Thursday, August 22, 2013

We're Leaving in a Honda, Don't Know If We'll Be Back Again

It's lunchtime. The guinea pig and the parrot are both sleeping in their cages beside me, the guinea pig with her eyes open because, apparently, that's just how guinea pigs sleep. I can't say I blame her; if I were the favorite dessert of every other living creature and my only defense mechanism is being so cute that humans instinctively put me in a protective cage, I would sleep with my eyes open too. You never know when you'll see the fork of death approaching.

Good guinea pigs sleep forever; bad guinea pigs go to the pot of boiling water. That's pretty much guinea pig eschatology right there. You see why their babies grow up so fast; not much to learn to be a guinea pig. When scared, they run towards the enemy. When lifted up to be petted, they scrabble their little legs trying to get back to the safety of the cage. And when there's green material, they eat it.

My typing has woken both of them up. The bird is now doing ballet; at least, it looks like ballet when she stretches because she balances on one foot and sticks her wings and other foot out at strange angles. Voila. Ballet.

Because my husband and I have been sick with colds the last few days, the parrot has decided to mock us and now makes coughing noises when I come into a room. I wish she'd have picked up "God bless you" or something useful. She's rather smart, but she only imitates the things that tickle her fancy, like the garbage truck or Skype. Oh, and she likes to sing to the shower. She doesn't like singing in the shower, or even being in the shower, but if someone else is in the shower, she sings.

The best part is that she picked up the Spider Alarm. I live, like all other level-headed and logic-loving people, in mortal fear of arachnids. When something has eight legs, you know it has to be evil. Of course, you can't kill spiders; they're smarter than that. If you kill one, its ghost will come back to haunt you in your dreams and it will send all its children to attack you. Funnily enough they're all named Hamlet.

Anyways, the Spider Alarm (the noise I make upon seeing one) sounds something like, "Aaaah! Aaaah! Hubby!!" and is meant to rouse my husband from whatever restful repose he is enjoying and get him to come deal with the critter. (He has spider immunity so they don't haunt him. Lucky.) The bird thoroughly enjoys this show and thinks it's all for her entertainment, so she has started giving a perfect imitation of my terrified yell and screaming my husband's name at the top of her voice. Needless to say she is easily amused.

I just hope she doesn't do it on the 40-hour, 4-day car ride next week. She'll be cooped up in a tiny little cage with only two of her toys. I also hope she doesn't notice how the guinea pig purrs in fear every time she whistles (purring is another guinea pig defense strategy). I could easily see her whistling the whole forty hours and being amused with the guinea pig's fear act. Some things never get old. Penn is a 4-year-old guinea pig; she might just be due for a heart attack and the eternal sleep of a good guinea pig. (No boiling pots for her, despite my husband's threats.)

The four days of driving will take us the three thousand miles across the U.S. from side-to-side (thank God it's not from corner to corner!). This California girl and her California husband are moving to a suburban, seaside town in Virginia. We're moving from sunny southern California to a place that gets 4 inches of rain each month. How do you think we feel about it?

Actually, we're overjoyed. We're trying a new place and we're moving away from both our families. We love them, but we (and they) are excited that we get to leave and cleave even more. Our parents don't like California anyway and are secretly hoping we will scope out the area and find them new places to live. I've personally wanted to leave California for years. Everyone tells me I'm crazy for thinking that, but let me just tell you why southern California (SoCal) makes its residents go as crazy as I am. Because SoCal is ridiculous.

The notion of SoCal is silly. There's all this prestige and excitement attached to the place. People come here for vacation, but I live here. Imagine if you lived in the Bahamas. The novelty would wear off pretty fast. It's the same way with SoCal. People see it as this great spot with ideal weather and they come here on their time off. But great as it is for vacation, SoCal has its flaws too. It's not all rosy and perfect here. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? But then you get there and it's not. I'm not saying SoCal doesn't have some decided good points to it (it's always sunny and 70 degrees F). But it's got bad points too.

First of all, there's the crowding. The traffic. The fact that every single person on the planet would move to San Diego and L.A. if they could and many do. It's wonderfully diverse, but horribly dirty and crowded and expensive.* I remember many times going to the beach and having to walk a half a mile or so to find enough room to lay down our stuff. We went to Hawaii and visited some relatives who work at a beach there. They apologized that the beach was so crowded; we looked and said, "Are you kidding? We can put our towels down!" SoCal traffic can get so hairy: you're car-to-car but still going 70 mph. It's so bad that people who live here, like my mother in law, are afraid to drive in some places.

Some people like a big bustling metropolis and suburbs that go on and on without respite. Some people like being surrounded by the constant buzz of human activity. But I don't, and that's okay. Luckily, most of the U.S. is virtually uninhabited, and there are many parts where "urban" feels almost rural compared to the inner city here. The city we went to college at is like that: a small town surrounded by fields. I can't wait to live in a small suburban town again!

Another problem with SoCal is the flora and fauna. Unless you really like palms (they're not real trees, so don't call them palm trees) and aren't allergic to Eucalyptus, you will get very quickly fed up with the lack of real trees. There isn't good shade. No greenery. No trees hanging over the roads. No everlasting forests of evergreens. No deciduous changing their leaves with the seasons. You will look up and see the sun and skyscrapers and palms. Palms have this association with prestige, wealth, Hollywood, and sexy beach babes. I think that's why people like them. But I've lost that magic from living with them for so long. In truth, I find them kind of ugly.

I'm over the magic of SoCal. When I'm gone for a long time and come back, I get this rush where I see it like a visitor, with new eyes, and I see the beauty in the brown underbrush and fearless succulents. I can bask in the smell of the sun-warmed Chaparral landscape like hot aloe vera gel. But in general, I miss the color green. I miss broad leaves and big colorful flowers. I miss grey skies more than anything. Like a plant, I need rain to thrive. I would love to live somewhere that gets real rain.

California is in perpetual drought. We get drizzles. I used to call it rain before I knew better. When it does rain, once every decade, everything floods because the earth can't soak up all the water and nothing was built to withstand lots of water flowing around it. I remember when my high school got flooded just from two consecutive days of rain. The pathways between classes (all outside of course--SoCal schools don't have indoor hallways) all got flooded a couple feet deep and we had to walk the long way around to get to class, so everyone was tardy.

It may be crazy to want to leave SoCal. There are big cities, and that means there's lots going on. Lots of opportunity. Lots of poverty. Lots of people to help and people who want to help. It's diverse and complex and alive. But there are people who don't live in SoCal who like where they're living, too. There are people who live in rainy areas and like it. There are people who live in green areas and like it. I don't think I'm crazy for wanting changing seasons and some snow. And there are people who need help and friendship and love anywhere you go.

I may miss these parts of SoCal. I'll appreciate them better because I won't live here anymore. The thing I won't miss at all is the emphasis on appearances. I know it's not unique to SoCal, but many other places I've been don't have the infection near as bad. We are beach central, and you better be tan, skinny, toned, and blonde. Now, I want to be a healthy weight and I am already blonde, but I don't want to be judged by those characteristics. Like most places, there's already prestige granted to those who are rich and famous; we don't need to add looks into the mix. I'm tired of living around so many fake attractive people who are wearily running a rat-race to look a certain way.

So I'm ready to leave. I'm eager for an adventure. There have been times when God wanted me to stay somewhere, and I found that even my heart of adventure couldn't overcome a desire to stay, to get to know the people around me better, to invest in the location I was living in. God gave me a heart for where I was. And now he's given me a heart for where I will be, and I'm so excited to move. I'm itching with my discontent, aching for newness.

There is a discontent that's wrong. You can be dissatisfied with where God wants you and try to fight it and change it when it's just not possible to move right now. Then there's a healthy discontent that drive us onward towards healthy changes that we need to make. This is a change that needs to happen. I don't know why, I just know I want to move.

I was made to move and travel. My brother is a homebody who needs a stable location to maintain emotional equilibrium. I'm not like that. At some point, everybody needs to come home to somewhere, of course. But I like trying out new places and making a new place home. This will be my 8th move in 5 years. I've gotten used to moving and I know how to pack my stuff. I know what I have and I don't have anything I don't need. It forces me to keep my life simple and sweet, whittled down to just the things I need. It's fun to build a home from the ground up and to live simply. It's fun to move into a bare apartment or house and get to decorate the walls and decide where the furniture should go. It's fun to beautify.

There are so many places left that I want to see, and only so many years before Hubby and I will want to have kids. (I know better than to move a lot while we have kids.) Moving every nine months or so is a little much for me, but I could do with moving every couple years. If we don't like Virginia, we can try New England or the Pacific Northwest or (if I can persuade Hubs) Europe. I'm open.

I've learned that for a place to be home, it just has to have the people you love. You are the ones who make a home. You can create a space where you thrive. You can create a space that people want to spend time in. You can open up your home and make friends with those around you. You can open your heart to friendship and make friends wherever you go. No place is perfect, to be sure. You'll never find the perfect town or the perfect distance from the equator. But you can always create a home and you can always make friends.

The guinea pig has fallen back asleep, bored by this monologue on location. She doesn't care, as long as she's in her cage. The parrot is excited to be moving somewhere more humid; her tropical nature will thrive just like me. It'll be so new. Am I afraid? Yeah, of course. I've never been so far away from people I know. At the same time, we're going to be very close to other friends and family who live on the East Coast. It's a trade-off. We'll set up a guest room so people will visit. We'll have each other and the parrot for conversation. And no matter what, we'll have God. He goes before us and has prepared a way. That doesn't mean it'll be easy. It might be really hard. But bigger hardship means there's more room for God. I'm okay with that.

* I cannot express our surprise when, upon looking up housing in Virginia, we discovered we'd be trading our 1-bedroom, <500 sq ft apartment that was only big enough to entertain a handful of people at a time for a full-fledged house with a yard, garage, and guest bedroom. And I get my own office. Seriously? Why does anyone live in California?!