The Simulacra of California
I recently had an interesting conversation about moving from California to Utah. This is note-worthy because I was actually encouraging someone to move to Utah from California. You see, I never really wanted to move to Utah, and neither did my wife. We'd lived there while she attended BYU and we were happy to leave. We had always assumed we would live in California after college. Bonfires on the beach, camping in century old redwood forests, and snowboarding in the Sierra mountains, all with culturally and spiritually diverse friends. That's where we grew up, that's what we were comfortable with and gosh darnit we were going to enjoy it and so would our kids.
Post college, and plus one kid, we were back in the Bay Area, the beautiful place that we grew to long for. About two years into our dream we realized something: This isn't were we wanted to be. The California life had become a simulacra. Either the environment had changed, or our memory of it was so incomplete that it never really existed. That was a bit of an emotional blow. It wasn't home. At least not the home we were searching for. In a nutshell, we were looking for the job, home, good school, and great friends. I think that's what everyone looks for. People do find it in California- don't get me wrong. It's just the version of what we wanted didn't exist for us in California. Or we couldn't find it.
Utah? Really! We'd been there, done that, and was the only state we actually said we didn't want to live in. Maybe it's because there were too many Mormons. I know that sounds a bit odd coming from an active Mormon. Maybe its because Utah is a desert, or its the lack of a beach. Utah is almost a perfect complement to California. Thus the opposite of what we thought we wanted. In reality, there is nothing wrong with Utah, and there was nothing wrong with California. I'd erroneously tied the environment to where we lived.
A correlation between were I live and where I work became apparent while discussing finding a job in Utah. There are wage and cost of living gaps, and cultural differences. I explained that aside from meeting your financial needs, the number one requirement for me in a job is to enjoy the coworkers and company culture. I've had terrible jobs with great employees, and well-paying jobs in terrible environments. I've helped people make a lot of money by investing, waste time killing zombies, find their way through an airport, and even asked "would you like fries with that". I've cried in fear of going to work and I've cried leaving friends behind as I moved to other employment. Until recently, I didn't realize exactly why I loved living in California and why I didn't have the same experience when we moved back. While I never hated living in Utah, I just never loved Utah like I did California. My epiphany was I don't really care where I live; I care about spending time with people. California was so great because I had a lot of friends. I was social and I was busy and I loved that.
I had spent 18 years growing up and making friends in California. During the post college return, most of my friends had moved away. I had to start over. From 1996-2005 I had moved around so much I didn't put much effort into making friends. Rather, I was great at the 6 month friendship. That's the average length I had spent in one place. I didn't invest time in making and maintaining friendships. With few exceptions, my hobbies and interests exist because of friends who also enjoy them. I loved playing sports in high school because of friends. I couldn't stand to watch sports on TV, then I married a BYU fan. Now I watch BYU Football. I'm utterly fascinated with the human form, typography, photography, illustration, and design because of friends. The music I like, TV, movies, and food are all a reflection of my friends. Loving where you live is no different than loving where you work. Making friends, at least to me, appears to be the key to loving where I live.
This may all stem from a fear of rejection or desire to fit in. Well yeah- I think I had a shrink tell me that once. I guess what I'm saying is California is a wonderful place. I remember it fondly and enjoy every chance I can return to visit. For now, Utah is my home and I love living here.