Curious about home

After all, what is home?

What got me thinking about this was a small lexicon slip-up I had the other day. We had a couple of interior designers over to house, since neither my wife nor I have any inclination to spend time decorating our house. It's not just this house, it's every house we've ever had.

For a long time we thought this inability to commit to an aesthetic and to decoration was our adversity to settling down, since the two of us had moved very frequently as children. We recently realized, however, that the reason for our avoidance of making things pretty inside was our birth order.

Having both been the youngest of two children, we were very used to having things done for us. The houses we grew up in were always immaculate. Dinners always wonderful. Expected responsibility for doing any of this: zero. We were, ironically — very responsible kids, particularly in relation to how our older siblings related to the family — but that responsibility was really a personal responsibility and a reaction to seeing our parents anxiety over our older siblings. None of that responsibility translated into any of this othe stuff.

So as we're speaking with these designers the other night I was referring to our previous geogrpahic living space in New England, and I used the word "home."

My wife knows that our move from New England to the West Coast was a lot more difficult on me than I had ever imagined. I think I never understood how much New England, and more specifically the Boston area, had become "home."

The Boston Red Sox. Sap running in maple trees in the Spring. Frozen salt-water harbors in the winter. Patriot's Day as a State Holiday (the commemmoration of the British march on Lexington and Concord, MA.) Fall foliage. The largest concentration of higher education institutions in the world.

Like any home there were a lot of things about it that I did not like, that had grown tiresome, and that I wanted to escape. But like anything we truly love, as soon as I left I realized how much of the area had become a fabric of me.

No one at the table picked up on my use of the word "home," when referring to a place we had left three years ago, but it stuck in the back of my head. Though my missing Boston was no secret to my wife, I had also spent a lot of time over the past two years adopting the SF Bay Area as my new home. Obviously the adoption is not complete.

There is SO much to love around here. Winters are not so severe; the temperatures never dip below 32, except for the rare, very cold night. Outdoor activities, and open spaces to do them abound. Mountain biking. Hiking. Surfing. Snowboarding. Mountaineering. Practically any sport you can imagine is accessible within a two to three hour drive. The fabric of the community is more diverse that anything we could have ever imagined in our small town south of Boston, where diversity was a handful of brunettes — at least that was the self-aware joke we had of the community, which was hyperbole, but fairly accurate.

The face of this demographic spread also has an unexpected side.

"Oh sure, I've been arrested a few times."

"I was kicked out of Kindergarten — wasn't everyone?"

"My kid can figure his own way through college. That's his deal"

"Why would you want to be any place else?"

Oddly, the last comment — one which I've heard more than once in a variety of different forms — is the one that has bothered me the most. Of course it's not unique to the Bay Area, but the only other place I've ever heard it with the same amount of conviction, and frequency, was Fairfield County, CT.

If you know either place, you understand the paradox. Few two communities could be so opposite on the surface. The Bay Area the cradle of hardcore liberalism. Fairfield County the literal home of The Captains of Industry — Jack Welch lives in Fairfield County.

Interestinly, however, the Bay Area likes to think everything is "all good," and that it's so liberal, but the language around here is far from liberal. Except for San Francisco proper, and Berkeley, and pockets of Oakland, the language and voting patterns are quite Republican.

Fairfield County, like most Republican hotbeds, has pockets of social liberalism, but makes few excuses for being ultra-wealthy; it's towns consistently vie for top honors of most affluent in the nation.

And yet, both communities see themselves as the best places in the world, yes, the world to live. I prefer a certain degree of modesty — probably what attracted me to my wife. And this lack of modesty in the Bay Area I find very parochial. It's eveident of a person who has never really left "home," and never gone with a wide open heart into other communities to see how they live, to see how great so many other places are, and to recognize the warts not only in the places they visit, but the ones that even exist at home.

The Boston area, having been the reluctant overshadowed cousin to New York has a lot of pride, but also a large element of self-deprecation. It's that lack of self-awareness, always glossed over with the phrase "it's all good," that has been getting in my way when trying to adopt this area as my new home.

Or maybe the real reason is that after finally making a big move away from the Northeast, I finally came to understand what "home" is, that having moved outside of the geographic area of New York / New Jersey / Connecticut / Massachuisetts I finally left "home," and that having left "home" I find myself really missing it.


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