Hinterland, Week Eight: So The Hulk walks into Old Navy…
If you are a person who grew up in a place, and you left that place, and you come back to that place for things like holidays, you might have noticed that you are capable of becoming the actual Hulk.
This is true by definition:
Caught in the blast of gamma radiation, brilliant scientist Bruce Banner is cursed to transform in times of stress into the living engine of destruction known as The Incredible Hulk.
Times of stress? Living engine of destruction? Home for the holidays.
No matter when you return, home can be an alternate reality of sorts, a place where people who’ve known you for most of your life still refer to your career as “your writing thing” in actual air quotes. It’s a complicated time capsule, and thus, I’ve found that the optimal time for Hulk-dom is the first 24-48 hours of the trip. This is when your normal reality is most likely to collide with your past/currently-present reality, and you explode for seemingly no reason. Kind of like a glass water bottle filled with vinegar and baking soda. Except this explosiveness, as we’ve learned the hard way, is not arbitrary: it’s science. It’s what naturally happens when you take two independent realities and shake them up together in a confined space.
Eventually, sometimes unfathomably, things just settle into place. You calm down and become a human again. You realize that you don’t have to treat home like an either/or kind of place. It can be both/and.
This is how home goes for me pretty much every time I go back. This is how Hinterland is going for me too, I think.
If days are equal to months in this equation, I’m still in that initial settling-in period of Hinterland—the confusing combination of realities, the restless search for where the new boundary lines fall. Am I the known version of myself or the self I am slowly becoming? Am I the person who grew up in one place or the person still growing in another place? Am I the person who had a conventional life or the person willing to take some unconventional time off to sort some things out?
The answer, of course, is both/and.
Both/and, and my unwillingness to embrace it, is the reason I had an existential crisis at Old Navy on Black Friday. I had been holding two scarves in my hand for basically the entire time we’d been in the store. One was cream with black and grey. One was cream with rich plaid. And when it finally came time to decide between the two, I couldn’t do it. Because the scarves were no longer scarves; they were defining statements on the status of my life. Am I practical and classy? Or am I colorful and festive? Do I want to be able to meet a variety of needs? Or do I want to stand out? Who am I, Old Navy cashier???
The time to decide who you are is for sure the time when you are standing at a register with eleventy billion people standing in line behind you at 7:30am. These people are not having a breakdown. These people are just trying to buy pants for their cousin Frieda’s kid.
Everyone in the surrounding area quickly became Team Buy Both. It’s Black Friday! They’re both 50% off so it’s basically buy one get one free! You’ll probably wear both anyway!
But I didn’t want to buy both. For one, I didn’t need both. (I didn’t even need one, but that’s a completely separate existential crisis.) I just wanted to make a decision I felt good about, either one scarf or the other.
I decided to go for colorful and festive. My mom, seeing the lingering doubt on my face, said, “OH MY GOSH FOR GOODNESS SAKE I’LL JUST GET THE OTHER ONE MERRY CHRISTMAS.”
So now I have two new scarves. I’ve been wearing the colorful one, which isn’t a surprise. It was my gut reaction. I thought I would probably return the other one, but I’m not going to do that. For one thing, it was a gift, and for another, it’s an uncomfortable lesson I’d like to sit in for a little while longer. It’s the embodiment of allowing space for both/and.
Sometimes (most times), I’m tempted to force myself and my surroundings into either/or classifications. It’s so much easier. I’m either this person or that person. Home is this place or that place. I want this scarf or that scarf. I’m either frustrated or joyful. My life is either figured out or a hott mess.
But those classifications are highly inaccurate. They don’t leave any room for gray area, and most of life is gray area. Most of life looks like being a person who is both practical and colorful. It looks like being a person who grew up in a place and a person who is still growing in another place.
It looks like going on a great adventure and talking about kosher salt.
And so perhaps this is the Hulk antidote. Perhaps we would all do well to give ourselves and the places from whence we came the grace to be both/and instead of either/or. Perhaps then we’ll be a little more reasonable and a little less like living engines of destruction (at home… and at Old Navy).
P.S. Has anyone else experienced this? Or are all of you guys completely normal?
P.P.S. If you’d like to hear about something other than The Hulk this week, good news! The November Newsletter will hit inboxes at some point before the calendar strikes December. You can sign up here.