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.


Susan Henderson said...

Hi Carolyn,

Great question and thank you so much for linking to LitPark.

Why do I live in New York? It's where the work is. My husband is a professor and we tried to stay in Pittsburgh, where we had met, but there were no real jobs - just adjunct positions and lots of folk applying for the same job. He applied everywhere and was accepted to a teaching position in Cairo, Egypt. We signed our kids up for an Arabic preschool and adjusted to the fact that we'd be boiling most of our fruits and vegetables when that job fell through and one in New York opened up.

I think you can create a home wherever you go. In each new place there are different "dangers" - heavy traffic, robberies, fault lines, whatever. But more often than not, the dangers that impact us are not the grand scenarios we fear but our own tendencies to be ill-tempered, selfish, neglectful, or any of the many things we actually have some control over.

Anonymous said...

Honey, trust me, I would be out of here in a heartbeat if the perfect job or almost perfect man surfaced! Yes, I have roots and family, but at this point, I want serenity and happiness over all.

Louise Lyon said...

Good Grief Girl!!! You know how much I like to talk. I kept trying to get my response DOWN to 300 words until I finally lost the whole thing. I re-wrote it but my first try was really clever. So clever I can’t remember what I said!!!!

I guess the bottom line to your question is everyone has choices and you have to be happy with your choice no matter which way you go. Family trumps weather, friends trump almost anything, money trumps location... you get the picture. What trumps in your life? Gosh, I am beginning to sound like you!

You are the greatest!



Rebecca del RIo said...

I live where I live because I've lived everywhere else. I gave up on the perfect place when I finally figured out that perfect was only a place in my imagination.
This isn't to say that where I live isn't perfect--it is. It's perfect not because it's the San Francisco Bay Area, with all of the cultural advantages, moderate weather, the proximity to nature and a healthy political climate. Although, heaven knows that's good enough.
I live here because my husband is a native Californiano, my daughters live here, my grandchildren are here. (And because I can't get them all to move to Spain with me!)
Home is where my family is.

Ovation Leader said...

Thanks for visiting, Susan. I'm loving LitPark; it's an honor to see you here. You nailed it with your comment about how the things over which we have control are often more dangerous than the doomsday scenarios we fear most.

Anonymous (who I know lives in Beverly Hills) desires serenity above all. Reflecting between this and Susan's statement made me wonder: Can serenity be one of those things over which we have some control?

Yes, Lovely Louise, "friends trump almost anything." What a great and clever friend you are to throw a question back at me. What trumps in my life? My kids.

When I read your note, Rebecca, I know you are speaking with enormous gratitude that you can live near your daughters and grandchildren, even though your heart is in Spain. So in your life, family trumps location.

Devon Ellington said...

I live in New York because it's the center of so much art and literature. Plus, since I was a little girl, I wanted to work on Broadway, and Broadway is here. I've achieved that dream, and I've done everything I want to do here, so I'm preparing to leave, and go to Massachussetts, where I was born.

Why? Becaue I feel connected to the land there.

The only reason I'm still in NY is because of the work. It's a wonderful city, but it is no longer MY city.

For a long time I carried my home within me. I've lived in many different places. But now, New England calls me back.

Ovation Leader said...

Devon, you are one of the blessed to have achieved your dream. Interesting how your childhood homeland calls you back. New England must be an especially powerful draw this time of year.

Swanny said...

Hello Carolyn! Thank you for inviting my comments here!
I like how your question makes me think.
I moved around alot as a child; which is a good thing in the long run. The downside is that I would love to go back and see all of my childhood haunts, but I have no clue where they really are! Sure, I know the state and city limits but highways and streets, I don't recall; I was just too young. One cannot relive his/her childhood but still, I would like to see the antebellum homes of the south, the canopied driveways, the yellow Mississippi, and the train tracks where I once stood and felt the rumble. But I digress...
When I was old enough to decide that I didn't want to move anymore, I was married, thus was in a position to follow my spouse where his work took him: he was the main breadwinner. Up to that point, I had lived in Louisiana for 25 years. We moved to Texas in 1984.
Now that I am here, and my childhood memories are in Louisiana, I figure this is as good a place as any to be lest I forget that not all memories are good and make the mistake of going back to continue the cycle of half madness that remains there.
I am happy in Texas. All three of my grown children live in the same town with me. I can't imagine leaving them; not even for a minute. My children make up the most colorful threads of my life and just for today I need the fabric.
I have a very warm and loving network of friends. I could live somewhere else; start over and adjust, make new friends and visit my children...and maybe I will someday.
It's sometimes unbearably hot here, and there are mosquitos at night, but at the end of the day, I know that we all look up at the same purple sky and somehow I am connected to everyone. and... I can dream... of leaving.

Ovation Leader said...

Ah, Swanny. I love your name here. From what I've come to know of you, I can see the swan you've become.

Your settling in Texas did exactly what Susan described in making a home wherever you go. Having your children about you reflects the joy of Rebecca's post in having her daughters and grandchildren surrounding her.

We received a framed crosstitch sampler as a wedding present from one of my husby's aunts. When we moved around during our first married years when Husby was in the Marine Corps, I always sought the most prominent place on the wall near the front door of wherever we were moving to. The sampler says this:

No matter what
No matter where
It's always home
When love is there.

We haven't moved in 13 years now, but the sampler is just as meaningful today as it was 20 years ago when we wed.

Michael said...

I live in the Pacific Northwest and I love it! We have just about everything! I'm two hours from the ocean. Tide pools... Orca pods... We have a big rain forest here. Not too many of them left in the entire world! We have volcanoes. Got buried in one back in 1988. Took two weeks to dig us out in my little town. We have huge forests and scorching deserts. The Cascade mountain range. The thrid deepest lace in the nation. (Lake Chelan). The mighty Columbia River. Etc... I love it! I live in a doublewide on five acres overlooking the Columbia River. But none of it would be worth a hill of beans without my family. Like the song says, the best view I have is from "My front porch looking in".

Ovation Leader said...

Ah, this must be Michael of the glorious photo from Amy's space. I wish the photo Michael posted on his MySpace could be copied here, because the grandeur and majesty of that setting gave me chills. I'd be tempted to leave the golden state if I could have a view like that.

Thanks for stopping by, Michael. I liked what you wrote about your family being the best view.

Idhrendur said...

Why do I live in Southern California? Because I got into Cal-State Fullerton. After three failed attempts at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (just 30 miles from my parent's house), that was good incentive. I may stay here after graduating because of friends and jobs. Jobs will be the big factor. And all that despite the fact I dislike Southern California. I feel a desperate need to get back to the Central Coast.

Incidentally, my experience is that earthquakes are minor compared to, say, hurricanes. My hometown has been hit by TWO 6.4 earthquakes in the past few years (incidentally, from what I learned in a geology class several years ago, the second was the "big one," except it happened to be the normal size for the fault line). The damage was fairly bad. I mean, we still have a hot spring bubbling up in the middle of town (after a few years, we can still only pump the water to the river), and we had to tear down a few buildings. But California (and especially the Central Coast) is well engineered.

Lemme tell ya, Pass Christian was so much worse than our double-earthquake hit town. I spent most of my week there just waiting for someone to remark that "at least we don't have to worry about earthquakes" or something similar, just so I could laugh.

And really, unless you want to move to Montana (the safest area in the US from natural disasters, I've heard), you have to face some kind of risk. So that tends to be an issue you just deal with, and prepare for.

Idhrendur said...

Oh, and thanks for the recommendation on the grits. I had neglected to go grocery shopping for awhile, and so for several days my breakfast consisted entirely of plain grits. I was wondering what could be mixed with them.

EJ said...

I lived in NoCal for 21 years and a month. I love The City, love the GGB and surrounding area and up in the redwoods of the Russian River area it was quite beautiful. But, ya know, in all that time, I never felt like I belonged in California. Never felt roots tying me to the ground. Of course, I've never been much for roots but when that grounded feeling comes, as it did in Greece years ago, it's a nice one and it made me sadder still that I didn't feel that in California.

I'm in New Mexico now. I like it here. I feel a little closer to the ground. Not rooted exactly, but not drifting high above, feeling like a stranger in a beautiful land to which I can never touch down.

Ovation Leader said...

idhrendur--Thanks for finding me. Were you on the Pass Christian spring break trip with my daughter Elisabeth (Marge)? Sounds like the experience of going through an earthquake made a strong impression on you, but seeing and working in Pass Christian was greater. I hope you're able to make it back up the coast when you're finished with school.

ej--Today at the travel expo where I'm currently working, I saw the most spectacular poster of Santa Fe. New Mexico has a mystical charm much different than the redwood forest where you lived for 21 years and 1 month, but it sounds like the change you needed. I wish you'd novelize that short story you wrote for the Backspace contest last year--the one with the two poets at the writer's convention.