overhaul / undertow

Saturday, February 25, 2006

history and place

I moved back in with my parents here in Canoga Park about two years ago now. It's hard to believe. I must confess it's not intolerable. My parents are not completely insane. We always got along reasonably well, except for those few years in late junior high / early high school when everything they did was hopelessly obtuse.

Now, it's still not normal in this culture to live at home with one's family when you're in your late twenties. In many other places throughout the world, though, for an unmarried daughter to stay at home with her parents is perfectly reasonable, and I'm sure that in some places around the globe I'd have rocks thrown at me if I *didn't* live with the fam.

You know, here in the U.S. there are no places where people have lived for more than maybe five, six generations. I'd guess that's about the cap before we start tracing our roots back to our nations of origin. There really aren't any places, or that many, where families have lived for more than two, three generations. But in Europe quite a number of people live in the same town where their ancestors rode out from on Crusades.

Here, in the U.S., we are laying down the days of history, building up time, and progressively creating the same sort of sense of belonging to a place. But we can't create it any faster than days go by.

I was reading a woman's column in a local paper about moving into Altadena, a few blocks down from the house in which she grew up. She'd sworn she would've moved far, far away, but the apple had come home to fall very close to the tree. She was content about it, and told how the land itself had been owned in large parcels early on, large farms and estates, and subdivided largely during the Depression: "infill" it was called, as small clapboard bungalows--"charming" nowadays--were built up, chunking the large parcels of land into smaller ones. It was interesting to see her consciously creating history as she settled into her own home on the same land her grandfather had raised her dad. I'm doing something quite similar.

I don't plan to live with the family for more than another year: I'm giving myself until July to not worry about it, and then in July I will begin to set goals and make plans. It's a great thing I moved home: I needed the support to shift my career. I couldn't have made the changes I've made without my parents taking up the financial slack and putting a roof over my head while I took two internships and threw myself into writing. I still would've been stuck in the same job, miserable.

It's just very...comforting, to think I'm building a sense of place, a sense of "we are from here"--here in Los Angeles and its environs. Anyone who comes after me will feel as though the earth they walk on is just a little more full of humanity for my having been here, maybe. As it is now, under my feet and when I look around the San Fernando Valley, I feel the past as this crushing wildness, a smattering of people who came before me in sepia photographs to plow the land and plant oranges, and then before that the Chumash Indians, and before that nothing but a vast desolation--not in a negative sense, in a very full sense; but the vast desolation of nature and the globe without the mark of human hands...

The centuries of human life that layered onto the village when I visited Cortona were very different from the wildness here in the Americas. Neither is better, I guess. Maybe they're really both the same thing. One is just familar to us, and the other is unknown.


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