3.01.2015

the island of bed

boat docked at the River Resources Museum, Clackamas River (February 2015)

Though neither sick nor newly in love (which is about the only time this happens), I found myself spending Saturday almost entirely in bed, which felt like being on vacation because it wasn't my bed but my roommate's. (Oh, but it's not what you might think—we're more like siblings.) At times we watched episodes of Top Gear, his favorite show. Other times, we were reading articles and researching various ideas on our laptops, specifically about opening online shops, among other things. We even had a snack lunch and random dinner in bed: homemade guacamole with corn chips, a can of mandarin oranges, a sandwich (him), leftover roasted curried cauliflower (me), peppermint tea (me). My cat came to visit between naps in other rooms. The housemate friend calls her "Squeak" because she doesn't meow properly. She was clearly wondering why I was holed up in his room and not ours.

This Frolic! post about a Portuguese guest house I'd kept open all day in my row of tabs, returning to it between other website tours. The minimalism of its old whitewashed walls, bare wood, green plants, bright light, and humble textiles feeds my soul. This is what "home" looks like to me: simple, natural, textural, and full of warm light.

I've been thinking a lot about geography again lately, place—wondering where mine is. There are the places we're given, chosen for us by parents and ancestors, the sites of our birth and upbringing—and the places we choose. For the most fortunate, those places happen to be the same. For them, their hometown locale meshes inextricably with their personality and values, or else their social network and family roots are so strong that this fundamental is never questioned. My roommate, for example, is lucky in this way; his family and friends are all here, and so will he always be. The rest of us must interrogate the very concept of home. Many Americans transplant themselves regularly from state to state, following jobs or partners, with no real angst. For others, like myself, the question becomes almost torturous. The hapless few might spend their whole lives searching for home or else misreading the signs of where home really was all along. I don't want to be one of those.

This real-estate-TV-show quiz claims I should live in Minneapolis, Minnesota; Charleston, South Carolina; or Portland, Oregon. But the quiz asked no geographical questions, other than proximity to wilderness, which is odd since weather and climate are for many people a Big Deal—and for some, a deal breaker, whether we're talking avoiding shoveling snow or fanning through months of muggy 100-degree days, complete with large insects.

Though I once longed to live in the great cities of the world—New York, London, Paris, Rome—where more and bigger things happen, my true home, I've come to accept, is on the American West Coast—not the East Coast, not the South, and certainly not the Midwest. My concept of home requires towering backdrop mountains, snow-fed crystalline rivers, and sunshine, while my core body temperature craves a Mediterranean climate (maybe because I was born in San Jose during a heat wave). Portland's nine-month gray cloud cover I feel not as a cozy, protective blanket, as some do, but one that could smother. We are mainly what we are used to.


moored boat,  River Resources Museum, Clackamas River (February 2015)

If it were only a matter of climate, I would gladly live in northern California (again), Australia, South Africa, or else in or near the actual Mediterranean: Italy, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Turkey; but I am not from any of those places (other than California, in a sense). Unlike most Americans, I have tried living abroad as an outsider, twice, and for me it is not only socially and culturally isolating but linguistically infuriating to never feel native in conversation, to detour around missing vocabulary like potholes, to use words not as scalpels but hammers. Everyone should have that second-language, fish-out-of-water experience at least once to learn empathy, but it's another thing to live for years like a fish trying to grow legs. Plus, though my people hailed centuries ago from northern Europe, if I ever went "home" to Europe, I would need to sever body parts and scatter them across all the British Isles, Denmark, Switzerland, and Huguenot France. Pick a country, any country. Good luck with that. So America-the-young-and-flawed, it is.

For better or worse, northern California and southern Oregon feel most like home to me. Portland, lovely and appealing in many ways, has been feeling less and less like home, too damp and chill for too many months of the year, despite this odd warmish winter. Sadly, the whole of warm California grows ever more expensive. What to do? I mull over my future from the island of bed, contemplating who I am and what I most want—because no one can have everything at once, and there is no perfect place. But being comfortable in one's skin both within and without—in the intersection of membrane and air and the very ground under one's feet—how's that for a dream?

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