California: One Year In

Today is my one-year anniversary of the great move to California.

Technically it’s been a little longer for me (I spent my first six weeks in the Bay Area living in a teepee that I found on Airbnb), but one year ago today, my husband and I loaded all our possessions into a moving truck and drove from Portland, Oregon, to the San Francisco Bay Area.

A lot can happen in a year.

My post-move feelings ran the gamut from disorientation to culture shock to gnawing doubt, and then, at last, to new friends, happy hours, favorite restaurants, and a long-awaited sense of home.

This country is big. Before I moved, I had no real concept of just how big, of just how many different people, cultures, and subcultures inhabit this vast space we call the United States of America. I’d traveled to various states and noted their differences, even spent a year abroad, but I was woefully unprepared for how hard it would be to move a mere one state south.

It’s a shame, because people move all the time in this country, and no one talks about how hard it is. When people ask me how I like California so far, the stock answer is supposed to be, “It’s great!” A light-hearted comment on the differences between Oregon and California will also suffice, but an honest answer about loneliness and homesickness in a new place is met with surprise and awkwardness.

And so we get the sense that moving should be easy, and if it isn’t, then we are simply weak.

We convince ourselves that technology will ease the pain of leaving friends and family, that homesickness has an expiration date of weeks, or a few months at most.

Maybe our collective silence on the subject of intranational culture shock has something to do with rugged American individualism, as if it were a sign of weakness, or worse, an abdication of personal responsibility, to admit our dependence on culture, context, and people.

Our national narrative of self-reliance doesn’t leave much room for the nuances of human interdependence, and my unexpected culture shock is a very minor casualty of that narrative. But it was an eye-opener for me, even as someone who long ago abandoned the idea that sheer will and a bootstrap mentality are the only requisites for happiness and success (loaded terms all).

We would do well to introduce some humanity into this narrative, some thoughtful context to temper the ideal of the Great Individual, dependent on nothing and no one.

Especially here, in this supposed hub of human and technological innovation, and especially in an election year, we could use some honest discussion about the many ways in which we are reliant not only upon ourselves, but also upon the many cultural, institutional, and interpersonal forces that surround us, shape us, and are shaped by us.

Indeed, we always have been, and maybe that isn’t such a bad thing. Maybe it can even be a wonderful thing. But first, we must learn to accept our intertwined destinies and speak openly about the challenges and opportunities we must face together, whether they relate to the broken healthcare system, the melting Arctic ice sheet, or, on a personal note, the very real difficulties of moving to another state.

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