Monday, May 11, 2009

A Feeling of Home

We’ve all heard the cliché, “Home is where the heart is.” But what if your heart doesn’t feel at home? For almost 23 years, I’ve lived in California. And if you ask me where home is, I would still tell you: Boston.

Anyone who knows Beantown like I know Beantown understands my love for the city. For me, it has little to do with the Red Sox or Patriots or Celtics. It has everything to do with Bostonians and who we are. It’s about the culture I left behind -- a culture of real people who talk funny. People who tell it like it is. People who practice sarcasm as much as their religion. People who say things like, “Put yeh shots on and get in the cah. We’re goin up noth to ride the hoss."

It’s about people who are as salty as the air they breathe. It’s about generations of families who put up with the winters and each other because they can’t imagine being away from one another. Their lives overlap and intertwine.

It’s about neighbors who define “neighborly.” Growing up, I witnessed almost daily acts of kindness. It was natural for people to help each other shovel out their cars. On rainy days, someone in the neighborhood would collect the soggy kids trudging home. When our gardens overflowed with vegetables, we divided them up and left bags on our neighbors’ steps. When someone got sick, parents rallied to babysit and make extra meals and clean house.

What I miss is the sense of responsibility we had to each other. A commitment to our community.

So what’s not to love about California? There’s so much to brag about: almost year-round sunshine. Dry, warm days. Miles of untainted seashore flanked by sandy cliffs. Valleys polka-dotted with orange trees. Green and rocky mountains in the distance. Natural beauty in every direction.

It’s the transplants like me who have a measure of comparison. We realize after so many years that one cannot live on sunshine alone. Something is missing.

Marti Emerald, a local TV news reporter in San Diego, was quoted once about her take on Southern California culture. She called it a “social disconnect.” Aha! I thought. That describes it.

Too often, I have witnessed a lack of connection amongst people. Neighbors will drive straight into their garages, only to be seen when taking out the trash or retrieving the mail. Perhaps it is the absence of real connection that leads to a lack of accountability. No-shows and cancellations are a way of life. I’ve been to several kids’ birthday parties where we were the only ones singing happy birthday to a tearful child at the end of an almost empty table. I’ve seen teachers and community leaders with a skeleton staff of volunteers who take on more than they can handle.

For years I have lived my life looking back at the city I left behind. But everyone knows that when you spend your life in the rear view mirror, you never really see what’s right in front of you. I realized that if I wanted a sense of community here in San Diego, I would have to either find it or create it. So I started a playgroup when my kids were little. I created an online network for parents in Southern California. I give of my time to the local schools. I extend my hand at my kids’ games. I’ve become politically active. And I’ve gotten to know my neighbors.

Little by little, I am doing what I can to cultivate a community for my family. Because in the end, if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.


Kimberly said...

What an interesting experience you've had living in Boston and California for comparisons. I've lived in a few different midwest states and they weren't nearly as different as the two coasts I've now experienced after living in VA and the Pacific Northwest. But your description shows how well you know both areas from living in both for so long. What really got me in your post was about the birthday party no-shows and cancellations. That's sad, because it affects the children who don't know any better and may grow up expecting to be disappointed. Thankfully you're dedicated to building a community for your children's sake.

Crystall said...

I absolutely love this post. I am envious of your writing talent but, mostly, I love this post because I can really relate. I live in Las Vegas and there is a HUGE social disconnect issue here- unlike Savannah, GA (from whence we came). I am so very glad that I found your blog. I look forward to reading more.

Deb said...

I totally get it! I'm a midwesterner and California is a completely different tilt on the universe from my home.

Never felt it more than the date night that we came out of the movies. Luck had it that we met at the movies and had two cars, but one of the cars had a flat. My husband was on the ground in his business clothes changing the tire, and I sat in the other car shining the lights so that he could see what he was doing.

People kept rapping on my window and telling me that I would have to move my car because I was blocking them in. I of course would have moved as soon as I realized that I was blocking them, but they were almost belligerent about telling me to get out of the way.

No one offered help. They just ignored the situation. I mean, who changes their own tire in Swank Town anyway--we must be the hired help.

We are the type of people that OFFER help. The social disconnect is real here, too.

I've done the same...I've tried to create a community of caring friends. It is wonderful and supportive, but I'd drive to the store before I'd go next door and ask my neighbor for an egg. I'm not even sure why that is :)

Maybe Californians don't have to suffer the elements enough? Life is too easy? I can't put my finger on it, either.

San Diego Writer Girl said...

@Kimberly: Yes, it's been interesting as well as eye-opening. I try not to let it get me down but I see evidence of the apathy all the time in so many different ways. Thank you for being such a constant reader and commenter. It's readers like you that keep me going!

@Crystall: You made my day! Thank you so much for such a wonderful compliment. I have heard that Las Vegas is very transient, the way CA and FL are. Lots of mobility. People don't have the roots that you see in other places. It's sad. You have to go out of your way to find connection with others.

@Deb: I'm so glad you can relate to this. I have been in such similar breaking down (thank GOD for AAA - someone would step right over you before they would ever offer help). I can't tell you how many times I've been to parties or social gatherings where no one bothers to introduce anyone. Guests are left to fend for themselves and it's awkward. It's just not the world I grew up in and I feel disillusioned by it. Thanks so much for reading and giving me your thoughts.

Writing Nag said...

What a great post. I grew up in Connecticut and I'll always be a Yankee. Although I lived in the Pacific Northwest and now Colorado almost as long my memories of New England, the neighborhoods, the community, and the fullness of life there made my childhood special. I knew and had contact with every neighbor not only on my street but on the next block too. My parents still live in the same house my mother grew up in and its comforting for me to think the neighbors still look out for them. Keep writing you have a great voice.

San Diego Writer Girl said...

Writing Nag,

Thank you for that! I'm so glad you can relate to the New England experience. It made for a wonderful childhood for me as well. I suppose all we can do is be the ones who put forth the energy to make our communities better. Thanks so much for reading!

Jenjen © GottaLoveMom said...

Lisa, just keep trying. Someday you'll bump into someone who'll say, "Hi, Lisa - wanna grab some coffee??"

BTW, I love reading your posts - so do stop by mine and pick up your One Lovely Blogger Award!

Keep smiling =D

I am Harriet said...

Beautiful photos!

Anonymous said...

Your writing style is so smart, clever and like this essay, just a real joy to read. I also like your observation:

"It’s the transplants like me who have a measure of comparison. We realize after so many years that one cannot live on sunshine alone. Something is missing."

Like the town that grew you Lisa, you're the real deal.


San Diego Writer Girl said...


Wow -- I am so humbled by what you said. Thank you so much for the kindness that flows from you. Readers like you buoy me from the insecurity with which I contend.

How crazy that I met your wife on The Motherhood, huh? What a sweetheart she is. And I can tell she is a sassy one from her funny comments. You two make a great couple. Thank you again.

San Diego Momma said...

So TOTALLY right on.

I'm from Chicago and I always thought SoCal was too bright, too disingenuous, too .... something.

You hit the nail on the head.

I've lived here 13 years now and I'm just starting to love the one I'm with.

San Diego Writer Girl said...

Deb (San Diego Momma),

Thanks for validating how I feel. I'm glad to know it's not my imagination. Took me a long time to put my finger on what it is...but "it" is definitely there. So glad you read this! Thanks again.