Wednesday, July 4, 2007

You Can't Go Home Again

I have been told that if there is one book you read in your 20s, it should be "You Can't Go Home Again," by Thomas Wolfe. Nevermind that you should read more than one book in ten years. Anyway, the protagonist in Wolfe's novel, George Webber, has just written a successful novel in which his hometown gossip is used for fodder. Webber expects a hero's welcome, but as more and more people read the book, he experiences the opposite from his townspeople: anger, guilt, shame. He becomes an outcast in his own home town because, in effect, he left and became successful.

Maybe some of you know where I'm going with this. I'm not going to claim success, however, and I wouldn't go so far as to label myself an outcast now that I have returned home for the summer. There a lot of differences between Webber and me, yet I admit that I empathise with him. Having moved to New Hampshire, started on a burgeoning career (I'll try to overlook the distinct lack of monetary success for purposes of this comparison), and become a slightly more accomplished climber, I thought that returning home would be a sort of triumphant homecoming, with a parade, and floats, and parents who have to hoist their kids to shoulder height in order for them to see. At the very least, I thought things would be different, because, well, I'm so different.

I have come home to realize that things are exactly the same. The climbs that were difficult before are still difficult. The climbers at Devil's Lake who didn't know me before still don't know me. My life and my accomplishments still have had little influence on the aging in-crowd of Devil's Lake locals. They still sit in the parkinglot and talk about the same stories. I still have to pay for chalk at the local climbing shop. Things are pretty much the same. Though as far as Webber's concerned I have it pretty well. I have not yet been shunned. Misunderstood, yes; shunned, no. I don't have that pesky Great Depression looming over my head so I've got that going for me.

At any rate, I still have a core group of friends, a wonderful family, and the same climbs on which I have tested myself for going on fifteen years now. I should count myself lucky for that. There's always the chance that we can schedule the parade for next year.