The idea of home is an intriguing one. I am from the Midwest. I grew up in a suburb of Chicago and then went to school at the University of Iowa. For two years following my graduation date, I stayed in Iowa City. This past year my fiancé and I moved to California as he began a new chapter in his education. We are in Davis because he is a PhD student in Conservation Biology. My sense of belonging is nothing. I have no connection to this place aside from being a support to him. There is a small job market and anything that is available has a firm background in the sciences and agricultural studies that this place is famous for. Any government jobs are surveying areas that are known for their crack and methamphetamine addicts. It seems like there is no place for me, no place for growth, no place for interests similar to mine. We are a relatively short distance away from Berkeley and San Francisco. Though I still do not feel a dramatic pull, I am more connected to the liberal ideals and fine art opportunities that these cities have to offer. The only problem that arises is the all too common money issue. Do we move to a middle ground, like Vacaville or Napa? Can we afford that? Even the short distance between Davis and San Francisco is an enormous leap in household income and property value. What opportunities await me?
I often think about home. What is home? What makes somewhere home? How do other places differ from this feeling of “home”? Is it a tangible thing or is it something completely amorphous? And can a single person create a feeling of home when everything rebels against it?
Home. The famous saying is “home is where the heart is.” This statement confuses me immensely. Is this a reference to the relationships we have with people? If so, how can home be where the heart is when families live thousands of miles apart? If home is where the heart is, does that reflect the intangible feeling that happens when you move some place that just feels like home? It’s like being punched in the gut, but completely desirable. I remember the first time I ever saw Iowa City, it was February, grey, snowing, completely miserable conditions to initially see an area (there is a common belief that weather and college decisions correlate; if it’s a bad weather day when you visit your potential campus, it can indirectly affect your decision to move there), but I loved it. It was this warm feeling that settled over me. The town was relatively small, but still managed to maintain a city feel. The different restaurants boasted unique meals and different ethnicities. The layout of the town intertwines the campus and the pedestrian areas, and it somehow made it more unique. I knew I was head over heels for the place when my mom and I decided to walk around in subzero weather which introduced us to Iowa City’s coffee supply, the Java House. We walked in to the one on Washington Street in the pedestrian mall. The people working, the atmosphere of the place, half home half shop, unique paintings and people reading literary greats ranging from Reagent England to Burrough’s exploration of the drug scene in New York. It felt like I was home. This was my place. I knew I was going to be one of those people, sipping coffee, reading novels, and enjoying the warmth as the wind blew outside. It was a mini-Chicago, a place that encapsulated all the beauty of a city in the middle of the country. It was a step in the right direction to realizing my childhood dreams of city living.
I met Jonathan at the University of Iowa. We shared a class together my freshman year and his sophomore year. As we learned more about one another, it was obvious that we were from two different families, backgrounds, and that the shared interests were on pleasurable activities, like entertainment and music. When it came to business and the reasons we were in school, we were completely different. I was a fine arts girl, majoring in creative writing and religious studies, he was a biology major with a background in ecology. His dream was to gain a PhD and do research at leading institutes and develop ways to conserve and maintain the ecology of species. My dream was to write, to live the poet’s life and entertain all aspects of art. The way it looked to me, the way it sounded, the way it felt and the way it tasted. I wanted to write poetry and short stories, take photographs and experience life through the notes of musicians. I even began to develop an interest in Jonathan’s field by viewing it with my artistic ambitions. I may not have known the formulas he studied, I may not know the who or what or why, but I began to realize the beauty in their existence. It always reminds me of this scene in Stigmata where Gabriel Bryne’s character, a priest who is also a scientist, expressed the reason he took the vows. Though there are these things that disprove God’s existence, why did they occur in the first place? What made this particle bond with the other particle? Was it divine inspiration? There are reasons certain things happen, why oxygen can create carbon dioxide, but what began it? That is where the art, the beauty, the miracle comes from. I carved a space for my thinking out of his interests. I am not sure he ever reciprocated those efforts. He would listen to me discuss literature and my writing, but I am not sure he ever understood it, or wanted to.
“Home is where the heart is.” I think it encapsulates interest. What we love about life and what we do. Davis does not have a niche for me. The most I share in common with these people is vegetarianism and a desire to live green. These are superficial in the scheme of things. They scratch the surface of my interests. I remember my first experience with Davis. We had made the decision, we had signed a lease, and I still had yet to visit the town. In July my father and I traveled out here. We flew in to San Francisco, rented a car and drove the two hours up to Davis. When we first landed I felt some hope. San Francisco was interesting. It was different from anything within my scope of knowledge, and it was artistic. But as we drove north, I could feel those first instances of hope disappear slowly until there was nothing but panic. Davis is a nice enough town. It is small, inclusive, and it has adorable shops, some of them being of the coffee persuasion which is an absolute must. The colors are vibrant and vibe with a west coast mentality and are reminiscent of the hippie days gone by. But it is not home. It was as if a force field was around the city and I could not seem to puncture it. Or maybe even more accurately, my psyche created a force field to which Davis cannot puncture.
There are people reading outside coffee shops, but they are reading scientific journals rather than literature. There are people typing away on computers, but they are constructing Excel documents and not Word. There are book stores that are beautiful, unique and locally owned, but they carry more Michael Pollan than Emily Dickinson. Even authors from the area, like Karen Joy Fowler, describe this area through the eyes of technical and scientific characters rather than artistic ones. They may read Jane Austen, but they are dog breeders and computer engineers. The more eclectic characters reside in the Bay area. These are all things I did not know until I came to Davis. And these are all things that I felt upon first entering city limits. It was instinctual. My gut was hit, and it hurt.
Home. What is it? Where is it? It is in the Midwest. It is Chicago. I recently visited and the days were miserable. The snow was falling, the rain was coming, the wind was blowing, and everything appeared grey, but I saw more color in those days visiting than I ever have in five months of living in Davis. The colors of this area are vibrant to the eyes, but it is dull and grey to my mind and mentality. Chicago may literally be grey, but it is more vibrant than anything I have ever experienced. So what is home? The place where I live? Where I physically reside? Or where I can see color even when there is a bland palate?