Thursday, March 25, 2010

California "Find Yourself Here"

Don’t be fooled by my year-round tan, local address and pocket-sized dog, I am not a Californian.  In fact, given my quite vocal displeasure about the nuances of this state in which I currently find myself the majority of you might think that the first time I ever uttered the words, “I’m moving to California” was just about five years ago when I packed up my one bedroom apartment and two long-haired tabbies and left Oregon.

It wasn’t. 

Like most young children, I had a penchant for throwing a fit when I didn’t get my way.  Also, like most, I would threaten to run away; the idea of which seemed to make my mother just a little too happy.  “I’m moving to California!” I would yell, and if I were really upset, “I’m moving to California and I’m going to buy a boat!”  Somewhere I had gotten it in my petulant adolescent mind that one had to own a boat to live in California.  As the heat of my temper subsided and the idea of going to California on my own became more daunting, I would suggest, non-apologetically, that someone else in the house could perhaps join me.  That I might be willing to allow one of my sisters or mother to live in the guest house of some mythical mansion that was waiting just for me to move in, no doubt in the general vicinity of where I was going to park my boat.  My family would laugh it off.  They knew I wasn’t going anywhere. 

And yet, here I am. 

I came to the Bay Area for professional reasons.  A job I loved, which three-plus years, two promotions and one lateral-move later, was the culmination of extensive overtime, hard work, stress and anxiety.  It was a demanding environment, and when I wasn’t physically at work, I was there mentally – at home checking email, planning how to accomplish the next day’s to-do list, and worrying about the possibility that I’d made some kind of arbitrary mistake that would inevitably come back to bite me in the ass, depending on the mood of those in charge.  I went to work, came home and slept (kind of), and went back to work; often slightly less congenial than the previous day.  When I did find the time to take vacation, I would retreat to Oregon, with friends and family. It was peaceful, made sense and fed a desire to be back in that nurturing environment again.  Of course it did, it was vacation!  Back at home in California, the ulcers would flair up, my mood would take a nose dive, and the grind of the weekly routine continued on.   I had few active friendships, little time to myself with any energy to do anything, and an upstairs neighbor who to this day consistently complains about the level of noise coming from an apartment I wasn't really spending that much time in.  No wonder I disliked California so much.  Granted it could never have lived up to the ideals of my fantasy-fueled childhood musings, but I’d certainly had more hope for it than this.  California and I just weren’t going to click and it seemed our time together was limited. 

Then, reality struck and the parts of California I had hoped existed, but was now certain had been sucked into oblivion by vapid local life forms, found a way to reveal themselves. 

I, along with hundreds of others in my industry, was laid off.  The economic climate was such that moving to Oregon to find a job was just as much a gamble as staying put.  I had an apartment lease I couldn’t afford to break and the prospects outside of this state were just as dim as inside.  But there was an up side.  For five months I had all the free time anyone could ask for.  For the first month, I didn’t even look for work.  I slept, A LOT.  And read and then began to explore my neighborhood, my city, the surrounding cities.  I spent time with friends (from my previous job) for happy hour, movies, lunches and weekend brunches.  I began to spend time with a friend’s toddler a couple afternoons a week and quickly became the beloved “Auntie Netters.”  For the first time in four years, I was actually living in California.  It had become crystal clear that previously I had only been existing.   Now, a year after having lost the job that brought me here, I’m working in an environment where I thrive.  I go into work every day fully intact as myself and walk out the same way, I rarely leave any of myself behind, take work home with me, or feel pressured to be someone other than who I am. Its low stress, no overtime, and doesn’t pay well.  But having stripped my financial needs to the bare minimum, I’m getting by.  In fact, I’m doing better than that: I’m spending time with friends (new and old), writing every day, exploring new neighborhoods, valleys, and mountain tops.  And finally seeing what so many others have told me for years is great about living here in this state of California. 

Ironically, the time I’ve lived in California is the longest I’ve lived in any one place since leaving home after high school.  And just about the only thing that's missing, is that boat. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Keeping It Real

Ok, I am a self-confessed “Reality” TV Junkie. And yes, I know that these shows have as much to do with reality as the GOP does with truth telling. Regardless, I can’t help myself. There are two DVRs in my home, which equals four hours of recorded television to every hour of the day. And my tastes run from the popular mainstream variety such as Amazing Race and Survivor to the significantly more obscure The Robert Verdi Show and Giuliana&Bill. My favorite must watch however, is Bravos’ Real Housewives series. Even the title of this series mockingly reinforces how the stars of these shows are anything but “real housewives.” Andy Cohen is smarter than that, he knows his business and gets that the last thing anyone wants to see is the reality of women schlepping around the house in sweat pants and a t-shirt with baby spit on it.

Like most of you, I grew up in middle-America. My mother was an actual housewife. She worked in the home raising three daughters until we were all old enough to get to and from school by ourselves. I, the youngest, was twelve before she began working outside of the home. Our house was clean, our clothes were washed, and dinner was on the table when my father walked in the door at night. She was the nanny, housekeeper, gardener, and chauffer. There were no day spas, limos, or Fred Segal’s in our neighborhood. So when I see Vicki (RH of OC) haranguing the other OC Housewives for not working outside of the home, I'm entertained and I laugh. Because even they don’t do the things ours and countless others’ mothers did and are doing to keep households functioning. And Vicki ‘s “real housewife at work” defense is about as slippery as the spray tanners and Botox injections she has done at her place of business (an insurance office). Yet, I’m obsessed. I watch them all, from the OC to NYC, NJ and the ATL. And I’ve dabbled in the viewing of their far inferior look-a-likes: Southern Belles, etc. I’m hooked, but for a reason far beyond pure entertainment value.

The absurdity of what is portrayed as their day-to-day life serves as a reminder of how happy I am in my life, to be living in this reality (egad, a lesson?). With the exception of one or two of these “stars,” who had irons in the limelight fire before being pulled into the “reality world,” these are just people. For some reason they feel a need to share a version of their life with us each week, which I and countless others eagerly anticipate and watch. Yes, they all tend to get carried away with what they believe is some new found level of importance, reaching a higher rung in some arbitrary hierarchy of popularity and significance. But that doesn’t bother me. We’ve all been known to “get a little big for our britches,” as my father would say. Instead, I draw from them a reminder that life is really all about being happy with who and where you are and striving each day to just keep it real.