At the end of class today, after reading a few more chapters of our current book, I asked the students how the setting has affected the main character.
A lot of them really seemed to struggle with this idea. I feel like it’s pretty stinking clear. It’s also very clear that I have my work cut out for me. But that’s a topic for another day.
What makes the answer to this question clearer is thinking about how the various settings of my life have influenced me.
I have always considered myself a California girl. I was born and raised in the sunshine. Heat was a part of life. I love fresh California fruit, and just about nothing beats a good (and cheap) avocado. I crave the ocean and feel anxiety when I think about how far away it is. I love the massive amount of diversity in my home state. Being in a place where every person was so different from the next helped me to learn a lot about the importance of variety, especially in learning love and compassion. I loved walking outside to go from class to class. Short shorts, spaghetti straps, and flip flops were a normal part of my wardrobe.
It feels weird to be in a transition time where “home” feels a lot less like home than it ever has. I mean, consider that I have spent my entire adult life in Utah! Nine years. That is a long time. They’ve been formative years—vital to my growth and identity.
I think often about how some of my students have never even left Kearns. They’ve never been downtown. They’ve never hiked the mountains that are 25 minutes way. They’ve never seen the beautiful red rocks of southern Utah.
And I think about how that was very much like me up until age 18. When you’re in school, you don’t really have any reason to go anywhere outside of your small area. There isn’t much beyond your tiny radius. Sure, I had gone places. I’ve been to San Francisco. I’ve been to many different beaches. I’ve gone to every amusement park within an hour. I’ve been to Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear. I’ve driven to San Diego a couple of times. I’ve been all over southern California. But not really as an adult.
And it’s weird that that makes such a huge difference.
My friends who have spent their adult life at home in Glendora or Covina or Azusa have spent a lot of time living their adult life really getting to know LA. They talk to me about certain places or freeways like I should know where that is. But in all honesty, I don’t.
I know Utah County and Salt Lake County much better than I know my home county! It’s strange. I feel almost a kind of guilt about it. But how many reasons do you have to leave town and do fun things with friends on the weekend when you’re in high school? And as a homebody, I didn’t exactly look for reasons to explore, either.
Nine years later, here I am, living about 15 minutes from downtown Salt Lake City. I know Salt Lake much better and navigate it much more comfortably than I ever knew LA. In a sense I feel like I’ve completely lost touch with where I’m from and have started to plant my roots in Utah. In another sense, I feel like my roots never were in California, as my entire adult life has been spent up here.
The resistance I felt about leaving home was fierce. You’ve never met a more committed California girl. Really? Utah? What the heck is there to do? Everybody’s Mormon; that’s weird. What about the beach? SNOW?! No In-N-Out? I couldn’t wait to come home every single break I had from school and work.
Now, I’m not really looking for reasons to go back to California. Make no mistake, I feel at home when I roll down the windows as I head west on the 210 at sunset. I let out a sigh of relief and relaxation when I set down my towel on the shores of Huntington Beach. I jump with joy (literally) when I see the produce section at Stater Bros in San Dimas—REAL, RIPE, DELICIOUS, LOCAL PRODUCE!
The dilemma is that I also feel like an outsider. I’m between two places. I was born and grown in one state and turned into a woman in another.
Can somebody have two homes? That California girl I mentioned—the one who loves heat, diversity, the ocean, avocados, and outdoor schools—she’s not gone. She still loves all those things. (Not to mention, In-N-Out is in Utah now, in walking distance of my apartment.)
But there’s this new part of me. This part of me loves the change of seasons (even though sometimes it’s only two weeks long) and the cooler weather. I love the colors of the leaves—the red and orange and yellow hues that are magnificent and just not available in Los Angeles. I love Café Rio and all of the locally owned restaurants—not just the big chains of Glendora. The plethora of dessert restaurants is a major plus (try three different cupcake places within five minutes). I’ve learned to drive in the snow, but still struggle terribly with the six months of gloominess and cold. I have friends here, a job, a life. I know my way around here, and all the cool things to see. I miss bonfires at the beach, but I like them up in the canyon too! I love not worrying about leaving my purse in the car sometimes. I am registered to vote here. I know the best music venues in the area, and the price of gas and groceries is actually quite doable. I like having more trust in the financial decisions of my state. I appreciate knowing that if I had a car problem, someone would probably pull over to help me.
Will I ever love the snow? Or the Utah drivers (or worse, the Wyoming and Idaho drivers in Utah)? Will I ever prefer boots to a pair of flats or flip-flops? Will I ever prefer a pool to the ocean? Or Lagoon to Six Flags or Disneyland? Or Seven Peaks to Raging Waters? Will Utahns ever catch onto donut shops? Uh, no. No, guys. No, no, and more no. It's been nine years already. Some things are just not going to happen.
But there are things to love about the place I live. There are things to love about the place I’m from. I’m having a hard time making the transition from feeling like one is home, to identifying more with the other. Ultimately, I probably don’t have to reconcile this. I don’t need to just pick one. Both places have been my home for different, significant parts of my life. They are both a part of who I am and who I will become.
My license plate frame on my car says, “California love.” But that frame goes around a Utah license plate. I’ll claim both, and feel no shame in calling both of them my home.