Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Sense of Place

Lately, with everything that has been going on (I could insert a list again here, but I’ll spare you my moaning), both B. and I have been feeling the urge to escape. Now, this may seem ironic, as the last time we “escaped” away to Mexico, the results were not what we had intended. But no, this Escape we’re planning is much larger and more dramatic.

We live in LA.

This is LA.

Now granted, those of you who are LA-savvy and read my blog closely may have picked up on the fact that I live on the Westside. The Westside of Los Angeles is a bit different than urban-smog-land. We live in Venice, a few blocks from the artsy-hipster-land of Abbott Kinney Blvd, ¼ of a mile from the beach, and a few steps away from this:

But regardless of the fact that those of us who are lucky enough to live on the Westside feel somehow “removed from LA,” the truth is, it’s still a huge city with too many people and too many problems. Now I know that living in this city has had nothing to do with the stressors we’ve had so far (unless you count traffic killing our cat?), but the thing is, that living here makes it seem like you are already functioning on a higher level of stress as your homeostasis.

Things are just harder in the city. The noise. The helicopters circling our house at night. The 30-60 minute commute for ten miles of distance (where I end up in downtown LA – the heart of it all). The people. And just the fact that everyone is exponentially harder here. For example: You decide to run to the grocery store to grab something for dinner. You fight with traffic, people cutting you off and then yelling at you about it, you search desperately for a parking spot (good luck), you wait in lines and then pay too much for your food, and then on the way home you realize you should fill up your gas tank before the drive to work tomorrow, but you can’t find a gas station without long lines that is easy to pull into from the busy road so you just say ‘fuck it’ and go back home.

Now, I’m not saying there aren’t great things about living here. There are. There really are. But this post isn’t about the restaurants, the culture, the weather or the beaches. It is about the fact that we are used to moving at a faster pace with a higher level of tension at all times, just due to the sheer proximity to too many other people. Some people may be used to this. Some people may thrive off of it. But, as someone who grew up in Montana, sometimes it just seems like too much.

And so B. and I dream. We dream about the perfect place where we can Have It All. We know going home to Montana isn’t the solution. Those lazy days and beautiful dirt roads are also filled with boredom, unemployment, and dreary, dreary weather. Oh, and a lot of really conservative people. Right now our dream Escape location is to northern California. Specifically, wine country. Sonoma-ish.

We dream about owning 10-20 acres (I need land!) where I can have my horses, our dogs can roam free, and we can see the stars. At the same time, being close enough to civilization that we can have a gourmet dinner, enjoy local wines, or jet down to San Francisco for the weekend. Hey, we’re dreaming, right??

The problem is, how do you finance that dream? So we’re here. Working really hard. Stressfully experiencing LA and all the good/bad it has to offer. It’s just that….lately, we want to put everything in the car and run away to somewhere slower and gentler.

What do you guys think? Is “Place” important? Or should you develop our own internal sense of place wherever you live? Do you find yourselves dreaming as a solution to life problems? Do you have an “ideal place” in mind?

p.s. I will bake Virtual Cookies for anyone who can give me a rational, believable excuse that will me feel better about procrastinating at work to write this blog post when I am desperately behind. There must be some kind of neurochemical reason why pregnant women are helpless to procrastination….right???


  1. I'm from the East Coast and I've been living in the prairies with my hubby for 4 years. I miss home terribly, ALL THE TIME. I love the smell of the ocean, eating fresh fish, the weather... everything. Hubby misses the same things about his home in Chile.

    Since we have been together we have been dreaming about a way to move to Chile permanently, but we haven't figured it out yet. Like you said, how would we finance such an adventure? If we gave everything up and moved to Chile, would we still be able to afford to travel to other places, like my home in Canada or to Greece or wherever... We tried to make it work to set our roots down in Nova Scotia 2 years ago but there are just no jobs there.

    We would also love to live in Northern California. If you figure out a way to live in paradise, PLEASE let me know :)

    Never give up dreaming, I'm a believer that if you want something bad enough, anything is possible!

  2. Well, I am procrastinating at work to read this post and now comment on it, so I am no help there.
    I actually grew up in LA and while there are things I like about it, I think about leaving all the time. I just don't feel connected to it. My husband and I often have conversations about where we would go if we could live anywhere in the world. Unfortunately, it isn't realistic for us to move to Paris. Sigh. Because of our jobs, we haven't come up with a place to go, so we are going to make our own place in the overcrowded city until we figure it out. I do like your Sonoma idea :)

  3. Gurrrrrl, I feel you on this so hard. In fact, these are all the reasons that 5 years ago my husband and I decided to move to Austin where we are now immensely happy! I used to have a different blog back in the day and wrote a post all about our decision, if you ever feel like reading it:

  4. It's so funny, because I actually find (west) LA less stressful than the 600,000 population city I moved from! I guess not working has a bigger impact than I realise. My days are (obviously) less stressful and busy but because I can handle all the crap like groceries and housework and errands our evenings and weekends are just for fun stuff.

    Husband works far longer hours here (without a commute, which makes a BIG difference) but we see much more of each other since we're both not working 80 hour weeks at differing times of the week.

    we'll probably never get the ranch in sonoma, since that definitely requires two incomes, but I'm a city girl, I don't like nature really and I find the sirens and bustle and people reassuring! I love how different everyone is. People are so interesting!

  5. All I can say is I don't know how you handle living in LA. I drive down there every once in a while to visit college friends and after 48 hours I need to get the f*ck out. I just can't hang.

    And as a San Franciscan I say COME ON UP! Sonoma/Napa is an amazing place to live. I hope you make it up here some day.

  6. We are city people, but at the same time, I have fantasies of owning some land and having dogs and a few goats. We alwasy say we will live in Barcelona in the future. We also daydream of going back to Mexico, maybe to a city like Guadalajara. I lived in Mexico city when I was 24 and I got very fast overwhelmed by how huge it was.

    I think you can create your own peace, find parks, little cafés, places where you feel home in the city, but it is also nice to have a dream you strive for. San Francisco is dreamy, I would love to live near the ocean (Marine Headlands or somewhere near Monterey, in one of those towns along the coast).

    What you were saying about the bustle and constant rush of the city reminded me of this article / speech:

  7. My husband and I had many discussions about the sense of place before we bought our current place. After talking with many people about it, we came to the conclusion that where we grow up influences us a lot in terms of what feels like "home". For example, we noticed that people who grew up in the suburbs tend to want to move there after getting married or having kids, even if they had been living in a busy city until that point. D and I were both city kids, and we found the thought of living in the suburbs suffocating. I tried it once for several years, I couldn't handle it. So I totally understand your train of thought on this.

    As for excuses, I say pregnancy brain is a good one. :)

  8. I definitely dream about living on a farm or somewhere more rural... but to be honest, what most defines "home" for my husband and me are our personal connections: Family and friends. We absolutely need to be here in Toronto to stay close to people; having occasional visits or Skype chats will not cut it. Hence, we try to make a downtown lifestyle as tranquil as possible -- we have a nice garden, a beautiful park nearby, beaches about a five-minute drive away (not as nice as Cali beaches, but still pretty). I think part of the problem with L.A. is the car culture; we're fortunate to be in a city that's very pedestrian friendly and we pretty much walk or bike everywhere, which cuts back on stress a LOT.

    That said, I often dream of moving to Big Sur because that is just a whole 'nother level of beautiful... :)

  9. I'm running right along side you right now. When we moved out to the country, I was thrilled! Quiet and removed from the city without being more than 15 minutes from a Starbucks or no more than 30 minutes from the mall. Perfection!

  10. I ABSOLUTELY think that "Place" is very important. CP and I lived in the middle of nowhere MA b/c it was inbetween our hour long commutes. It was AWFUL and I was MISERABLE. I needed a place where there was more going on and more people our age. Thankfully, moving to a great town in CT and now where we are in the burbs of Chicago made me happy. CP would rather a bit more land for a bigger garden, but we are good where we are for a while.

  11. I grew up in suburbia, lived in London after college, and then was in Minneapolis for about five-six years after that. So I had never lived out in the country -- didn't really even know anybody who did -- but I wound up moving to 40 acres surrounded by fields and forest last year. It's about six miles outside a small town and 1.5 hours from the Twin Cities, and it's perfect for me. I always thought I wanted this kind of life (obviously, or I wouldn't have made the move!), but I couldn't have known how right it would feel. Being away from a city comes with sacrifices, but I'm a total homebody, so I don't mind too much. If there's a place and a way you can live with some sort of happy medium, work towards it!

  12. They probably get about two good hours of work out of me a day. It's shameful. But Google is so much more fun than actually working ...

    "Place" is important. For us, having the extended family has close together as possible was the right "place." And we love Austin. I would definitely keep planning on and working towards the dream! It makes all the difference in your moment-to-moment daily life.

  13. I think place does matter! It's not the be all end all of happiness, but it totally affects my mood and day-to-day energy. The stress of traffic and commuting is a pain! I'm sorry you are so regularly experiencing that.

    I experience it here in the Bay Area, too, but only a couple days a week for 30 minutes or so each way. When we go into San Francisco, that can be hectic, but it's a choice for an event or appointment, not day-to-day (plus we have the choice to BART in). I guess I would say I think your state of mind can affect your feelings about place but is only one small piece. Sounds like you're longing to slooow down a bit...and have more ease with daily activities.

    My ideal would be living in Co-housing (we each have our own units on shared land, with a Common House where we can share some meals and group activities), with enough land to take walks and grow food. Ideally North East Bay or North Bay, within an hour or so driving distance of the city. We are exploring co-housing with a few friends but no concrete options yet.

    Come on up to Sonoma, it's great! :-) We go wine tasting there regularly.

  14. "There must be some kind of neurochemical reason why pregnant women are helpless to procrastination….right???"

    Hmm... I sure hope so... Because I'm reading your blog entry eating ice cream, procrastinating A LOT of stuff I should do... DH will be home soon and I haven't done much today... oops.

  15. I'm an LA local and yes, the traffic is INSANE. I absolutely hate it. That being said, I live in Sherman Oaks so at least we have copious amounts of parking! Hubs is originally from Boston and lived in nyc for 10 years and dreams of going back there but I am a Cali girl born and raised so the thought of leaving is actually pretty hard for me!


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