Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Finding "My" Spot

Like millions of others, I read Carolos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan. More than the vivid descriptions of the effects of hallucinogenic drugs, I was taken by Carlos's assigned task of finding his sitio – a spot on the porch of Don Juan’s house where Carlos feels “naturally happy and strong,” the one place on the floor that is unique, where Carlos can be at his very best.

It seems that, like Carlos, I have been looking for my sitio ever since. For decades, I thought that spot was in northern California. Sure, I've traveled to cities and towns both near and far and, for a short time, felt that I could live there and be my best. But issues of language, customs, friends, and family – sometimes the cost of living – always took hold and pushed me back to where I started.

Will this time be different? Friends who have known me forever just laugh when I tell them I'm moving to California. I've been threatening such a move since 1970 when my first husband finished law school in Detroit. I had hoped to join throngs of friends and acquaintances who were going to the land of sunshine, acid rock, and "Hippie Hill." It was not to be: My husband and I got as far west as Chicago.

After our divorce, I was tethered to Chicago because of our son. No way was I going to be able to take him across the country with visitation rights for my ex during holidays and summer vacation. I weathered the ensuing winters as best I could with frequent visits to northern California. Each time, I vowed that I'd return for good. Each time, there were compelling reasons why I could not leave. (Think second marriage and my new husband's full-time employment for starters. Even when my son was long out of the house and on his own, California jobs in the arts were like warm, sunny days in a Chicago winter.) I was stuck.

Now after 40 years, there are no jobs holding us back. We are "free to move about the country."

I duped myself into believing that our current 8-week sojourn in the Berkeley Hills was not about a permanent move. I promised that finding my sitio was a distant second behind spending time in more temperate climes. But I hooked us up with a realtor the second week we were here, and she has been trying her best to sell us a home ever since. For better or for worse, there is a dearth of For Sale signs in these parts. Anyone who hasn't had to move has sat tight, waiting for the recession to end and for real estate prices to rebound.

And in the years since I've first come to northern California, my tastes have changed. Many neighborhoods that appealed to me in my 20s and 30s now seem gee jawed, uneasy. If there was a historical board or city planning commission in these parts, the members must have been high because there is no rhyme or reasons to many of the residential sections. Contemporary homes abut weathered Craftsmans. Cars clutter the winding roads because owners are too lazy to drive up the steep driveways. It feels tight, messy, too tight and messy for me.

Only down the hills in the older sections is there a sense of design and calm. Some of the streets are blocked to through traffic, turning the areas into walking spaces immune to the sounds and smells of automobiles. Alas, most homes in these sections no longer enjoy a "view." They face multiple directions instead of due west onto San Francisco Bay. Damn. There are always compromises to be made.

Like Carlos, I am spinning, twisting, and turning.


Robin Marantz Henig said...

How cool to find you here, Jane! And to discover that you're thinking about leaving Evanston for a whole new life. I guess the plan is to blog the transition?

I'm blogging some, too (it's anonymous, but I don't mind you knowing it's me) at

Some day we have to have a heart-to-heart about the pros and cons of blogging, AKA giving away your writing for free.

Robin (though all further comments will probably be sent to you as "momma").

Sue said...

Hey Jane, I m enjoying your entries so keep them coming - and some more photos from Alan would be good too. We need an alternative to snow snow snow!