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The Laursonian Institute

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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.

Days of Future Passed

It’s odd, to age on the internet.  I went back to read my livejournal anniverary post today – the first post I have on this very day, but 8 years ago.  Perhaps I’ll post a snippet at the end here tonight.  It’s from a very odd time in my life. I wonder sometimes if this quixotic little adventure I’m on trying to semi-regularly blog my ridiculous graduate school foibles will end up standing the test of time.  Where does it all go, when I stop paying for this domain?  When becomes passe?

There’s an amazing amount of time.  An incomprehensible spread, like taffy, effortlessly but enduringly covering every moment of every life.  I read a paper from 1988.  Lewis call is “old school”.  I counter: “..not that much older than what I was reading yesterday”.  I was five, in 1988.  I was in Bellevue.  I was in Kindergarten, at Sunset Elementary, and I was in class with my not-quite-yet-best-friend Bryanne.  We were the English Kindergarten, not the Spanish Immersion next door.  Those kids were strange.  1988.  Soundgarden released Ultramega Ok.  Chris Cornell was already a grownup.

My sister was 15… and dating, or almost dating Lonnie?  One of my first memories of Lonnie was the feeling of absolute mortification and instant regret after playing a game of jacks in our entryway.  Instead of bouncing the ball on the floor, I bounced it off his forehead.  I thought he was going to find it funny, but it must have hurt, because I think he got kind of mad.   It was one of those lessons you learn as a kid – actions have consequences, and sometimes the things you do hurt other people, even when you only mean to be having fun.   Around this same time, I have my first memory of disappointing my Dad.  Mom was out somewhere that night, and just Dad and me were at home, so he was responsible for getting me into bed.  I remember it was bedtime already, and he asked if I had brushed my teeth.  I hadn’t, but out of some feeling of insolence, I sort of proclaimed proudly that I hadn’t, and he was pretty mad.  I rushed upstairs and brushed my teeth pretty quickly thereafter, but I remember being worried for a long time that I had let my Dad down, and that I should do what I’m supposed to do without being asked.  Funny how long these things stick with you.

The further I get from my childhood, the less it makes sense to me.  I took so much on faith, that life is how it is, and it’s normal, and everything is okay.  Now I wonder – is life how it should be?  Am I the way I was meant to be?  What if I’m messing something up that I don’t even realize, because I haven’t learned one of those ball-to-forehead sort of lessons?  I know you can’t think your way out of this.  But I feel like I have to loosen my grasp on some things I had held dear.  I’ve been thinking a lot about growing up.  I’ve got this idea in mind lately, that I have upheld my end of the bargain, but that there was no contract, and nothing to be followed through upon.  It’s pervasive, and it permeates most my feelings about growing up these days.  I feel like I was a really naive girl, who wanted to believe in the the best of everyone.  And I’m slowly starting to realize that the adults in my life kept me in this state of unknowingness because it was the nicest place to grow up.  But that I grew up, and now I don’t understand why everything seems so different in retrospect.

Case in point lately:  my brother.  I only have two siblings, which are in reality half siblings.  It was a point of pride in my life that, to quote my Mom’s mantra about the situation, my siblings were “real siblings to me”.   I don’t have any full-blooded siblings, so I honestly don’t know what the difference would be anyway.  So I grew up with this underlying assumption that my siblings are my siblings are my siblings.  And that even though my brother and sister have other step- (and maybe half-?) siblings, they were sort of inconsequental, because the three of us were The Family Unit.  So my brother, like any real brother, would want to stand up for me, to protect me, to guide me through life… to deal with me, at all.  Turns out, my brother doesn’t like me.  Turns out, he maybe doesn’t like anyone.  But I’m pretty sure, standing from where I am now, that my brother never thought of me as a real sister, as a real part of his life, or as anything more than the kid his mom had to replace him.  I know he’s fucked up, so maybe this isn’t all his intention.  The feeling stands though:  when people ask if I have any siblings, do I still tell them I have two?  What does it mean to have a half-brother you thought was an enduring force in your life, who it turns out you’ve seen less of than some of your cousins?  And who doesn’t seem to regard your existance as noteworthy at all?  I haven’t even seen him in five years.  I haven’t spoken directly to him since… I can’t remember when.  We had one nice conversation once after he got out of the Army.  So I must have been in… high school?

I degree from the point. What I’m attempting to pontificate on is the fact that bunch of seemingly fundamental things that formed the basis of how I viewed life seem to have been good faith assumptions based on what things the people around me told me were true.  And I’m filling with this creeping sense of injustice I’ll eventually have to let out, or somehow get over.  Maybe these were feelings I was supposed to deal with 10 years ago.  In some ways, I think I must be as naive as ever.  But I just don’t see how I can progress in Life (big “L”) without figuring out whether the fundamentals of my outlook are sound.  And they’re not looking very sound.

I’ll sign off with a quote from my past self.  Context:  this is me, in my senior year of high school.  I’m living in a hotel, because my parents have moved to a different city, but wanted me to finish school in the same place.   I’m about to take the IB French test, and I think I already know that I’ll be moving to California in August to go to USC.  My life is basically filled with being an honors student, and trying to date an exchange student, which is going pretty shittily.  But I am surrounded by good friends (Tiffy, mostly) who are keeping me bouyant and I’ve got my eyes securely locked on the future.  This was my May 14th, 2001:

I’ll keep this short this morning.. partly because I need to bust out to get to my test, and partly because I dont remember what really happened, and what I dreamed.. but I just had the strangest night..

I guess about 1:30 some random girl screamed in the hallway, and woke me up.. I gave it a big, “what’s this for?” and went back to sleep.. and then someone randomly decided that they wanted in my room and kept trying to open my door, so that really woke me up.. on top of that someone kept going in and out of their room and the doors in this place make the biggest loudest closing sound.. so all of this caused me not to really get any sleep after 1:30 which is bad, because i was planning on being very rested for this french test.. but oh well. After that I just kept dreaming about all this weird stuff.. girls getting kidnapped and people trying to barge into my room.. it doens’t sound so bad on the LJ but I was sort of disturbed…

but it all really worked out for the best, because my alarm wasn’t set and so after spending this whole sleepless night i was like, “hey, i should be getting up.. where’s my alarm?” I guess being tired is the price i’ll pay for being awake. bleh. i need to get outta here…. but not before i say, “bonne chance!” to myself :)

It’s okay, past Laurie, it all works out.  And you did pretty good on that French test, despite the weird day.  In fact, you remember that French test much better than you remember this odd night.  So no need to fret.


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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