how hard I try to adopt this, I still feel a pull in my head of what my mother always used to tell me: if you're early, you're on time, if you're on time you're late and if you're late're rude and you messed up. 

Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. While chronos refers to measurable or chronological time, kairos signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.

Chronos time is why we wear watches, what our alarm clocks are for. It's the ticking of the second hand, the hope of 4:59 being the fastest minute of the day. Chronos is what we live our lives by and what the pulse of the city runs on.

Kairos time lives on the outskirts of chronos. It's metaphysical. Kairos doesn't have any rules, it's where flow happens, it's playing outside for what seems like hours, when you forget that time means something. Kairos can't be measured.

It's possible that Tahoe locals strive to live in kairos time, where flow happens, things occur naturally  nothing is forced and everything fits. But my Midwestern sensibility and maddening, eternal search for balance makes me want to counteract kairos with a measured sense of planning and task analysis. Especially when you're making me an ice cream sundae.

And for that reason, maybe the Californians need me and I need them.

I mean, it's okay to be an organized planner with a label maker and a meal plan for the week. But sometimes you gotta live in kairos, if only to save your brain. So here is what these crazy people have taught me, so far. 

Take for instance the trustafarian (trust fund Rastafarian). This type of local is who Paul is lucky to work with. Normally hailing from an affluent part of the West Coast, Trustafarians are facing their first job at 23 and spend their money on party fuel and rocking green, black and red on everything, even their brand new Volvo station wagon. They are mellow, even if they have to fake it and love saying "Ja live" as much as it naturally fits in casual conversation. Generally ski bums, they're taken care of as long as they hold a steady job, from conservation in the summer to lifties in the winter. They often take frequent cat naps on their breaks and call off to attend Phish concerts. Now most Midwesterners would call this lazy and spoiled. But in reality, trustafarians are just ripping life, taking chances and being young. Not everyone has an endless supply of money, but what we can learn from these guys is that it feels good to throw caution to the wind and not follow your meal planner. Just put the label maker down and don't put your laundry away for two days and go for a hike. You can be both. You can be spontaneous and you can be a planner. It's possible.

Another stereotype is the quintessential "California hippie," also known as "Did you just roll out of Burning Man on a VW bus?" or better yet, "Did you hitckhike from Portland?" These guys are as mellow as they come and push the lines of "free spirit." I found two in our local grocery store without shoes. The man was dreaded out and crouching, carefully reviewing the paper towels and the woman had blonde, black, green stripes on her hair that looked spray painted on in circles that started from her crown and progressed down to the ends. She was wearing overalls over her swimsuit and was examining a gigantic zucchini which she proceeded to bench press over her head a couple of times and then attempted to rest its beak in her overall pockets. They had absolutely no idea we were in the same aisle. I find value in their ability to not care what anyone thinks about them and respect their commitment to testing their vegetables before purchase and consumption. Also, who needs shoes?! 

Next we have the bro-brah. Often ending all sentences with "bro" or "brah," these dudes are bossy and they like to poke fun at you when you're failing at what they're ripping. If found on the ski slopes, they range from five year olds screaming "AVALANCHE!" at novice adult skiiers to thirty year olds screaming "YARD SALE!" at a skiier who just wiped out and had their skiis and poles fly everywhere. It took me a long time to find any wisdom in these dudes, but it came to me on a hike on Saturday where I encountered four of them, roughly middle school age.
We we nearly to the summit of Mount Tallac, and with my legs completely exhausted and hardly enough will to keep moving, four bro-brahs barrelled down the trail that we were climbing and yelled, "ONLY THREE MORE HOURS TO GO! YOU'RE NOT EVEN CLOSE!" My newly acquired middle school teaching skills rolled off my tongue faster than I could think about it and I replied, "really guys? REALLY?" I wanted to stop and lecture them about being friendly, but they were running down the mountain imparting their advice to the next group of tired, weary hikers behind us. And I'm glad I didn't. 
Bro-brahs are around us so we remember that it's not that serious. We don't have to be so intense and focused on what we're doing. We can laugh at ourselves when we fall and nothing will happen. And while I have absolutely no idea how to do this sometimes, I envy bro-brahs for doing it so effortlessly.

Through my homesickness, I created some projects for my Directed Studies class that involved talking about the pros and cons of your community. I modeled this by talking about Michigan and ended up showing them a brochure on the Pure Michigan website.
It included pictures of Sleeping Bear, fall color and apple picking and I got sad. I flipped through the rest of the pictures and one of my students raised her hand and said, "Go back Ms. Ronau. That's beautiful!" 
My heart swelled with pride.
"I know! Michigan is great!"
We went on to making a brochure of our favorite things about our communities and while I peered over their shoulders, I realized how similar Tahoe and Michigan are. 

They say that when you're in a foreign place, your brain makes connections on familiarity. You see doppelgangers. You compare and contrast what you're familiar with. And although it's been really hard to find anything similar with mountains and altitude and unfamiliar faces, sometimes I realize I'm not that far away from home. We've found a favorite restaurant in Char-Pit, enjoy our Sunday laundry and grocery shopping routine and still watch as much baseball as humanly possible. There is the changing of the seasons, rather dramatically in the winter, there are trips to Target for school supplies, there are lazy Sunday mornings watching HGTV and eating cold pizza. With each new routine created, it's easy to see that maybe my home isn't a physical place. Maybe it's just being comfortable in routine, looking forward to the weekend, NPR on the way to work and bad pop music on the way home.

I'm trying but I'm not fully convinced. Here's to keeping an open mind and not crying when bro-brahs make fun of my yard sale moments this winter.