My Shire

Now, everyone has a special affinity for their hometown, or where their formative years took place, even if they never return to it. Except, it seems, for the Trackball. As has been noted before in this space, the Trackball is not your average point-and-click mouse. A bit of this is being a contrarian, but for the most part it's just about being different. And given where the Trackball grew up, it made for a disjunctive childhood.

Very early on, the ToT felt like he didn't belong. By third grade, he felt like he had been adopted in the way that a duck would feel being raised in a community of polar bears. The ToT was in the wrong place. And it only became more apparent as time went on.

Why? To paraphrase Luke Skywalker my attitude about my homeplace was that if there was a bright center of the universe, I was on the planet that it was furthest from. I was going to call this post My Tatooine, but after thinking about it some more, I realized that it really should be My Shire. Remember that both Bilbo and Frodo had to leave the Shire permanently, in part because the Hobbits there didn't like them anymore. They were too different when they returned and heterogeneity doesn't fly in the Shire.

My Shire is a friendly place, neither entirely rural, urban or suburban. Residents think it's a great place to raise kids, but being a kid there is a boring ordeal and the young adults with futures are leaving as fast as they can. The economy has been in freefall for decades but people there are perplexed as why others would leave to find jobs. It has all the vitality of a plate of cold pancakes.

One of its dominant traits is that it's heavily homogenous. Same culture, education, race, religion, thoughts, opinions. Conformity, being 'normal,' is much prized. This is directly linked to the lack of knowledge of the outside world. Those who have left tend to return, often browbeaten by family into living nearby. Trying new things is quietly discouraged, often just by example. There is so much in the world that is 'weird.' It's amazing to think that the area was settled by pioneers who had moved across oceans and mountains and cultural barriers.

Diversity is a dirty word there. If you stick out from the crowd in any way (religiously, racially, mindset, sexual orientation, clothing, lifestyle, choice of fiction reading, being a geek, artist, intellectual or from another country) you will be treated like you have the plague. So ToT was on the outs very early on.

Where ToT got into the most trouble was in the weird thinking department by asking why, challenging stupid traditions and poking holes in the elders' smug ignorance. This reflected a schism between the ToT and My Shire about education and knowledge. The average Hobbit considers education akin to vaccination shots - they hurt, getting them is a hassle and you'll probably never need them really but you have to do it. Libraries there are empty spaces where the elderly go to read the paper on weekday mornings. Knowing about the outside world is kind of frowned upon - people who do that tend to get funny ideas in their heads and want to live elsewhere. You can see where the Shire analogy becomes obvious. While ToT lived there, dealing with this aspect of the place was like having someone continuously scream in your ear.

My Shire, unlike Frodo's, has a yawning morality deficit. The lip service-morality is very Easter/Christmas Catholic or righteous evangelical. But, everyone is on the prowl for the latest get rich quick scheme. Umbrage is taken at those with financial success, usually in the form of being angry that the lucky SOB found a get rich quick scheme that worked and is as crooked as a dog's leg. Get welfare, sue for damages, steal, cheat on taxes, embezzle, all are fair play. Although those that are caught are publicly vilified. But they are also privately admired and imitated. Injury lawyers dominate the billboards along the deteriorating highways.

This is combined with financial idiocy because legitimate ways of making money are beyond the kin of these Hobbits. They have become so convinced it's impossible that legitimate business success, like magic tricks, are considered suspect. Every business transaction is treated as a screw job and the prevailing wisdom is to get away with as little value for the money one is given. Jobs are considered good gigs to have while you can hold on to one, but thinking about a career is weird: you ride the crashing wave of economic destruction hoping that you can hang on long enough to retire without getting drowned.

The idiocy extends to spending money too. Economists have long scratched their heads at the ability of downsized Hobbits in My Shire to take a severance package, use it to put a pool in the backyard, not cut back any other spending and not bother looking for work until the unemployment runs out. Retrain, go back to school? Not a lot of takers. Saving money is for suckers too, because what's the point of rubbing nickels together today when tomorrow you will be rich after Mr. Wonka gives you his chocolate factory?

Some of the Trackball's kin probably have hopes that the Trackballs will return. But it is the last place on Earth that I would live, and I certainly would not want to subject the little Trackballs to what I experienced. And, hidden in the family history is this streak of anti-Shire sensibilities that has encouraged a few to leave home, go where the action is, do one's best and see what the rest of the world is like. The ToT is hoping he is following closely in Uncle Bilbo's footsteps.

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