There are very few things I’m afraid to say to myself. “I can see myself spending the rest of my life here” is one of them. Can I see myself spending the rest of my life in Texas? I’m not sure. But what frightens me is that answer isn’t “no.”
I month or so ago, I hosted a couch surfer who, in her correspondence with me, referred to me as a fellow California Ex-pat. My initial reaction was thinking, “Oh, no. I’m not an expat. I’m just temporarily displaced.” But really, what if I never go back? Why has that never been a possibility in my mind? After all, Austin is much more livable than pretty much anywhere in California. Do I have to be bound to California as a reflection of a sort of nationalistic identity?
My couch surfing guest was once upon a time from California, but had actually been living in Washington for the past several years. She was visiting Austin on a detour from her parents’ place in San Diego to her own place in Seattle. I asked her, “Could you see yourself living in Washington for the rest of your life?” She didn’t even need time to think: “Yes.” “Does that scare you?” “No.”
It was simple, nonchalant. Yet, the idea of being okay with never returning to the homeland seems almost treasonous to me, as if by not eventually settling down in California, I would be betraying my identity. In my old life, there were times I’d be driving around the arid backwoods of the lesser-celebrated regions of the state, and I would experience an overwhelming sense of reverence and belonging, thinking to myself on occasion while passing Congress Created Dust Bowl signs, “Well, it’s not particularly pretty, there are no jobs, the government doesn’t function, and there is widespread gang violence, hedonism, and suburban alienation… but it’s my state, dammit, and I’m proud of it!” And in each waterless ex-field along I-5, I would find something to love, even if that love was for hardship and relative poverty.
Talking with my guest made me think about my aunt living in Boulder, Colorado: she told me recently that the moment she stepped foot in Boulder decades upon decades ago, she knew she was going to spend the rest of her life there. She was born and raised as a Californian by a man who was raised and died a Californian, who himself was the son of a Californian…
…I suppose state allegiance is rather trivial, but the boundaries of our home are things we must define for ourselves. Can “home” exist within purely metaphysical, imagined borders, and still be powerful enough to override the reality of good living, blood relations, or learned traditions and behavior?
As an American in the modern world, it’s hard to get into the head of an immigrant who never returns to the country of their birth, and how psychologically difficult it would’ve been. Imagine: every day you wake up and look at the same hills to the south, talk in the same language to the same type of neighbors, and have a familiar family and circle of friends in a place where your body shifts with the familiar weather patterns, and every year, you partake in the great cycle of your nation’s relationship with nature as you breath in the crisp or warming air, and say, “It’s that time of year again…”
…and then one day, you look back at those southern hills from the stern of your ship, and know you will never, ever look at those hills again. Even if your new home is better, won’t there always be a parallel part of you waking up every morning yearning for the southern hills?
And yet… I needed to escape California. I was restless. I felt cramped. I’m a man who needs to travel – to drive around in circles in fruitless and foolish pursuits to discover some intangible spirit of a land. I feel like my personal development is directly correlated with the places I go. If I stop going places, I’ll suddenly stop developing, and my mind and body will grow stale and useless. I love moving around. I live for moving around…
…but I am a man with an equally strong sense of home, and every time I move, that sense of home gets more and more ambiguous. At some point I’ll grow tired – maybe years and years from now. And when that time comes, wherever I happen to be, that’s where I’ll stop. I mean, everybody has to have a last residence, right? I suppose what frightens me is: once you establish a last home, does life just count down from there?
Stay thirsty, my friends.