Leaving Kansas

I haven’t had time to blog recently. I’ve been completely consumed with moving. If I’d been smart, I’d have pre-written several blogs and scheduled them to post while I was relocating from Kansas to Ohio, but the whole process was so overwhelming, I didn’t have time to do it, even though I thought of it several times.

I spent almost the entire week last week doing one of three things — finishing the packing, cleaning the house, and driving to Ohio. Aside from sleeping, it was all I had time for, and the sleeping part didn’t get a lot of attention.

We planned. I’d been working on this for weeks. Even then, it was such an enormous task, it nearly wasn’t completed.

So it was with some sense of relief that I packed the dog and cat into my truck, Jill had the kids in her bug, and we rolled east on I-70.

Leaving KansasBut it wasn’t until we were well into Missouri that the enormity of this change began to occur to me. I’m a fairly introspective guy, and I like to over-analyze things and draw conclusions that probably aren’t true. But I’d been so busy trying to make this happen, I hadn’t had time to think about what it means to me.

Everyone else has. The teenagers are terrified at the prospect of leaving friends behind; the pre-teen is excited about the opportunity to remake herself in a new environment; and Jill is excited for a new opportunity and saddened by the reality that she had to leave her hometown to get it.

But me? I’ve hardly had a moment to consider, and despite saying goodbye to the house as we pulled away, I never really got a chance to say goodbye to Kansas.

I came to the Sunflower State as a 23-year-old graduate student. I fell in love with Lawrence — a liberal oasis in conservative Kansas — and stayed. Even after I took a job in Madison, Wisconsin in 1995, I came back to Lawrence after only a year away to start a business with my friends.

For all practical purposes, I’ve spent my entire adult life in Kansas. A Bohemian artiste like me became a businessman there. Granted, I founded and ran a game-publishing company, but I had to learn how to run a business, and I discovered I liked it — something I never would have believed of myself before 1996. I parlayed that business into a career of writing all sorts of business documents — ad and marketing copy, business letters, grant proposals, brochures, web copy — and I realized I was good at that and liked it too. All of that experience writing commercial documents for other companies prepared me to be an independent author. You can’t just write the books as an indie. You have to manage the business side of publishing too, and my experience from 1996 to 2011 laid the foundation for me to be able to do that.

I spent eight years in the hobby games industry, writing and designing games, marketing them to consumers, and winning three awards for my work. I was elected to the board of directors of the trade association, and left my position as Vice President to take over public relations.

I committed career suicide after a hostile takeover of the board and spent two years working as a vet tech for the animal hospital that cared for my dogs.  Me — a guy who always eschewed science in school despite being the son of a college biology professor and an ER nurse — was suddenly working in medicine. It was hard but fascinating work, but it wasn’t a career path. Still, my understanding of animals and how to care for them is so much better than it was before.

I eventually got re-involved with community theater, and I won all of the best roles I’ve ever had in Kansas. I got to play Motel in Fiddler on the Roof, Lumiere in Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden, Sharktooth in How I Became a Pirate, and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. I wrote and directed a two-act comedy that was well received. I became a teacher in youth theater programs and was beloved by my students. I parlayed all that experience into a freelance gig as the local paper’s theater critic. I hate leaving the teaching and newspaper jobs. They were really rewarding.

I found the greatest love and deepest betrayal in Kansas. I adopted a daughter in 2005. Nine years later, we still don’t have the relationship either of us wants, but we’re trying, and I love her so much it hurts. I had a woman I thought I loved try to destroy me, ruining my life for almost two years. I’m still paying for the mistake of being involved with her too long. But I also met and fell in love with Jill — the woman I didn’t know I’d been searching for my whole life. She gave me her love and two stepchildren I adore. She believes in me in a way no one else ever has. If I hadn’t been in Kansas at the right time, we likely never would have met.

And of course, I finally achieved the dream I’d been working on my entire life. I became a published author in Kansas. To date, I’ve published four novels, a novella, and three short stories. And that doesn’t count all the material I published while working in games.

I’ve experienced tragedy and triumph in Kansas. I adopted and buried three dogs. I married, divorced, and married again. I lost my daughter and got her back. I’ve gotten terrific jobs, been laid off, been rich and been poor. I’ve made friends, some of which turned on me when the chips were down, but a few of them stood by no matter what happened. For that latter group, I am truly thankful.

Kansas has been an amazing adventure. I spent half my life there. Now 46, I’m leaving it again. As I rolled east on I-70 — a trip I’ve made multiple times — it occurred to me that, this time, it was different. This time, I was only going one way. There would be no return trip. I wasn’t coming back.

That’s not entirely true, of course. Jill’s family still lives in Lawrence. We’ll visit. The children have other parents they will return to see. It’s not like I’ll never set foot in the Sunflower State again.

But it’s not my home anymore. It’s not the place where I became a real adult and lived a life anymore. Kansas is no longer my present; it’s my past.

And I’ve been so busy trying to get everything done so we could we leave, I had no chance to contemplate any of this. I didn’t get to say goodbye.

So here is my farewell to the Sunflower State. Here is my closure.

Goodbye, Kansas. I will miss your turbulent weather — the way a warm day could suddenly turn cold and the sky go from blue to grey to green with little warning. I will miss your hot summers and generally mild winters (compared to the Wisconsin of my youth). I will miss your rolling hills. (Yes, there are actually portions of Kansas that aren’t flat; I lived in one of them.)

I will miss Kansas Public Radio. KPR is a really good public radio station, and I know several of the staff and consider them friends.

I will miss the laconic speech and the charm of calling a bag a sack, a draft beer a draw, and the habit of placing the accent on the first syllable of every word. I like the sound of the Kansas accent and the regular use of the word, “y’all.”

I will not miss your politics, Kansas. They were uncomfortable when I first arrived in 1991, and they have turned decidedly intolerable and oppressive since. The anti-intellectualism and bigotry of the majority of your legislature is no longer even thinly veiled. You have made this place somewhere I don’t wish to raise children.

I also won’t miss the ghosts of the multiple betrayals I suffered. I won’t see places that remind me of terrible things that happened to me in the past 23 years. I get to make a fresh set of memories, and I’m really looking forward to that.

But I will miss my friends. I will miss being able to see them on a semi-regular basis, and I will miss performing with the ones I shared a stage with. I miss playing Magic at Hometown Games, where the competition was really tough and the other players friendly and fun.

I did love you, Kansas. I still do in a way. I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us.

In a few weeks, once I’ve got my new house, driver’s license, and car tags, I will no longer be a Kansan. I’ll officially become a Buckeye instead of a Jayhawker. But Kansas will always be a part of me.

And, yes, I’ll miss it.


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