(Photo by Glenn Billington)
(Photo by Glenn Billington)
We’re interested in what young people think about Rockland, the midcoast, and Maine in general, and whether they want to stay or leave. Nate grew up in a small town in New Hampshire and doesn’t remember many of his peers aspiring to stay in the area after high school. He still travels back to visit family but regards his hometown with neither nostalgia nor scorn. Becca grew up in Camden and Rockland and basically wanted to get the hell out as soon as she possibly could. She loved the woods, the water and her family, but felt suffocated by the xenophobia, nativism, homophobia, parochialism and belittling of teens, and longed for some (mythical) perfect location out there where she could wear blue lipstick, purple hair or a shaved head, and not face sneers and thrown bottles from cars yelling, “f——t” or, “Hey baby, want to suck my —?” (Let’s hope it’s no longer like this in the midcoast, or anywhere.)

According to the 2017 American Community Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, Maine is the oldest state in the nation, with a median age of 44.3 (which Becca and Nate are rapidly approaching!). It is frequently stated that keeping young Mainers in Maine and attracting new young people to live in Maine are vital to our state’s economy and future. With this in mind, Nate and our friend Quixada Moore-Vissing descended upon the Maine Sea Goddess Coronation at the Maine Lobster Festival last week, microphone in hand, to find and interview young folks about their future plans.

Asking open-ended questions, we interviewed 12 local people, ages 15 to 25, promising them anonymity. Of the 12, eight expressed at least a tentative plan to stay in Maine long-term (sometimes after travel or college). Of the four who planned to leave, most of their reasons were economic: They said, “There’s better jobs that can make more money [elsewhere]” and “I would love to live here; unfortunately, it’s kind of expensive to do so.” One person specifically indicated that she might stay, “if the lobstering industry got better, because it runs in my family.” The one person who cited primarily non-economic reasons for leaving said that she wished to “live freely and learn about different cultures.”

Of the eight who planned to stay, their reasons included: natural beauty, family and friends, the “laid-back” lifestyle in Maine, “the community,” “all the people,” “this is a great place,” “kind of quiet but gets busy in the summer, which is nice,” “small-town comfort,” “it’s safe,” “[Rockland’s] not a big city, but there’s definitely plenty to do.” And don’t forget this: “In the event of a zombie apocalypse, this is the best place to weather it.”

We also asked about the attitudes of their friends and peers. One person who wants to stay said that some of her peers who want to leave feel that “there’s nothing to do around here I guess,” but her companion responded that “sometimes I feel like that, but then I appreciate all the stuff we have ’cause it’s kinda cool.” We heard this repeated in several variations. We also heard several times that people want to travel and explore big cities and other cultures, regardless of whether or not they want to be in Maine long-term.

What are we to make of all this? First, we should keep in mind that this is a small “sample” group whose members had chosen to attend the Lobster Festival and Sea Goddess Coronation. Second, we loved hearing from young people and wish it were more common to have age-diverse exchanges. On one hand, we were pleasantly surprised that so many young people are planning to stay in Maine — we love Maine, too. But on the other, let’s ask ourselves why? Why do we care so much about state identity? Might a hand-wringing focus on the future of a particular state reinforce the dangers inherent in human-created borders (whether governmental or corporate, state or nation-state), such as the protectionism, violence, and lack of free human movement that frequently attend such artificial borders?

A common response to the “graying of Maine” is to say, “We need jobs,” “We need more industry,” “We need to attract workers.” But we should never think of people as “workers,” or “economic engines” for the state. In our gilded age of economic inequality, what we really need is a new way of thinking about people — both globally and locally — and about place. Becca is against capitalism; Nate is not. However, we both agree that a world in which Mainers (or anyone) may live their whole lives without adequate health care, child care, food, housing or pleasure is a world in need of systemic transformation. Let’s make sure the young people we interviewed have the opportunity to grow up and thrive in a better world, wherever they may wander.