All around town, you can hear talk of the "self-fulfilling prophecy" -- the notion that the more we talk about the exodus of students, or crime, or the myriad other issues causing angst in Carbondale, the more we doom ourselves to ultimate failure.
But let's turn that on its head for a moment.
I first met this crazy place we call home 20 years ago this fall. Filled with eagerness, excitement and some overwrought angst of my own, I ventured out from my cinder block cube at Thompson Point to discover this beautiful, occasionally seamy city, the likes of which my wide eyes had never before seen. I walked the streets at night with my newfound friends, drifting from one house party to the next, drinking in the bright sights and loud sounds of this odd new place we suddenly called home. (Obviously, we took a few drinks from red Solo cups along the way, too, but that's another story.)
Fast-forward to now.
Never could I have imagined that two decades later, I would still be bound to the erratic orbital pull of Carbondale, or writing about its mysterious magnetism in the pages of the local paper. I'm far from alone. From bankers and businessmen to the mayor of Carbondale himself, this is a city uniquely balanced on the shoulders of imports, many of who arrived as scraggly teenagers with the same sense of wide-eyed confusion and wonder.
We never meant to stay, but we did. One year became two, which became three and then four. We got jobs. We got married. Suddenly, we had children being born at that same hospital we used to stumble past on our way to the party.
Steve Quinn, who speaks about the nascent #CarbondaleProud movement in this issue of the Times, also finds himself unwittingly calling Carbondale home after first arriving 20 years ago. He notes how powerful this narrative is to the city's continued livelihood. "That's a really big deal," he says. "That says something. People aren't getting stuck here. They come here, they like what they see. When they graduate, there are good opportunities for work, good jobs. They stay."
During the past few weeks, filled with thoughts of my impending Carbondale anniversary, I've taken to walking these streets yet again. So much has changed. On the east side, big-box businesses have come and gone. On the Strip, there is a new sense of livelihood, buttressed by a commitment to beautification. On campus, much has changed, too -- some of it the result of big, new buildings, and some of it due to the steady bleed in students. There are simply fewer of us now.
At Thompson Point, however, many things are just as they were. Peering through my old window at Steagall Hall, most of it is just as I left it -- but it was never really mine to begin with. Hundreds possibly inhabited it before me, and surely dozens have since then. This fall, it will have two new occupants, both surely as wonder-struck as those who came before.
As we prepare to welcome yet another class of freshmen, regardless of how many we get, this legacy is worth remembering. Some will come and go, but others will stay far longer than they expect. A future bank president may be among them. A one-day mayor of Carbondale may be getting her first look at this fun, funky town. The next generation of Carbondale journalists -- the ones who eventually will replace me -- may be taking their first strolls up the Strip this fall.
If we treat them well, they become a different kind of self-fulfilling prophecy -- and one we should be eager to talk about. The future of Carbondale is among them. Some of them are going to make a difference here.
Let's encourage this. Let's talk about this some more. Let's spread this sort of story around town and beyond.
And if you have your own story about getting sidetracked in life by this beautiful place we call home, please send it on to me at email@example.com. I would love to hear from you.