“I never saw the east coast until I moved to the west”
~Tom Waits, San Diego Serenade
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in…”
~Robert Frost, Death of a Hired Man
As we approach All Hollow’s Eve, best friends, neighbors, and even perfect strangers reveal their hidden longings, repressed desires, and deepest fears by taking on the very forms they normally push into dark corners. But what of the splits that are not so easily categorized, polarized, and put in a box until next year? What of the chronic rifts of the psyche that can never be bridged? Stay with me a while as I ponder the bi-coastal life; it is getting dark, and I hate to take this trip alone…
People say “back east” and “out west”…even if they’ve never set foot on the opposite coast, they proudly announce “I’m going back east”…even though it’s their first trip to the right coast. Concepts embedded into our cultural psyche.
Back: the small towns, the steeples, the trees ablaze in the smoky sky…the puritans, the hard workers,the snow, the non-smilers, the Big Apple, people dressed in drab tones…
Out: the bigness, the vastness, space, the smilers, the surreal gravity games of San Francisco, the adventure sports loving foodies, the people who say “right on”, and drive 2 hours to be somewhere for 4 hours…
There’s a San Francisco/New York joke someone told me: In New York, when they say “@#!# you” they may well mean “hello” and in San Francisco, when they say “hello” they may well mean “@#!# you”. How to navigate these things…?
When I first moved to California, I was confused by the instant invites to “come over for dinner sometime” that never materialized. I thought “Wow…I’m gonna have so many friends here…it would take a year to get invited to dinner in New England” But as the year went by, I was unsatisfied with shallow greetings and smiles that went nowhere. I missed the steadfastness of my east coast friends, even if they were prone to snarky comments and had no desire to turn their frowns upside down; in fact, the mere rhyming suggestion would be sure to prompt a snarky comment. And so I began a fruitless war with the West Coast, making long mental lists of its failings, so what if the yoga is great, and there are fresh figs, I told myself, and continued with my list. I worked at this for a long time, calling on a puritan work ethic and the grit and steel of cold winters.
But eventually, I had to surrender; one day I simply looked on a map, and I focused on California, and I thought, “damn, that’s big!” So what could I do. I was “out west”, surrounded by vastness, bigness, sunshine and smiles that sometimes left me…ummm…cold.
It is not simple equation; there is no A/B, yes/no, just go back solution. Because the very going back implies the initial departure, and once you have been out west for any significant length of time—as I have been for almost 7 years now—you will never ever be fully back east again. You become chronically, and hopelessly bi-coastal. Hence the back flips and strange yoga poses my soul has been doing ever since I made the journey west. I now have anchors on both coasts, and they have held this boat that I call body steady through many storms. And these are not rusty old metal contraptions. They are, for the most part, people. Friends, to be precise, and friends of friends, and even some well meaning strangers. Because whether smiling and wearing flowy yoga pants or smirking sarcastically in tight knit black turtlenecks, my real friends have shown through like those glowing hearts in bad religious souvenirs. And I no longer expect something from every smile I see; it’s not some bridge, some promised land, some possibility…it’s just a smile…they’re kinda nice sometimes.
And I’m sorry to every west coaster who’s told me a hell story about driving in New England. I’m sorry your car broke down, and it was raining, and no one stopped to help you. That really does suck. But ya know, there’s I bridge I drive over, whenever I go back to Maine, and as I drive over it, I actually feel something stir in my soul, wherever that is.