Today is my first day as a resident of Jackson, Mississippi. I woke up to discover a ladybug in the medicine cabinet. I’ve never found a ladybug inside the house before, and as it’s considered good luck in cultures from China to Iran, I decided to take this as a sign of exciting things to come.
When I tell people that my boyfriend lives in Jackson, they normally respond, “Florida?” (No, that’s Jacksonville) or “Wyoming?” (That’s Jackson Hole). When I add that I’m moving here for an indeterminate period of time, they say, “What’s in Mississippi?” Those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area often scrunch up their faces like they’ve just smelled day-old fish. One current student at my high school said, “But there’s nothing there!” This is the general impression that a lot of Californians have of the state with the most obese population for three consecutive years, and that just overtook Texas and New Mexico for having the highest teen pregnancy rate. (We’re number one! We’re number one!)
Jackson is the capital of Mississippi, a state I never thought I’d have a connection with beyond the singsong spelling rhyme, “M, I, S-S-I, S-S-I, P-P-I,” which I’m putting to good use lately. Jackson has around 185,000 people compared with San Francisco’s 765,000, a lot fewer people spread out over a much bigger area. The landscape of the city varies from place to place, including residential tree-lined streets, walkable neighborhoods with shops and restaurants, and “southern-style buildings interspersed with big-box developments,” in Darren’s words.
So what IS in Jackson, especially for someone who most recently lived in Sonoma and San Francisco, two well-known cities with lots of culture?
The first and most obvious answer is “Darren.” We’ve been long distance since we began dating almost a year ago, and we’re both ready to live in the same place. Skype video chat and frequent visits have served us well until now, but we want to part of each other’s lives every day.
You may be thinking some variation of the following: You’ve never lived in the same city before, and you’ll be living together right away? You’ll be moving into his space, rather than getting a new place together? Why doesn’t he move across the country for you instead?
Believe me, over the last few months I’ve wondered if the decision to move to Mississippi makes me “that girl,” the one who follows her man to the ends of the earth, the one who has planned out her wedding since she was five and goes to college to get her “M.R.S. degree” (that’s “Mrs.” for the uninitiated). If I heard about someone doing what I’m doing, I’m sure the same questions would come to mind. But when it’s right, it’s right, and that’s it. Even if it raises questions or eyebrows, I’m going with my instincts on this one, and I haven’t doubted my decision to move here.
Part of my conviction in moving is that I’m not only coming to Jackson for a boy, but also for the opportunities to advance my writing and other creative interests. There’s something about the south, with its leisurely pace and air of mystery, that inspires art. Mississippi has given rise to authors like William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright, and Jackson in particular has a creative community unlike any I’ve ever seen. Most of Darren’s friends are writers, artists, and musicians, who are constantly collaborating and began inviting me to events before I even moved here. Starting in the next few weeks, I’ll be joining a writers’ group, auditioning for a play, taking yoga classes, and writing regularly for the Jackson Free Press.
As Darren says, “The community in Jackson always welcomes outsiders. It’s like when a circle of people is talking, and someone new approaches. People here widen the circle.” And because each person seems to have a distinctive niche, it’s much easier to make a name for yourself here than it is in the Bay Area, where everyone’s writing a novel from a coffee shop — and they tend not to connect with each other. You can see a typical Jackson event, Fondren Unwrapped, in the slideshow above (see photo #53).
I think that Mississippi, though it may seem like a foreign country to Californians, is the perfect place for me to be right now. After all the transitions last year, I’m happy to stabilize and live more of a simple life than the one I had in San Francisco and even Sonoma. It’s an ideal place for me to write a book about Reschool Yourself and learn to take care of myself at the same time. I’d like nothing better than to jog around the treesy neighborhood in the morning, write an article or two in the afternoon, cook dinner with Darren in the evening, and play music with our friends at night. Although I foresee my calendar filling up as it tends to do, I plan to choose only commitments that make me happy, and to make it a priority to stay healthy.
I’m excited that a new chapter of my life begins today. This morning, as I took the ladybug from the medicine cabinet into the bushes outside my new apartment, I had a feeling that good luck, in both my relationship and career, was on the horizon.