Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Great Home-Base Grapple

When I’m in a new city, I always wonder if THIS is a place I'd like to live, a place I could call home? I've lived in Orange County for ten years now, but I just can't seem to get comfortable here. I lived all over LA growing up. I lived in the Bay Area for a few years. I lived in Spain and England, and I just can't seemed to feel part of/fit in/get adjusted anywhere. For as long as I can remember -- in relation to a Home -- I have felt relatively homeless. I do know that as long as I am in the presence of my girls and my husband, this is home to me. This is glaringly clear, the only clear concept of Home I have, but the feeling that I can dig my heels into a community eludes me. I have glimpses and I get my hopes up, but this is a secret void for me, one that makes me uncomfortable. I try not to talk about it much because it's embarrassing how much I actually think about how I wish a place/apartment/house/city felt like home to me.

I boast the ability to make any shithole comfortable and mine. I can add the perfect amount of books, hang great art, throw down texture and light it all brilliantly. And I've had plenty of shitholes to practice on. When I first went in search of a new hometown at age 18, I went to Berkeley because who doesn't love the Bay Area and because Betsy started UCBerkeley. I thought I'd be a student by osmosis. I wandered the campus pretending to be a part. I'd crash lectures and read greedily to breathe in what I was missing from a real class load. I slept on Betsy's couch like a hobo for a couple months and then got my own "place" which was a one-room hotel room with a sink across from my bed. I called friends on the pay phone in the lobby or they'd yelled outside my window, and I shared a bathroom down the hall with all the lunatics in the hotel. I'd take a bath every Monday because that was the day they cleaned. I believed this was as much my own bathtub as anyone else's. Bubbles in the clean water-stained bath tub, chipped toilet, one exposed 40 watt bulb, tiles missing on the floor, eyes closed; I made it mine. I hung a Georgia O'Keefe poster in my room, built bookshelves and listened to the radio. Confrontations went on all night long outside my window, but I was genuinely happy to have a place of my own. Did I think it was home? I was too aware of the derelict surroundings and I believed home felt safer than this.

My mother and I moved regularly, like arbitrary, but continual clock work. I did not go to the same school longer than two grades until I reached junior high. And until junior high, I slept in the same bed as my mother in a tight ball close to the bed's edge because my mother was a restless sleeper. I don't need a degree in psychology to understand the lack of grounding that I still feel today as a result of this. I just can't stop blaming other factors. I can't seem to figure out how to just feel settled already.

I have always loved to walk through neighborhoods, nice residentials, and peek into the well-lit and warm windows and think, "This is what home looks like." And I can replicate the look, but I can't grasp the feel.

Recently, I've declared to my husband that I want to move to LA. That is Home, I say -- I've convinced myself. But in secret, I'm not sure if I just feel nostalgic about LA and Santa Monica because now, as an adult, I can visit and not feel weighted down by the city and my history with it. I've convinced myself that this is the only real home I've had. And though I do feel a connection to the city, I am not convinced I want to raise the girls there. In fact, unless I live in a very specific, unaffordable part of the LA, I most definitely do not want to raise them there. I feel the girls are being sheltered in Orange County, but -- and this is what I grapple with most -- do I want to be apologetic for sheltering them or for raising them in precarious surroundings. Sheltering wins by a land slide. The thought of trying to protect them in LA gives me panic.

But I can't get over how interesting I think LA still is. But I can't get over how pretty and clean and calm I think OC is. I think OC people are mainly superficial conservatives that don't understand my quirkiness. I think LA people are mainly superficial wannabees that downplay my quirkiness. There are douche bags everywhere, I suppose. As I resist the OC, I try to make it less interesting than it is when in fact the libraries are beautiful and parks are mind-blowing and the public schools are top-notch, and there are gems tucked away when you open your eyes, like the gorgeous Bowers Museum and the cool Discovery Science Center. There are great restaurants in Laguna, and performing arts at the Barclay Theater.

Do I move the girls to find my own roots, creating yearning in them too, or do I just make my goddamn roots already even if I'm not sure how? I've lived here for 10 years. Do I not have roots here? They do. They feel safe. They have friends. Their heels are dug in. It doesn't escape me that I can live here solely for them and honor their roots and make Orange County home. I am not above that. I do not resent that in the least. All that matters is them, sincerely, and that they don't feel out of place their entire lives. It’s me that needs to learn how to dig in; that it's ok if I do. I don’t know if the girls can teach me that, but I’m willing to fake it until I do learn.


Anonymous said...

That was some of the best writing i've ever read! What self insight! Takes alot of guts to write that down for everyone to see.

la vie en rose said...

Hmmmm...tough question that I certainly don't know the answer too. I can understand your longing to belong somewhere but I think that you have nailed the real deffinition of home on the's where ever your family is. Society has defined home as a place. Your deffinition of home can be whatever you choose it to be.

MEL said...

This morning I sent off yet another "change of address" request through the on-line post office...from Glendale to Dana Point, from Dana Point to No Ho, from No Ho to Studio City. All in the last 2 years. Jesus!

Then I do my next morning your blog. To my surprise it hit home. How many times my mother and I moved around Los Angeles. Sleeping in the same bed because we couldn't afford shit..Eating burritos everynight. OK that wasn't in your blog but I'm venting. All I have to say is. I love LA. I know it's stinky and gross compared to the OC. But there is life here. I've been roaming so's nice to be back. To have you all here would be the best gift ever. Shit, let's all buy a huge house and live on a cul-de-sac like Knott's Landing!

The girls are tough and will adapt! Come HOME!!!! Love ya MEL

madness rivera said...

AAAAAHHHH - that's not helping Melissa!

Michelle Fry said...

I love this part of your post"
I have always loved to walk through neighborhoods, nice residentials, and peek into the well-lit and warm windows and think, "This is what home looks like." And I can replicate the look, but I can't grasp the feel.

I can walk by a house that is well lit and feel as though I can walk into the life that goes with it. Do you know what I mean? I think that's part of being a creative person/a watcher/a writer. You can more easily place yourself somewhere else than you can place yourself in the here and now. Don't let it make you feel different. I think it's a gift. I think you could write a novel, or movie, or paint a mural. Am I rambling? I hope you get the idea of what I'm trying to convey. You have vision.

Anonymous said...

not to diminish what you're feeling, BUT, i feel like that all the time too! even though we have this great house, the cats, the life, i'm always looking for that perfect place to call home forever. however, there's always an easy reason to not really consider each place: hawaii=angry locals; oregon coast=rednecks and retirees; big sur=new age freaks; costa rica=too far from "home"-oops, did i say that? and even though i had a consistent SM upbringing, i don't come close to thinking about it as the real home. the necessities for a liveable "home", i think, are good strong coffee available, nature close by, good restaurants/nightlife/culture, and good friends/family-sounds like you got that in the OC.
your lady vike!

yolie said...

growing up in NY I always dreamt of leaving and living in a small town somewhere. Being the only Puerto Rican girl in my neighborhood made me feel like a foreigner. I left young and traveled alot and have never felt at home anywhere. Even here, this beautiful small town where I have raised my daughter and crafted a comforting nest, I am still a foreigner. Your post reminded me. Home really is not a physical place.

madness rivera said...

I suppose Home is never what you fantasize it to be and only what is true and meaningful in your life. Note to self: Put. Down. The. Fantasy. Reality can be just as nice. I was fascinated how this resonated with so many. People similar to me and very different from me.

I had kept this in so long, writing it/sharing it made me feel more at home exactly where I'm at.

Thank you, sincerely.