I drove down to Santa Cruz with my dog this weekend. I’m not sure when I had been there last, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was for my birthday last year, which would mean a whopping fifteen months between visits. I felt lighter the minute my car was in the midst of the pine trees that line Highway 17, and by the time I’d reached my favorite view of the ocean, the entire world felt like a better place.
This got me thinking about the homes of my heart. I have two places I’ve lived in the past that have the same effect on me. I feel happier thinking about them, and when I am actually physically present within them, I feel this strong sense of homecoming. Of rightness. One of them is Santa Cruz, and the other one is London.
That’s not to say that Silicon Valley, where I live now, isn’t my home. I know a lot of people here and have some fabulous friends close enough to see often. I really like the park near my house. I know my way around. I know where to obtain goods and services. I have spent several years of my life here. But it isn’t my heart’s home. I don’t feel joy from simply living here. I feel grateful for the mild weather, but that’s not really the same thing as joy.
Now Santa Cruz, I can tell you what makes it special (even though I do not go down there anywhere near often enough). London, I can talk on and on about why I love it. I wish more people would do that, actually: give me the opportunity for a long London monologue. If we are together and you want to make me happy, bring up London, be ready to listen patiently, and we’ll be all set. But Silicon Valley, well. If you want to be involved with a tech start-up, this is the place to be.
However, I am NOT involved in a tech start-up. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it would be fascinating. But it’s not what I’m doing right now.)
What effect does it have, I’ve been wondering, when you spend so many years not living in one of your heart’s homes? I’ve been here for eleven years this winter, and even the first year, when I lived in San Francisco proper, was not what I’d call an unqualified success (although that might be related to the neighborhood I chose to live in). It must happen to a lot of people, living in a place because of work or family or finances or because that’s just how it worked out, even though it doesn’t resonate with them. Maybe it doesn’t really matter. Your friends and communities are probably more important in the grand scheme of things than your geographical location.
But I miss looking out my bedroom window at redwood trees. I miss walking by the ocean. I miss London’s parks and the indifferent sandwiches I’d eat on the omnipresent benches, and I miss taking the Tube down to the Tate Modern on a Sunday afternoon. I miss rambling on the Heath and getting lost beforehand and afterwards, and I miss carrying my A to Zed everywhere I went (although now, I suppose, cell phones have replaced A to Zeds). I miss the late night excursions to the physics building’s merry-go-round and the cheap music concerts and the two pound coins and the inevitable pub and the scarf shops.
I could go back, I suppose, but I think there’s an element to heart’s homes that is related to time and context. I don’t think we can simply return to living in our heart’s homes whenever we feel like it. They might no longer fit exactly right. Sometimes we may be lucky and another right time to live there may come along. Other times we have to discover new ones instead.
Where are your heart’s homes?