Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why Do You Live Where You Do?

Today’s post at LitPark got me thinking. Susan Henderson, the gracious host of LitPark interviewed author Amy Wilentz about her new book, I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen: Coming to California in the Age of Schwarzenegger. Amy lived in Jerusalem where peace on the streets is an oxymoron, and also in New York City during 9/11. As an author of two books and a journalist who’s written for The Nation, The New Republic, Newsday, Time, The New York Times, and The New Yorker, Amy considers her recent move to California a foreign assignment. I Feel Earthquakes More Often Than They Happen is a memoir informed by Amy’s search for safety and renewal after 9/11, yet dosed with California history and contemporary political reporting. I have not read Amy’s book yet, but the premise intrigued me beyond the surface. [Click the LitPark link to read more about Susan and Amy.]

While in New Orleans and the Katrina-devastated Mississippi bayou areas last summer, I heard several residents say how the media and other insensitive souls often asked them questions like, “why do you live here when you know it’s a hurricane zone,” or other less kind phrasings. Living in Southern California we hear such comments as, “Why do you live there with all of the [choose one] crime, heat, traffic, crowds, cost of living, liberalism, bad schools, earthquakes.”

Because it’s home. My father’s ashes are spread across the Pacific, my mother and sister lay side-by-side in the ground only fifteen miles from me. Because my children have roots in the same valley where mine have flourished. Because we like it here.

Being entirely fair to my husby, he stays here because of me. He’s a Carolina boy, raised on grits, fatback, and collard greens. The Marine Corps brought him here twenty-five years ago, he met me, and except for our three year tour in Iwakuni, Japan, we’ve lived here since. Given the chance he’d move back to North Carolina as quick as you can say suet.

A trend among retired California homeowners who sit on million dollar real estate they bought 30 years ago for the price of a Toyota today, is to sell out and buy into a community for active senior adults. They can buy a nice place with their house cash, invest the balance, and live off their retirement investments. Last Monday I was talking with a couple of my friends in that position: Gal One is selling her Orange County goldmine and moving to a retirement community in the desert and is trying to convince Gal Two to join her there. Finally Gal Two says, “Why should I sell the place that I love and move to a place where I don’t want to live?”

Why indeed? In light of Gal Two’s remark and then reading about Amy’s move to California to be rejuvenated made me wonder. Why do you live where you do? What took you there and what keeps you there?

Click the comment link below to tell us your story.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Remembering 9/11

It's midnight in New York City. It's time to remember.

I could write something to commemorate the fallen, to memorialize the tragedy. But someone I know already has. Read Bella Voce and leave a comment there.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Daughter Grows Into Herself

My daughter returned to college this week. She’s a sophomore at a University of California campus only a half-hour drive from our home. Despite the nearby proximity, we decided last year it would be good for her to live on campus, not only because it’s more convenient, but because of the transitional value of life in a dorm.

She left for college as a political science major and came home as an English major. In between the change in her major she flirted with the sciences, having taken an oceanography class to satisfy her core requirements. The theory of continental drift fascinated her. She saw the whole of creation through the evolution of the earth. Yet she did not move into the sciences because the arts and humanities wooed her back through her first university level English class. Everything her teachers have been saying throughout her educational experience came into focus through this class.

Have I mentioned that she’s a scholar? A recipient of the university’s Chancellor’s Scholarship, among a list of other scholarships won during high school, my daughter craves knowledge. Not just trivia that makes good party chat, but the deep truths of how things work, why they work as they do, what happens when things break. She loves a research challenge and finding new ways to present time-honored truths. She has found an avenue of adventure in writing.

Had I tried to mold her into my own hopes for her she would have been a music major. I’ve been told by music teachers that perfect pitch does not exist, but near-perfect pitch does. She has it. Her soprano is clear and crisp, without shrill. When she plays piano and sings “Come What May” from Moulin Rouge, I get chills. All summer long she played selections from Phantom of the Opera while I worked. The house is silent now, the piano will collect dust again.

Her tennis coach thought she could have been ranked had we put her in competitive tennis early on. She picked up the game as a freshman in high school and smoked through lessons, burned up the court with her speed, but often defeated herself in the head play. Steve Kronseder, the tennis pro who took her under his wing, was an English major himself and did as much for her tennis game as he did her scholarship. I watched during lessons when he’d smash balls at her and then toss over questions about Beowulf, Chaucer, or Shakespeare. He’s the one who instilled in her the value that college is not a place to go to prepare for a job, but to explore knowledge.

Over the past year my daughter came home on weekends to do laundry, raid the pantry, see her local friends, and attend church with the family. When she went away in September of last year she was a girl excited to be out of the social cauldron called high school. She had no interest in joining a sorority, but made quick friends with her suite mates. The typical dorm hall dramas came and went and she often found herself the one doling out the psychic band-aids. It’s no wonder that this year she’s a Resident Advisor to a co-ed hall of 44 students.

She gave up her spring break last year to go on a service trip to Pass Christian, Mississippi, the gulf area most devastated by Katrina’s fury. She saved her money from her job at Starbucks to pay for the trip and came back a changed person. When we planned our summer vacation this year to include a week in New Orleans, she logged on with Habitat for Humanity and worked for three days in the brutal heat and humidity to build houses in the Ninth Ward area called Musician’s Village.

Only a few weeks ago she began a blog, Bella Voce. After 19 years of watching her attack and subdue anything she set her mind on I should not have been surprised at the depth of her writing. Yet I was. I’m glad I didn’t overbear my hopes on her in her early years with music. As talented as she is, I can see now that writing will be her destiny. She was born the spitting image of my husband; my genes seem to have been cancelled from her physical appearance. She’s blonde, I’m brunette; she’s blue-eyed, I’m hazel-eyed; she’s slender, I’m Reubenesque; she’s tall, I’m short. But as she gets older I see more of myself in her in different ways.

Elisabeth went away to college last fall as my daughter, but she came home as my friend. I’m missing my daughter, but I’ll always have my friend.