In Indiana it’s not like New York where everyone’s like, ‘We’re from New York and we’re the best’ or ‘We’re from Texas and we like things big’ it’s more like ‘We’re from Indiana and we’re gonna move.’ —Jim Gaffigan
Today is my middle son’s 21st birthday. Since he’s in Japan, across the International Date Line, we conversed last night, Sunday morning his time. Somehow, the Marine Corp had let him sleep late and he was starting his day with a Corona that he had stowed away for the occasion. Just hearing that made me proud of him. He’s getting his life off to a better, freer, more honest start than I did.
Today also marks another anniversary, though, one I’m not nearly as proud to admit. I’ve now lived in Indiana, specifically Indianapolis, eleven years, the longest I’ve ever lived in any city. I won’t bore you with the story of how I got here as I’m sure I’ve already told it a sufficient number of times and thoroughly bored everyone who’s heard it. The point simply is that I never intended to make Indiana my home, but it has tied me down so thoroughly that leaving has yet to be an option I could afford to pursue.
I have to be careful here, as it is not my intention to offend everyone in this state. There are, like anywhere, some wonderful individuals that have, at the very least, made my life bearable, sometimes saved it, and sometimes even managed to make me smile. If asked, I could probably cobble together a list of about 30 people I’m not merely happy to have met but would probably, willingly, take with me on a road trip, including the college English teacher who was influential in convincing me to come here, the one gallery curator that doesn’t wince every time I walk through the door, and the Shibari master who not only made today’s pictures possible but managed to keep me alive when my continued existence was questionable.
Of coruse, it goes without saying, or should, that I wouldn’t have met Kat had I not endured living in Indiana all this time. She is the one thing that redeems this massive error in judgment. I jokingly question whether she and I share the same mental deformities that allow her to be as interested in me as I am in her. She actually likes sitting and watching me edit. We share a passion for coffee. She’s creatively expressive but doesn’t like having anyone try to put that creativity in a box or give it a limiting definition. She also dislikes the state of Indiana and wants to move, but then, she was born here, so her wanting to leave is more of a birthright given to every Hoosier.
What disappoints me most about Indiana, though, is how it devalues people, something we see in how the state chooses who governs and how that government is manifested through some of the most ridiculous laws ever imagined. The state of Indiana has prohibited even considering building a light rail system. They refuse to deal responsibly with companies millions of tons of chemicals into their streams and waterways, to the point that its entire water basin is polluted. Their infrastructure is a complete mess and their public education system is one of the worst in the country, despite being home to three of the best universities in the Midwest. I expected better. Everyone who lives here has a right to expect better. By failing to facilitate better transportation, better education, and a sustainable environment, state legislators are telling their constituents that their future does not matter, that their children’s lives are irrelevant, and they don’t give a damn if the bulk of the state lives in poverty.
Even worse, though, is how Indiana marginalizes its citizens. Last year, it was Indiana’s ridiculous Religious Freedom Restoration Act that brought public shame upon the state. This year, it is a ridiculously limiting, and probably unconstitutional, abortion law that is so horrid it has women calling the Governor’s office with details of their menstrual cycle in an effort to emphasize the degree to which the state has imposed itself upon the rights of women. Meanwhile, the state would rather see its people starve than provide food assistance. The state would rather pay corporate charter schools from out of state than invest in their own public school system. Each and every time the Governor and the state legislature makes one of these moves, they are telling people in Indiana that their lives don’t matter.
Once here, though, escaping from Indiana isn’t easy. If you’re a student, your best move might seem to be to go to school out of state. The problem with that is that there are three excellent universities here, IU, Purdue, and Notre Dame, that, depending on what one is studying, are among the best schools in the nation. So, you’re still stuck. Next option: get a good job elsewhere. Good luck with that. Employers have demonstrated a continued reluctance to hire Hoosiers from out of state. Why? Because we are perceived as being backward, overweight, lacking competitive drive, and culturally out of touch. I’m not saying no one from Indiana ever gets out, but being from Indiana means having the odds stacked against you from the very beginning.
Sure, there are other states just as bad, maybe even worse. Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and North Carolina immediately come to mind. Indiana isn’t alone in its ability to elect some of the stupidest people on the planet who then enact some of the most ass-backward laws ever conceived. Indiana doesn’t have a corner on stupid.
Living here has gotten more challenging, though. Just this past Friday, a couple of friends had stopped by, along with their darling infant daughter. During our conversation, we noticed a considerable amount of police activity in the neighborhood. When they got ready to leave, they discovered that the neighborhood had been effectively locked down, no one being allowed in or out. They came back here and waited until almost midnight before being allowed to go home. At the same time, Kat and the kids were caught out of the neighborhood at a friends house. Even when police started letting people out of the neighborhood, they still weren’t letting anyone in. It was after 3:00 AM before Kat was able to get home and tuck her kids into their own bed. And after all that, after completely inconveniencing the more than 300 people who live in this rather secluded neighborhood, the person police were chasing got away.
Indiana has the ability to be a wonderful home. There are fantastically diverse state parks, wildlife, music, art, and top-notch advanced education opportunities. There are museums all over the place displaying the best material from around the world. There are more than enough reasons why living in Indiana should be wonderful. But it’s not. It hasn’t been the entire time I’ve lived here. And until the people of this state stop electing complete idiots to office, stop marginalizing people for stupid reasons like being gay or female, and get a handle on its crime issue, Indiana will continue to be a place that has to tie people down to keep them from leaving.
All that’s keeping us here now is waiting for Kat to finish school and her sister’s wedding. This past week, Kat was offered a position out of state at a salon with an international reputation. Whether she takes that offer or considers another, we’ll both finally be able to move. There is light at the end of our tunnel. We’re looking forward to cutting the ropes.
Indiana sucks, but it doesn’t have to. I suppose there’s a chance that they’ll one day wake up and change, but who wants to wait around for that? Opportunities are being lost every day. Cut your ropes, my friends. Move on.