Gun Culture Shock

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Upon arrival in Wichita, one thing we noticed immediately is that most buildings had this sticker on its doors.  It is a handgun encircled in red with with a red strike-through diagonally across it. I had never seen this before and it immediately aroused my curiosity.

When I asked about it, I was told it meant “No Concealed Weapons,” which made sense since most places I frequented were public, government or service-provider buildings, places like universities, banks or non-profits.  I was glad for the ban in those places but troubled that there was even a need for the sign.  I guess that meant that guns were allowed in other places? It did explain somehow the preoccupation with local news with gun shooting incidents, as well as, the reserved and polite etiquette in regular interactions with locals.  No reason to get shot for incivility, right? A lot of this was new to me and a little unsettling.

Upon further reflection, I thought surely Oregon was a safer, smart, more responsible gun state. When I lived there, gun ownership was not regularly discussed and there certainly weren’t those [scary] stickers on every door. People didn’t boast about their views on gun ownership. In the cities, people are very rude, and I never worried about being shot. Unfortunately, I was wrong: According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Oregon earned a “D” on its gun laws in 2013.  Kansas was only a few steps behind with its grade “F”.

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Grades have been assigned based on the strength of each state’s gun laws. A state in blue (or orange) has one of the ten lowest (or highest) gun death rates of all fifty states. Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2013.

Overall, there were “75 laws in 29 states made it easier for people to own guns, carry guns in public places—including schools, churches, restaurants, bars, and casinos—and made it harder for the government to track guns” (Mark Follman, Mother Jones, “More Than Half of Americans Now Have Tougher Gun Laws.”) 

A study conducted by The American Journal of Medicine concluded that gun laws don’t make a nation safer.

In July 2013, Kansas changed its concealed carry laws so that guns are allowed in government buildings and those other places where they were once prohibited.

I am fully aware of the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment. Heck, my dad polished his guns in front of me and I had shooting lessons at the range when I was little.  And it isn’t as though I’ve never seen military-grade weapons either:  In Switzerland, I saw a machine gun in the shoe closet because all Swiss men serve military time and must be ready to defend. As a tourist in Italy, I saw policemen with machine guns during the course of their regular activities.

I am just not accustomed to this facet of culture, to this Gun Culture, being in my awareness all the time. I am not used to hearing gun shots night and day, and being woken up in the middle of the night to gun shots outside my house; gun shots so close I could see the spark. I am not used to people claiming to be liberals but in the same sentence talking about their right to bear arms; I still find myself surprised that local news talks about the issue so much. The annual Gun Show in Wichita is one of the few things to do this time of year.

It is just another kind of culture shock.

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Loco for Local

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I’d like to give a shout out to my go-to blog Chain-Free Eating in Wichita, the authority on locally-owned, quality restaurants in Wichita. Since I respect his tastes and opinions, I use his reviews to determine if a restaurant is worth my hard-earned bucks. If he said it’s mediocre, I frequently give the place a pass (unless I’ve already been and love it myself). Most times, he does the vetting for me and saves me irritation and annoyance.  So I would recommend you check out his reviews on local establishments.  His blog is easy to search and he takes suggestions!

Lost and Found: Statues and Fountains

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Ok, so I’m never really “lost.”

I just like exploring and fortunately this town has a little gem around every turn. My first month here I was delighted to discover all the public art: Wichita has an extraordinary amount of public art for the city’s size.  There are murals, statues, fountains, and monuments.

I like the statues and fountains best. There is a book I found that states there is at least 300 statues in this town. Wichita State University also has a virtual tour of its statues here.  Some statues are little fountains too.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Keeper of Plains is part of the Arkansas River bike path system in Wichita.  This beautiful statue is within walking distance of my house.

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At the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Arkansas Rivers, The Keeper of Plains keeps eternal watch over sacred Native American Indian grounds. Donated to the People of Wichita from Blackbear Boisin.

Cowtown Entrance

Frolicking Children with Burbling Brook. Wichita Central Library Outside reading area.

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Part of a larger outdoor art installation at the corner of 3rd and N. Washington.

Corner Clock and Barefoot Reading Man. At his feet are little bubblers.

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Kinetic art installation at the Rotary park across from the Coleman museum. The top spins freely in the wind while the lower cogs move more deliberately. Corner of 3rd and N. St. Francis.
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Eagle at the Wichita Central Public Library outdoor reading area.

Top of courthouse

Sedgwick County Historic Courthouse

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Entrance of new Courthouse. Replica of Liberty Bell.

Handling the Trail & Loneliness

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Saddle Sore and Weary? Sunburned and Afraid?

Fear not. 

When you are a trailing spouse, having no friends and loads of solitude can be one of the most demoralizing or debilitating consequences of relocating.  It can be easy to fall into sheer desperation and depression, or worse.  But with a little effort and investment in your mental health, relocating can be turned into a rewarding time for personal growth.

Volunteer or Join a Club

It is imperative that you find somewhere you can meet people and become acquainted with your community. Many people utilize church for this purpose.  For those of us who do not attend church, finding a group of people to befriend is more challenging. If you have children, you could perhaps meet other parents at school or day care, or ask the school counselor if there are parents’ clubs or groups that are part of the school, such as an International Club or a parents’ book club.  Be creative as well as honest about your interests and then find a group of people to be with.  Not only will you learn about your new town but you may learn new facts.  And you might make a friend!

It is ok if you decide to leave the group if isn’t a good fit.  Find another organization or group and become involved in their activities.  Meetup.com is a great resource for finding like-minded individuals….if you are feeling really extroverted, you could facilitate your own meet up.

The point of all this is to ensure that you don’t end up watching TV all day on the couch.  It may be a long time before you’re able to find a job or make a new circle of friends, and until then you are going to need to have people you can interact with.  I made the mistake when we moved to Wichita of never leaving the house for two months because I thought I needed to find a job right away.  I now know it is more important to find something to do to break up the long hours of the day.  I can’t look for a job all day after all, and some of my job leads only came AFTER I started working with individuals who knew about a position and then served as a reference.

Exercise

Moving is stressful. Period.  Exercise has such positive benefits for your mental and physical health.  If you join a class at a local YMCA or gym, you not only are exercising but socializing.  Win!

I ended up eating lots of desserts and sweets due to stress when we moved and gained a lot of weight.  Try not to pig out on carbs because it starts a vicious cycle of self-loating, eating, sadness, self-loathing.  Just exercise a little (or a lot). You’ll feel better, I promise!

Explore.

It is easier, I imagine, when you have children to go out and find things in the community to do.  If you are like me and have no kids, justifying leaving the house to find something to do is harder.  But you must.  You must try to find interesting or unique things about your new town because: 1) you need to learn your way around; 2) you won’t find the best deals if you only shop at the same store; 3) you will like your new town more if you find out why it is special; and 4) this is a new phase in your life and with this comes a new identity and self-awareness.  You may find new things about yourself during this process of re-identification.

When we moved to Wichita, I had a lot of (negative) stereotypes about Kansas to overcome.  Through exploring the community, I learned a lot about the prairie ecosystem, colonization of the Great Plains, and the introduction of cattle and wheat.  I now have a better understanding of why the ecology here in Kansas specifically is conducive to agriculture, why aviation has its roots here, and why change is slow to this part of the country. It has given me a rooted appreciation for the diversity within the United States, as well as, the regional specializations that contribute to our national economy.

With an curious mind and an open heart, any place you go can become a place ripe for new experiences.  Through these experiences you will be come to a different understanding of yourself and your place in the world.  If you keep your mind stimulated, you’ll banish feelings of loneliness. And people will be drawn to your interest and sincerity about the place you all call HOME!

Notes from the Trail: Year 2

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I didn’t mean for a year to pass without updating.  Well, that’s ok; I have a lot to write. This blog post will be about things I’ve come to appreciate about living here:

  • According to Wikipedia, Kansas is officially home of the South Midland American English dialect (there are folks that have accents from other places though).  Sayings like “out of pocket” or “get back with you” remind me every time that language is fluid, dynamic, and evolving. The fact that hip hop slang is not common also remind me that agriculture still defines the culture here despite the influences from industries like manufacturing and aviation.
  • The cultural differences are no longer shocking and annoying.  I’ve just accepted the way of life here is what makes Kansas home to some and antagonistic to others.  I’ll just keep opinions to myself.
  • I like that the sun shines most of the year.  Never mind that it gets to be 100 degrees regularly in the summer; I like that it is warm and bright.
  • I truly understand now the differences between Democrats and Republicans are more than “family-values,” climate change and religion.  It is culture and way of life.  Read What’s the Matter with Kansas? by Thomas Frank (or watch the documentary) to understand the nuances.
  • There are parts of the country, I realize now, that don’t believe science is a legitimate pursuit (opting instead for Intelligent Design). It is parts of the country like here where I observe that extremists exist in all religions–The Westboro Baptist Church is from Kansas and consider themselves as justified as jihadists do in other religions.
  • Most of the time people are fully clothed.  You couldn’t always count on that in Oregon.
  • By living here, I’m different than MOST of the rest of the US and this gives me an different perspective. I know what chicken and waffles are now and can tell by the sky if a tornado is coming.  I have also seen grasshoppers as long as my palm and black swallowtails that mesmerize by their size. I saw my first cicada, carpet cricket, and black widow spider here.
  • Since agriculture is a huge driver of the economy,  the onset of harvest and yields of wheat, corn, and soybean make the front page headlines. Or when crops are lost to a tornado or drought.  Farmers’ success (or failures) portends to any observer of meat and other foods’ prices in the months to come. That makes Kansas more of the “heartland” to the rest of the country than just in geographical sense.
  • Finally,  I really like the house we bought.  We paid it off lickety-split and have been updating and improving it. So I’m glad for the affordability of living here.  This has given me not only a beautiful place to live, but I’ve fulfilled something on my bucket list by renovating this 100-year old home.

Wichita is really trying to enter the modern age by conducting community-wide surveys on preferences and needs to make the community more walkable, bikeable, and liveable.  I commend their efforts and look forward to watching things take shape.

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Downtown Wichita retains its Wild West charm

Notes from the Trail: Year 1

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I am writing as a newly diagnosed “Trailing Spouse” however this was a domestic relocation:  We moved from Oregon to Kansas, Portland to Wichita, and Trailing Spouse is usually reserved for expat relocations where a spouse must re-identify themselves in a foreign culture and foreign language.

I feel this is a correct diagnosis for me since Wichita is foreign to me in nearly every aspect, and I am undergoing the career dissolution and identity-crisis that accompanies other trailing spouses.

It has been a difficult year.  It is primarily difficult since Wichita is so unattractive as a community and I’ve had to take a serious paycheck reduction, though I’m glad to have a job.  I find that people are unfriendly for the most part here and although I can manage that, it is the ignorant dismissal that is bewildering:  if jobs are supposedly so scarce, why is there just poor customer service? Why don’t real estate agents call you back? Why do people choose the mediocre standard of living?  Poverty is just rampant and people don’t bother repairing their cars after an accident so many cars are driven in a serious state of wreckage:  bumpers hanging off or removed, rear windshiels missing, trunk side panels crashed in,  and front passenger doors inoperable due a large side door cavity.  Many people live in total desperate sub-standard developing world housing.

I often feel it is the slums of Mexico in the middle of our so-called Heartland. It should be the Armpit.

This move has forced me to re-examine things I value, since I’m not in an environment any longer that supports and upholds those values.  Since I have to champion my values and fight for those that I hold most dear, I have involuntarily embarked on a soul quest.

In my first few months here, it was difficult to make sense of where I was.  I was not necessarily in a hostile environment, but things that were friendly or welcoming were not easily identifiable.  I’m not a mall person so finding shops that offered items that I would be interested in purchasing was a real challenge.

Here are some first things to do in your new location when you are a Trailing Spouse:

Find something familiar

For me it was finding familiar stores.  I looked high and low and the only ones that seemed familiar were Target, Home Depot, Starbucks and Big Lots.  These stores grounded me as I looked around for other familiar things.  Later I found Thai and Vietnamese restaurants and a good local coffee shop.  Later I felt secure enough to venture to new stores.

Unpack and Make a Room Homey

Unpack enough items in your new home and decorate a room so that it is your “safe room:” a place where you can go to recover from culture shock, awkward interactions with locals, or to combat sheer homesickness.  It will help to be around things that remind you of you and provide sense to a situation that frequently does not make sense.

Cook Familiar Comfort Foods

Once you have your kitchen unpacked, cook foods that you find warm, comforting, and fortifying.  You will need the strength to brave new situations and the leftovers are a comfort in a new office environment.  The nourishing food will also give you minerals and strength that the extra stress is zapping.

My biggest mistake was thinking that I could simply transplant the life had to my new town.  This was not at all possible.  I hope that this blog will ease the despair, confusion, and loneliness you might be experiencing.  You’re not alone!