A SAN DIEGO SKEPTIC
Home is a place that you can love, all while being wary of it
Let’s take a mental flashback to 2007 real quick.
Barack Obama was a pretty novel concept. Facebook users were primarily college students instead of their grandparents. The Phillies were actually good enough to be months away from winning a championship.
It was a different world then. I was a pretty different guy.
That was the last full year that I lived in San Diego until I moved back a couple months ago.
It’s my first time living here in about a decade, and it’s the first time I’ve really moved somewhere with the expectation of it being a permanent home. Permanent in the sense of having no intentions on the horizon of leaving.
Last night, I listened a Gastropod podcast episode while cleaning up after dinner in my Ocean Beach apartment. Food writer Michael Twitty was talking about Southern Food and the social complexities of the South.
To be from a place is to love it, and to greet it with a raised eyebrow, he explained. That’s what home is.
And that’s definitely how I feel about San Diego.
When I think back to the middle part of the last decade, what I remember most about the city was wanting to leave it. You don’t get much sympathy when you tell people that you grew up in San Diego and didn’t like it. Understandably so.
But when I recall those high school years in the northeastern suburbs, some of the things I remember the most are lacking a sense of purpose, and feeling demotivated and detatched from life in a way that now seeems foreign to me.
I realize now that there was probably some unrecognized depression going on. My life was comfortable, but perhaps too comfortable. Without having anything beyond myself to pursue, it was easy to fall into that rut.
I really started to feel like all people ever did were things to make it to the next day– eat, sleep, work, hygeine. What I couldn’t see was the reason why people thought this cycle was worth the effort.
I started to project some of that routine malaise (and probably a fair dose of teenage angst) onto the place where I was living.
To paint a fuller picture, I lived in San Diego’s northeastern expanse of suburbs that don’t really exemplify what the city is known for. I would’ve had to sit in traffic for forty minutes to make it to the ocean, which was actually a really rare outing. Instead, I went to an affluent high school where I had trouble making deeper connections to people. I didn’t have a mode of transportation to go places that could’ve helped me participate in more things, so instead I spent a lot of time in chain stores and living vicariously through movies. (Yeah, the lack of reasonable public transport became one of the many things in San Diego I would often bemoan.)
Thankfully I didn’t stay in this rut. It now feels distant and out-of-character. Growing beyond it was a process that really helped shape me into the person I wound up being. It happened roughly ten years ago, when I gained some more independence and started to set off on my own.
I moved out of San Diego and did this in other settings.
In Santa Barbara, I met people who became my community for life. I discovered the core components of my faith that my life is built around now, and I loved that city. Living there for years allowed me to feel really connected to that city.
Living out of a van, in South Africa, and then in California’s Central Valley really helped me get deeply exposed to other walks of life in other parts of the world. Usually grittier parts. These weren’t places that had the comforts I grew up with, but most of the people I met there had pursuits to make their homes better.
Living in Eugene, Oregon, I learned how to be a married man, a professional, and how to build a life I appreciated from the ground up.
All of these episodes were marked by their own pursuits, a sense of independence, and deep connections.
I would visit San Diego on holidays, in between my “real life” set in these other cities. Each time, I would see it for what it was lacking. Some of this was warranted, a lot of it was unfair.
I saw its lack of seasons and constantly perfect weather as the breeding grounds for people who lived for comfort rather than purpose. I saw its general attractiveness as something that allowed many San Diegans to look down at the rest of the country with a sense of superior smugness. I saw all of its creature comforts as the pursuit of San Diegan culture, rather than anything of deeper meaning.
Last year, when Deanna and I were throwing around a few possibilities of places we could see ourselves living long term, San Diego started entering the conversation. It made lots of sense being the biggest city that was close to both our families that wasn’t L.A. But I had my reservations.
Shortly after those conversations started happening though, a marketing job opened up at a San Diego nonprofit, and –spoiler alert- I took it and now find myself sitting at the Liberty Public Market, fairly adjusted to my new life in my old home.
The territory is familiar. Except, it’s a different city now. I’m a different person.
Thus far, I’ve been loving life here. I’ve learned to embrace this city as my home.
(I know, most people would have no problem embracing San Diego as their home. It took a little more of a journey for me to get there, alright?)
I’ve come to love the way in which San Diego is teeming with life. It’s been a good environment for my taste buds- both literally and figuratively. I love the variety of neighborhoods and places to explore, the presence of most sorts of things to be involved in, and its variety of burgeoning cultures that I can relate to. The creative entrepreneurs. The food lovers and craft brewers. The artist-activists.
While I miss the sense of intimacy that I developed for cities a fraction of the size, there are also many things I’d come to miss about living in a mega-city. The diversity is a huge appeal. It often feels like most cultures have a decent representation here, and not only do I feel more connected to the people of this city this time around, but through them, I feel more connected to the world as a whole.
Of course, there are still a lot of imperfections that I notice. I can sniff them out in an instant, in a way that somebody not as intimately familiar with this city can.
Still not everything’s perfect. For all its diversity, it’s also one of the most self-segregated cities in the country. The long-time property owners of the East County and the immigrant communities of City Heights resemble the now-spectacular urban/rural divide in the world, all while being ten miles apart. I still see comfort as a definitive piece fo the culture. Many of my neighbors would rather chase comfort than joy- seeking to avoid difficulty rather than to overcome it.
But eady to work with what I have. After all, I’m now living here, with a family, with the roots of community, with the means and the resources to pursue joy and to try and bring some neighbors along with me. I can do things to try and help bring diverse neighbors together. I can encourage people to think beyond their own comforts. I can try and do this with my own life.
Home is a place that you can love, all while being wary of it. After all, to live somewhere while being conscious is to also be aware of all of its flaws and injustices, all the ways that it fails to live up to the high hopes you have for it.
You can feel this way about a place and still love it with an unparalleled sense of ownership.
That’s how you know it’s home.
I saw this home-is-home sentiment among some of my friends who lived in the roughest parts of Southern Africa.
I’ve increasingly felt this way about the United States.
But when you feel that added sense of ownership, it means you don't only know a place's shortcomings and room for improvement for the sake of criticizing it. Instead, it helps you know how to get to work. To start shaping it more and more into the place you'd love to live.
And I’ve definitely learned to hold both love and openness for San Diego, with all its shortcomings and splendor, and with a flat white from Moniker Coffee Co. in hand.
After all, it’s now my home, and I’m ready for it.