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Thinking about the sum of reasons which accumulated to determine that Lewis and I landed in California, not Washington, when we repatriated from Cambridge.  When your life is in the moment, it always seems as though there is a single, clear path by which order proceeds.  Only in retrospect do I realize how many degrees of freedom were available to me, all unseen.  I’m not displeased to have become a permanent Californian, but I’m surprised that this appears to be the case.   When you get right down to it, the reasons we’re still here are quite mundane.

  1. We were getting married in Davis, a few months after returning from Cambridge, partially because my parents had moved away from Seattle and it seemed harder to get stuff done there than somewhere we had a representative living.  It was also cheaper, and we had (collectively) more California friends and relatives than Washington ones
  2. Also because my parents left Seattle, there was no real support structure there when we arrived.  No place to stay while we got on our feet.
  3. When we started looking for jobs, looking in the Bay Area was easier than Seattle since you can drive there for interviewing purposes, and Lewis was familiar with the area since he grew up in Oakland
  4. All our stuff was in Davis, since we had driven the U-Haul here after graduation, in part to drop off Lewis’ (dad’s) car back where it belonged, and in part because it was closer and the Lawyers had space for our stuff

I suppose what it all really comes down to is that mom and dad left Seattle, and without them there to lean on while we found our way in the world, we didn’t have anything promising there.  I turned in my Washington passport for a Californian one for the same reason so many other people are here – the lure of opportunity that seems wanting in your home.

California is a lovely place.  It seems trite to even bother assessing a place of so much plenty on these terms, but the truth of it is, California is a lovely place.  A nice place to live, to work, to experience, to find yourself.  It’s so open, so accessible.  I don’t know if moving to most livable places is like my emigration here, but it’s nearly flawless.  We have our jokes, the things you have to attenuate to so the locals are appeased.  The hills are golden, not brown.  We have weather, it’s just not like your weather.  You can never have too much rain, it’s good for the crops.  Never, ever call it San Fran – and let us never again speak of Frisco.  Here in NorCal there’s only one City, even if you live in or near other metropolitan areas.  (It took me a while to get over that one, though I realize that all us Seattle metro kids always called Seattle “Downtown”, even us South Enders who were so much closer to Tacoma’s bleak downtown.)

In Davis, if not everywhere here, there’s an abounding optimism about life.  The city puts so much stock in livability, in a city for everyone to enjoy.  The attention paid to bike transit never fails to astound me and adds immeasurable quality to every day life.  I love that the bike path is full of runners and dog walkers and stroller ladies and kids biking to school every morning.  I love that everyone I pass says hello, and that even the disaffected youth aren’t getting into any more trouble than smoking pot in the arboretum.  I love that even when it’s really, really hot, the weather is dry and bearable.  I love that we get torrential rain throughout winter and spring; it’s good soup weather, and ones life should always be amenable to soup.  I can’t even express how much I love the adjacency to produce we have – I don’t know if I could live anywhere that didn’t have fresh peaches and pineapple guava and figs all summer, and squash and kale and carrots all winter.  And while I’m on the topic, let me mention what may be my favorite place in all of Davis:  I love the Co-op.  The Co-op embodies all of my favorite things about Davis and Northern California, from its social protests of Israeli goods to its cooking classes for kids, to its deep community commitment and its quirky but lovable staff.

Despite this all, I can’t help but feeling there’s a piece of me wandering the trails up north.  It’s the quiet, introspective, spiritual, hermetic me.  The shy version of myself that is checked out and disengaged and ready to process input without bias.  Maybe that’s just the feeling of my own naiveté having been left behind at a specific point in time.  I can’t help but feel like I went out for milk and never came home again, leaving all my baggage and memories and sentimental items in some abandoned apartment.  And this Californian me sometimes just yearns to be whole again, and to make use of all those lessons about life I had learned.  (It’s amazing when you realize all the things you thought were codified parts of your parents’ life strategy were just ways of passing time and pacifying bored kids).

We’re vising for a few weeks this summer, and I think we’re going to camp on the peninsula on our way up.  I’m half afraid I’m going to go native.  I’m going to pitch that tent in the Hoh and you’ll never see me again, even with the lure of your organic fruits and sunshine.  Well, except my dog will be in Davis, and the thought of his sad little brow waiting for us to come un-abandon him….  I guess I should add that to the reasons I’m still in California.

5.  My dog is still here.

Flickr: Ozette

There’s a quiet in Davis that used to unnerve me.  At night it settles in, leaving only the faint ocean roar of the 80 in the distance.  All those people hurrying to San Francisco, or Tahoe, or who knows where blend into a white noise as subtle and compressed as the Tule fog.  No planes overhead, no dogs barking, no BART, no beats or bass lines from cruising cars.  No yelling, no shopping carts, no bangs, booms, shots, or sirens.  It used to be so disarming, coming up from Oakland for a night, to have night settle in and dampen all but this ribbon of freeway.  I don’t appreciate the quiet now, though it no longer makes my ears strain for hints of auditory mischief.

Despite living in what counts, for the west coast at least, as the middle of nowhere, Davis is indisputably on edge of the urban fabric.  The freeway is a constant reminder that we’re a stones throw from the crossroads of everything.  San Francisco pulls like a magnet in our conceptual field.  Sacramento is like a neighborhood everyone just forgets to visit.  Tahoe is our back yard disguised as a country club.  Half the cities you’ve ever heard of in California are a stones throw away.  Davis is tangled in the roots of Northern California’s transportation bindweed.

This irreconcilability is part of what erodes away the impression of inapproachableness I used to feel about Davis.  That this town was a proud, staid, calm, settled place.  It is those things, but it’s also full of undergraduates finding their place in life.  It has local produce and Co-op supporting hippies and keggers and midterms and pool parties.  It has a tight core Davisite community, but also a population that supports more pizza places and bars per capita than seems possible.  In the end, it’s just a town.  A funny, slightly quirky town – the sort that orders brand new low-emissions double-decker busses and whose major town event involves a parade of home-made bikes and antique farm equipment – but a town nonetheless.  For every boycotter of Israeli-made products picketing outside the Co-op, we have a handful traffic scofflaws parading around Davis like it’s their private property.

For all of this, Davis is great.  Approachable, amusing, and immensely livable.  I’m happy to be here, making memories and building a life surrounded by such warm and likable people.  But there’s this part of me that seems to be as strong as ever, this sense of home burned into my being, that won’t ever let me feel at peace here, or anywhere.  I can be on the winning team, but I’ll never have the home-court advantage.  I accept this as reality, as something I do not strive to change, but I can acknowledge that a piece of me believes in something I can no longer grasp.  There are all these memories built up already, of places, and sounds, and smells, and feelings which belong so wholly to another time and another land that they may as well belong to a different life, surfacing like deja vu from some past existence.

Today, this spiritual hallucination is the ocean.  My ocean is different than the one we have here.  It has sand which is perpetually cold, and so very hard.   Stinking banks of seaweed are scarce, but driftwood stacks in huge piles at the high water line.  There are no seals or dolphins to speak of, but tide pools enough to fill even the longest days.  Buckets of sand dollars are waiting to be found; an infinity of small rocks hide an unimaginable number of even smaller crabs.  The beach is pierced again and again with clear, very cold streams running into the Pacific.  If you look long enough, you may see a deer or raccoon on the margins, where forest abruptly gives way to sand.  There are no bed-and-breakfasts, no hotels with outdoor pools, no steakhouses.  Just a cold, steady wind threatening to give you windburn, water so cold you don’t dare put more than your toes in, and misty, rainy silence so deafening you can’t help but know yourself in that moment.  You’re not on the path from metropolis to metropolis, from urban sprawl to urban center.  You’re hours away from everything.  So far from any kind of civilized life that no one even really lives here.  It’s just you, this pavement disguised as sand, and the crushing, life affirming solitude that is the coast as its meant to be.

Me & HD

Alright, so I’ve got a huge crush on Sean Nelson.  I’ve been in this state of being all 8th-grade-y about it for weeks.  And I’m okay with that.  I know that it’s neither unhealthy nor permanent, so I’m sitting it out for the time being.  And really, there’s something sort of pleasant and amusing about having someone you don’t know and can’t know occupy your waking thoughts.  At other times, it’s extremely frustrating.  There’s something especially maddening about following a Twitter feed that seems impossibly intimate and also unreal.   Worst of all, this is pretty much the only worthwhile information out there.  When I was younger, I really could spend whole days digging up information about my then-crush Soundgarden (as a whole organism) and reading about them, looking at pictures, hunting down bootlegs, and the like.  When you’re 26, and it’s a fairly obscure band, the searches aren’t so fruitful, and the internet runs out of the informational opium that both stokes and tamps the fire.

Like the nerd I’ve always been, this is a data crush like all the rest.  Obsessing over Soundgarden was always less about seeing Chris Cornell shirtless than gathering an impossible amount of factoids.  Then, when you suspend your disbelief a hair, it’s almost – almost – like you know the band.  I once had a dream that Kim Thayil and Chris Cornell came over to my house and I fed them lemonade and we hung out in my back yard.  This is the very pinnacle of crush success – a dream that fulfills my every fantasy.  I don’t lust after physical encounters – I lust after people I respect enjoying my company and friendship.  It’s ego-masturbatory.  It’s the fantasy that I’m an interesting, worthwhile person.  It’s the fantasy of being completely comfortable in social situations, even those in which I should probably be more star-struck than cool.  And it’s the fantasy that I can be part of something I’ve completely lost, but still feels so elemental to my composition – Seattle rock music.

This morning, I had my lemonade-analogous dream about Sean Nelson.  The dream had lots of parts, but the meat of it was that I Sean and I were in the same class, oddly at UCLA.  Actually, it was Steve Luck’s, and he was teaching cognitive neuroscience, and I think several other Seattle rock figureheads were in the class as well.  Anyway, I tripped in front of Sean after class (admittedly a ruse to get his attention) and he helped me off the ground.  We ended up hitting it off, and walked to where ever we were going together.  We had lots of witty repartee, and I did a great job of not seeming like I wanted to hang out that much.  He tried to take me on a shortcut through campus somewhere that involved climbing up a big bridge/tunnel, and then back down the other side.  Unfortunately, the other side didn’t let us off at ground level, but spiraled further and further underground until we were in this big cavern and it was too steep to get back out the way we came.  This is where it gets a little Goonies-esque, as the cavern contained only a rickety old piano.  So Sean played a little piano (nothing in particular) and three doors opened up behind us.  This is as close as it gets to lusty – I pecked him on the cheek, realized it was really awkward, and apologized profusely.  We walked into the only one of the doors that had any light coming out, and ended up in a basement apartment full of sunshine, and no one home.  We opened another door (in the apartment) and found a bunch of old-timey vagabonds in something like a cave saloon.  Turns out there’s a whole underground city (presumably subterranean Los Angeles) of people who were trapped there forever.  We had to give up our cell phones and money as means of barter, but then decided we would try to walk out of the cave instead of settling there.  And then I woke up.

I’ve been sort of miserable about this all day.  It was such a perfect dream in that I behaved all calm, cool, and collected, and someone I really admire found me worthy of his company.  And that’s all there is to it.  I have to wake up and tell myself that I can do that with all the people actually in my life, and that there’s nothing particularly worth knowing about any of these famous people I sometimes settle on.  They’re just people too, and given that I’m rather picky about my friends, there’s no telling that I’d get along with any of these people.  But something about being human, about the nature of celebrity, about fame and notability and desirability, dictates that people you’d pay money to see are people you’d want to know.   And there just aren’t that many things in my life I really want, and really can’t and shouldn’t have.

I can’t think of any other time I crave the forbidden.  Not only will I never run into any of these people in normal circumstances, the amount of thought I’ve already put into it makes it taboo to even hope to try.  For these reasons, I can never say hello or get the autograph on anyone I really follow.  It’s the same reason I bought a Yuma, AZ hat (with a cartoon Wylie Coyote on it!) at a thrift store in Midway 10 years ago, that I’ve carried with me through several moves, and even brought to a number of concerts, but have never had the gall to ask Damien Jurado to sign it.  I’m sure Damien would be happy to sign it.   I’m just as sure it’s rather presumptuous to ask for any of his time.   And when it comes right down it it, I’ve done the one thing that is most likely to make it impossible to ever meet or run into any of the people I adore – I moved out of state 8 years ago.  I have not been a Washington resident in any capacity since I moved to England and my parents left the state – a full 4 years ago.  And I have no plans to move home; I’m in a PhD program and will be for the next 5 or 6 years.  And I’ll spend my time in California leading a completely happy, healthy, successful life.  And always feel a little bit like I’ve accidentally lost something that made me very happy – home.

I can’t get that sound you make out of my head

Yeah.   It’s one of those days, I guess, though I feel like all I need to do is decide it isn’t and my day will pick up.   I feel like I’m tired of work, tired of thinking, tired of planning, tired of doing.

And I’m also feeling lonely.  I listed to the mix CD that Steeny sent me for my birthday last year, and it made me really homesick.  Or maybe timesick, if that’s possible.  There’s this freedom of movement and being that my life has had in only fits and starts since I left Seattle to go to college.   Exceptions being the very last of my time in LA and roadtrip to MIT… but otherwise I feel like my life is used up in minutia and jostling for security.  It makes me wonder, at what point does responsibility bring diminishing returns?  And at what point does responsibility overtake my ability to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labors?  I’ve never been the type of person that is able to relax while skirting my reponsibilities either, so I’m not sure there’s a win to be had.  I don’t know what makes a person as high strung or meticulous as I am, so there’s really no getting around it, but it does strain my heart some times.

It saddens me to find myself daydreaming about hopping in my car and screwing around in Federal Way with my friends, only to realize that I gave that life up in the name of ambition.  Ambition is not all flowers, all fun, all successful.  On nights when school seems hard, when my advisors are being difficult, when my projects aren’t taking off, my papers aren’t flowing… on these nights, the trade-off seems dubious.  Did I give up all my friends and lazy good times for this ephemeral, ill-defined, completely unattainable… something?  It’s odd, I feel as though by my own 8-years-ago measure I’m more successful than I ever thought I would be.  I have everything I wanted (and indeed, want): a successful education, a wonderful husband, a happy family life, a nice place to live, and I’m getting my doctorate… which always makes me feel like a whiner.  Or an Icharis-like fool.

So I’m spending my Monday night, my holiday night, watching television I couldn’t care less about.   And trying really hard not to think about the b-level work I could be doing instead.


Don’t think I’ll bother much with a nuts-and-bolts update today. Suffice it to say that we went to Nibs, moved a carload up to Davis, unpacked it, and came home. And packed some more.

What’s really on my mind tonight is home – the make up of the mental space that is occupied by all these disparate associations. When you change major locations as often as I have, home gets to be a big mish-mash of unrelated items. But every now and again, something floats to the surface that can’t really be explained in any way other than it warms my heart that these very things even exist and are a part of my being.

There’s a feeling, more than a place, that Seattle-y things remind me of. I was in Redmond for my first Christmas break from college. I had been so homesick and had not at all made particularly good friends in LA. I had broken with almost all of my friends from the south end, and had recently been actively fighting with the remainder. I was dating someone on the other side of the world, and it wasn’t going particularly well either. My parents had moved to this new house just the year prior (the latter half of my senior year) and it wasn’t anywhere I felt attached to.

Yet somehow this all combines to create what has become my most cherished memory, and the feeling I was referring to. It’s late at night, and I’ve been reading Annie Dillard’s The Living, a wonderful novel about the original white settlers in Seattle. Annie Dillard herself holds a very special place in my heart, and anyone who has read her other works should probably be familiar with her naturalist bent. Anyway, I’ve been reading alone late into the night, and as I decide to turn in I realize it’s been raining softly for a while. Seattle has this indescribable soft rain that just delights me. It’s not so loud as to wake you, not so wet as to drench you, and not infrequent enough to ever really be missed. The skies open up, like one eye peeking out of sleep, and the smallest, steadiest, most comforting rain whispers at you all night. I cracked my window open, and was so surprised at the smell outside. When you’ve lived your whole life in the area you don’t realize how special rain on pine smells, but there’s nothing like it in the world. And I hadn’t realized that I missed it until that moment. In all my loneliness, my heart was full of comfort and wonder, and I fell asleep supremely happy. This is home in my heart.

That was a rather long preamble to my primary point – there are a lot of silly things in this world, like the smell of the wind, that take me straight to this place. Today I realized that place names are one of those things. A while back I blogged about how I thought I heard someone say something Seattle-y on the BART and got all nostalgic, and this is pretty much the same thing. Lewis and I were trying to puzzle out posible etymologies for Suisun (City) on our drive back in, and it got me started on etymologies for Northwest cities which we had been forced to learn in Pacific Northwest History in Junior High. Our teacher had pounded in the idea that the “-mish” morpheme means “people”, and spent a seemingly interminable amount of time listing off words that ended in “-mish”.

I rattled them off to Lewis in the car, pausing ridiculously before the suffix, as she did: “Skyko…mish. Snoho…mish. Stillagua…mish.” It got me to wondering about other potential morphemes we could maybe figure out — what about the “muk” in Mukilteo, Muckleshoot, and Tillamook? Or the “coom” of Steilacoom? I have a book that has etymological information about many of the Northwest Tribes, so I spent a while this evening looking it up while unwinding from our moving adventures. And that’s when I realized that the very words themselves seemed to have some kind of power in them. If not for everyone, for me. There’s something really special about these names… almost like being in a secret society, where only the members know them, let alone how to pronounce them. And the just dance off the tongue — say a few with me: Tulalip, Snoqualmie, Skagit, Nisqually, Loomis, Nooksack! Semiahmoo!

Where ever home is in my mental atlas… it’s peppered with these names. All said cherishingly.

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