2011 was the year of settling in and nesting, in a way I've never experienced before. Life used to be about the excitement of moving--from Columbus to Chicago, Chicago to Washington DC, DC to New York City, New York to the Bay Area. Occasionally that wanderlust still resurfaces, but this year it's become much more muted. By the end of 2011 I feel the ligaments of connection and affection deepening for the Bay Area.
In October Pi Wen and I enjoyed a long weekend in New York City. We saw a great show at the Village Vanguard, walked the High Line (which was still being built when I lived there), had great food and saw many friends. By the end of it all we were ready to go home. For the first several years I lived in the Bay New York was an enduring lure, like a magnet that would reclaim me eventually. This feeling was new.
I'm writing this post in Maricopa, AZ, where Mom and Bob have retired. We drove to Santa Monica and stopped for the night, then headed east through the desert on I-10. The stark beauty of the rocks and mountains is appealing; we're going to explore Palm Springs on our way home. But getting away from the ocean in Santa Monica felt strange. I've grown accustomed to coastal environs without even realizing it. Oakland sits on the San Francisco Bay, and when I worked at UCSF I was less than 2 miles from the ocean. By now this is home.
What's to account for this? Time, age, and circumstance.
Time: I've lived in the Bay Area for 4.5 years. That's more than twice as long as in Washington DC and significantly longer than in New York. The Chicago years were longer than this, four in college and then three more as I finished up my library degree. But those were the "formative years," not yet quite adulthood. Even today I have trouble seeing Chicago and its surroundings through adult eyes, because my memories are so preoccupied with college experiences.
So, the Bay has been the longest stop after the college journey. I never had any desire to live here, unlike many other people. If Helen had not enrolled in the Haas School at UC Berkeley I might still be in New York. But here I am, and in those years I've developed an ever more nuanced mental map of the region. I know Berkeley and Oakland best and SF pretty well. That said, I've also discovered the Peninsula and South Bay, Santa Cruz, the wine country, and the hot lands to the east of the Caldecott Tunnel. Fog does blanket the region most mornings, but by 11 AM it's burned off. The Bay has its rhythms, and I've been here long enough to know them. It's a deeper level of knowledge than I ever acquired in New York or Washington.
Age: Ever since college I've wanted to be a public servant; my notions range from city councilperson to mayor. When I was still in Chicago I attended a Saturday seminar about how to run for local office, sponsored by the Secretary of State's office. I was at least 20 years younger than everyone else in the room.
Soon after that we moved to DC, and the moving began. No regrets there; I am very fortunate to have lived in so many great cities. But there's never been a feeling of rootedness until now, so that youthful energy is focusing. My goal for 2012 is to serve the community, if not in public office (even at the local level things are hopelessly corrupt) than on non-profit boards.
There's an arbitrary element to all of this. What if I'd landed in Portland and not the Bay? I'd still want to work for the community there. Fine, true. This points to the important role of circumstance. Anywhere could be home but for us the Bay is home.
Circumstance: In 2011 Pi Wen and I were married. That was the glorious highlight of the year, with family and friends venturing from around the globe--and from around the Bay, from most nodes on my mental map--to celebrate with us. An amazing and joy-filled event.
Two months later we moved. Our new place is a 5 minute walk from the old place, and still close to Piedmont Avenue and the Oakland Rose Garden. But this place has 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, a step up from our previous 1 bedroom 1 bath arrangement. Growing up in Grove City, Ohio, a 2 bed 2 bath was normal--proclaiming joy in this would be strange. But real estate has been pricy everywhere I've lived since college, and until now there was no need to spend the extra money for larger space that would not be used.
But now we're nesting. That second bedroom is Pi Wen's office and also the guest room. So we can comfortably host vistitors; we've had a steady stream of guests since June. I remember first moving to New York, where our friend Jason slept uncomfortably on the hardwoor floor of a studio apartment. Those days were wonderful in many ways, but those days are gone.