Darling, you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
If you say that you are mine
I'll be there till the end of time
So you gotta let me know
Should I stay or should I go?
- The Clash
About three years ago, Michelle and I saw an opportunity to return to Arkansas after a 15-year absence, and we took it. North Carolina never really was a good fit for us. Although we enjoyed some aspects of living there, it wasn't home, so we returned to Arkansas.
Coming home has been, on balance, a good move for us. We've grown closer to our family. We've renewed old friendships and started new ones. As much as we love it here, however, something's missing.
I have spent most of my adult life thinking about the concept of possibility. I have always trusted that things would work out, even when it wasn't easy to see how they would. That has put me into difficult positions at times. But I have always stood on the "why not?" side of the "why/why not?" dichotomy.
There are many, many people in this state who are dedicated to the possible, to dreaming and planning for a future of prosperity. Sadly, however, there are many, many more who aren't. I have a hard time dealing with people who don't dream or think or hope for something better, who don't believe in self-empowerment and striving, who are content with the way things are--and who perhaps even prefer them.
It has saddened me to realize how many people believe that $13 per hour is a good wage in Arkansas for a person who has a college degree, something to be grateful for, when the economic reality is that it's barely a living wage. It's appalling to hear people who are in a position to influence children--teachers, day care workers, social workers--say that they don't like reading or that math is hard. And this state's obsession with superstition, such that it pervades all aspects of life, is puzzling.
At the last election, a majority of those who chose to vote flipped the R lever, favoring candidates who are heavily aligned with the moneyed interests--the Kochs, the Waltons, and so forth. I will confess to being congenitally unable to understand how it is that people who have so little can believe that their lives will be made better by giving more to those who have the most already.
It doesn't make sense.
Are they hoping to survive on crumbs?
Yesterday, voters in my hometown declined to raise the property tax by 3.8 mills to fund construction of a new middle school, teacher salaries, new vocational training programs, and new athletic facilities. If you live in that district and your house is worth $150,000, your property taxes would have gone up by about $9.50 a month--a very small increase, all things considered--and would have resulted in first-class educational facilities and programs. The "anti" arguments mostly boiled down to "what we already have is good enough," something that's demonstrably false.
But even if it were true, I'm tired of "good enough." I'm tired of swimming against the tide of mediocrity. Maybe one day I'll come back. But for now, I need something different. So sometime in the next couple of months, Michelle and I will pack up our house and our dogs and head to Texas, specifically Dallas.
In many ways, it won't be any better than here. There will still be those for whom education is an afterthought at best, who are religious nuts, who are Republicans. But I've spent a lot of time in Texas in the last few months, mostly for work, and what is clear to me is that there are an awful lot of folks who believe, as I do, that we can do better. I've spent a lifetime resenting the arrogance of Texans, but the one thing you can say about them is that they don't believe in mediocrity.
Arkansas will always be home. I will always be from here. But I'm no longer of here. I don't have the time or the energy to change the attitudes of people who, for better or worse, don't believe in themselves.