Back in October, a few weeks after I left the cacophony of NYC to the more ambitiously inclined, Forbes Magazine ranked Maine dead last in its yearly Best States For Business survey. Where’d they get that notion? Are there less corporate tax breaks here, or is it the geographical remove, tucked way up in the top corner of the country? There’s a lot of coastline, though; shouldn’t that be good for commerce? Or maybe it’s the sparse population; heck, more people live below 110th St in Manhattan than in our entire state, it’s just that a three-piece here means Carhartts, flannel and a tool belt. A real DIY kinda place. We all need income, so we’re not adverse to making a living, and there’s that New England work ethic, so sloth and idleness are not to blame. Last, really? Hmmm.
Maybe with a slogan like Vacationland, we sell ourselves as a place to play, not work, and stats in a survey tell whatever story you want them to. Those suits at the money magazines can spin a yarn just as well as any Down East denizen, apparently. There’s certainly no shortage of busyness here, especially if you listen to an oldtimer when he notes, “Yah know spring’s here when folks start either diggin’ in their gahden or sandin’ down their schooner.” If you’ve done either, you’ve no doubt the industry of the task. The curious thing is that Mainers tell themselves a story: that finding work is hard, that jobs aren’t easy to come by, that economic times are always tough here. Maybe Forbes didn’t rely on statistics for their survey. Perhaps it was a write-in campaign.
Now six months later, the Institute for Economics and Peace perches the Pine Tree State in peak position as the #1 Most Peaceful in the US. ‘The Way Life Should Be,’ the state tagline, is cliche for a reason. Peace. Stillness. Ah, yes. Shhh.. listen.
**ribbet ** ribbet ** ribbet **
Does this mean that economic enterprise and peacefulness are at odds? Mutually exclusive?
I’ve had a long, snowy winter to contemplate this. My ear’s better attuned now to groundswell and scuttle. So much gets drowned out in our technolife, but November to April in the Northeast is like being on silent retreat – aside from the chainsaws, listening to Labor Mural dramas on WERU, and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman report on waves of change in the Middle East and waves of destruction in Japan. It’s mostly tranquil here – a grand environment to ponder and listen. And listen I do.
Seems the more we pare down, the richer life gets. By reducing noise and distraction, one of my primary goals for leaving the city – (Who can write there anyway? Well, except for Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, Colson Whitehead and, oh – never mind. Focus, Kellie, focus.), I’ve gained a keen ear. By tuning into ever-sensitized wavelengths, I’ve gained endless wisdom, all locked in a virtual Maine zip file. I hear the messages of prophets everywhere: in the peeping frogs in vernal pools near Lucia’s Beach, in the profundities of seemingly mundane chats with new friends, in the warning calls of hawks, as they spy prey below, running on battened-down earth. I hear it in my own words, even, when they’re reflected back to me; funny, I often miss them the first time out.
But for all the halcyon moments, impatient desires rustle and poke at my new peace. I WANT to be busy. Isn’t activity essential this season? My mind is fertile with ideas and wanderlust. I want to strap on stilts, take this expanding me out for a stroll with purpose – I want my steps to cover ten times as much ground as they did before. I want to move like a giant, calling up the wind like The Alchemist, and sweep away everything not rooted down. The earth is shifting so wide and deep, down to its mantle, and loosening what’s on the surface. The blasting sandstorm, the blizzard, the waves are all churning and eroding. I, too, am shedding and recalibrating.
Indeed, Paul Simon knew. The prophets are everywhere. Their words ARE on the subway walls, and tenement halls, and in your mouth, and in mine. Discerning what to believe, Ah! That’s the key! Do I listen to Forbes, pack up my bags and head back to a Brooklyn job? Or do I believe peace lives here, on this ground? Or maybe, just maybe, both are mobile and malleable?
I wonder – these stories that Maine, and we, tell, are they real – are they true, or are they all talk & no listening?