Not from around here

I need to talk for a little bit about where I come from.

I come from Alaska. I did not live in the absolute wilderness, but then again, the wilderness is never far from anywhere in my motherland. Moose wander through the streets, and the streets are literally ice for many months of the years.

The brand-new subdivision that I lived in as a teenager was virgin forest. I mean to say, a lawn was something of a futile absurdity. It made much more sense to leave the trees and bushes alone, and 99% percent of the homes in our area left their acre+ lots in their natural state.

We had a natural well that gave us water. It was ‘hard’ water which meant that the minerals coated our bathtub and left a funny taste when we drank it.

We lived outside a munincipality, the only police where the state troopers and they were seldom seen.

There was a lake full of fish a half mile a way, and our front window showed us a forest reserve that stretched for hundreds of miles long. We liked to pick berries and mushrooms there in the summer.

My parents drove to Alaska. They went their twice from their motherland in the golden rolling hills of California. First, in the 60s before Alaska was a state. Then again, for much longer, in 1972. During the new year’s party, Mom went into labor and produced me in a now-defunct Anchorage Hospital.

Now I live in the golden rolling hills of California. And only very recently, I realized:

Mom and Dad thought Alaska was exotic.

I never never never thought it was exotic. It was home, with all the boringness and familiarity that means. But for them, it was almost like living in a foreign country. It was exciting and new and unexpected almost every day.

Now, Mom and Dad live in Sacramento. They talk a lot about remembering different places around there. Things are the same for them. Things are a lot like how they left them when they went away. Not exactly, time takes its toll, but enough the same for them to remember.

But me, I feel like California is a very exotic place. With its short snowless mountains and lush vegetation, fruit trees and warm nights, its population density and freeways, California never quite fits. It’s always not home.

Not to say I ever want to live in Alaska. I am a permanent ex-patriate.

But I chafe at the expectations. I demand to know “WHY?” and resent every rule or expectation as irrational and irrelevant.

When I bought my condo, as part of the forest’s graveyard of paperwork required, I was given the Rules of the Condo Association. Chris read them with me.

“WHAT?! I can’t put my bike on the balcony.”

“No Pool parties? Who do they think they are?”

“No dog over 40 pounds? Why is that their business? IF I want a dog, it’s my problem.”

Every rule was an imposition. I was buying the home, I should be able to do whatever wherever I wanted. Every rule made me suspicious.

Chris told me, “That’s the price you pay to live in a condo with other people. If you had your own home, you could do what you wanted.”

I signed, muttering and rebelling, but I signed.

Now, I am looking to buy a home! HOoray! I can paint the outside, I can have a BIG dog, I can put my bike wherever I like and all the rules are gone.

Chris and I are buying it together, so, he wants to live in his hometown Claremont. A little tiny city that gives me the jeebies. Back to that in a moment.

We’ve picked a house, made an offer, and are waiting. Chris was telling me what to expect from his home town.

“Claremont does not allow parking in the street overnight. Between 2 am and 6 am, you can’t be on the street without a temporary permit.”


See, I am feeling crowded about this already. This town is full of all kinds of customs and ways of doing things. Where I come from, independence is prized and conformity is despised. There is no set way that everyone should be or do.

And yet, this little city has all sort of rules and permit requirements.

But here’s the creepy part that gives me the jeebies:
Everyone from there or associated with that city, thinks that the city is great. They all say what a nice place it is, how wonderful it is for kids and for creative types. It is a college town after all.

And even more than that, everyone I’ve met from there is excruciatingly nice. I mean it! They are smart, and kind, and usually benignly humorous.

Is anyone else hearing the jeebie music in the background? I’ll admit, I’m probably scarred by too many church youth groups. They specialize in niceness, while holding the dagger hidden until your back is exposed.

But I’m uneasily assured of the Claremont niceness. I mean, Chris is more Claremont than anyone, and I’ve been in daily observation of him for more than 5 years. He remains nice.

I just am afraid I will tresspass on the customs or BBQ the sacred cows of this little town of Trees and PhDs. I know there are all these expectation that I am oblivious to, like being colorblind. And I value my independence. I cherish my non-conformity.

They expect me to wash my car whenever dirt is visible on it. Hey, where I come from, you are ahead of the curve if both headlights are working. What do they expect from me?

They will expect lawn maintenance. Lawns! And if there are weeds, I would have to pull them up. I’ve never had anything to do with a lawn. I will probably fail at this.

I could offer lots of advice on removing a car after it’s high-centered on a snow burm. But that is not useful in my exotic new home.

I recognize, intellectually, that with all these people crowded together on paved streets and highways, some rules are needed. But I don’t like it. Rules feel categorically repellent.

It will take some time. I’m not from here.

what were they thinking?

I remember learning about church history in my protestant church school. The time line went something like this:

God created the earth
God picked Abraham to father the jews and be the chosen people who wrote down what he said
God send Jesus to die and save everybody from the mess humanity had gotten into
The disciples became the apostles, started the church and wrote the new testament
Martin Luther wrote the 95 theses

Sometime after I learned history that didn’t come from born-again-authored textbooks, I realized that things had happened in the church between the first century and the 15th.

The protestant revisionist history had the catholic church sort of erased. As if, before the “real” church, the protestant one, there had been this big empty dark spot.

As I learned more I realized, that’s not true. There were all kinds of things happening, acts of faith and struggles. There were hundreds of years that the faith was preserved by the faithful. I was kind of surprised to realize that.

Now, from 1917 to 1991, communism was in charge of Russia. It was a totalitarian government, and here in the Democracy-loving west, we saw them as gray and robotic. They produced propaganda, and their biggest newspaper was called TRUTH, and they made it the truth by stamping out any other voices.

But I found this amazing book in a used book store: Writers in Russia: 1917-1978
This book explains what the writers were thinking. It talks about how they were excited and embraced the Revolution. That at first, they were inspired and producted good writing regarding their hopes and dreams for the new order.

And then, well, things got funky. All the intelligentsia revolutionaries had envisioned a utopia, a place where everyone would have everything they needed and be free to create.

As it turned out, people sort of had what they needed but they were less and less free to create.

But creative people will create. Their creativity compels them. And what things were happening behind that iron curtain?

THe official story was lockstep uniformity. But unofficially, the Russian people were as hungry for beautiful culture as ever.

This book tells of a really healthy underground publishing community. They would sent out the stories, the poetry, type up multiple copies and mail them out like chain letters. In this way, one officially unpublished poet was once able to pack out a soccer stadium to hear him read his poems.


I remember how we would hear of the strength of the first century Christian. HOw they were so vitallly involved with their faith. They went to their death in the jaws of lions.

The lack of something makes it so much more precious. THe lack of freedom makes the desire for it unbearable.

Here, we have so much freedom. And what do we do with it? We hardly know what to do with it. We are dilletantes with our freedom of speech. Toying with it…Childishly experimenting.

And yet, would we have it any other way? Freedom means contempt. I can toss off the most foolish nonsense with my power of speech, because it is free. Free is not important, doesn’t require any thought.

The Soviet writers were not automatons. They had truth that tortured them to be told. THey had the highest of formalism to deal with. Leave iambic pentameter aside, try working within the bounds of a capricious and murderous dictator. Stalin was no joke.

And yet, they did it. They worked and crafted and wrote. What an amazing history. It’s blowing my mind to get a glimpse of all these creative minds struggling with their surrounding and how to express themselves.

At last

It is finished.

I have completed all the house beautiful. We were kicked out of our home to let others wander around and decide if they want to buy.

So now…We wait.

And always clear up our dishes.

need a new hobby

packing and packing and cleaning and painting.

Now, it’s packing some more. Yesterday I was packing my shoes. I usually can’t see all my shoes. I mean, I have a nice shelf for them in the bottom of my closet, but it gets kind of hard to see all of them under the clothes.

I definitely have a style of shoe I prefer. Really, the fact of the matter is, I don’t need anymore little booties or black strappy mary janes.

In fact, it may be that I really don’t need much of anything anymore. Which is GREAT! How blessed am I that I have everything I need, and way way more?

In fact, the only thing i really need is more space. And even with my plans to move to a bigger home, it’s clear to me that I have to find a new hobby

I’m going to have to give up shopping.

Have you noticed? Shopping is really america’s hobby. Chris, being very close to perfect, really loves to shop with me. And this is So Cal, we have some good shopping, and pretty much everyone is in on the fun.

But I don’t know. I mean, if I have everything I need, and really I do, what’s the point of going out to spend money on buying new things?

I think I will have to come up with other ways to spend my time. It’s just pointless to keep on shopping.

I guess I’ll have to spend more time gardening.