Seattle and a Sense of Place

I can’t do Seattle. Seattle is just L.A. with bad facial hair and a bad attitude left over from the 1990s.

A little shot from my Texan expatriate friend Mark E.

I like Seattle, so much that I even tried to buy a house in Shoreline some years back, only to wake up in a cold sweat the day after submitting the offer to realize that I had made a horrible mistake, and could not think of why. (The sellers let the offer expire, not even humoring us with a counter, essentially telling us to go jump in Lake Union.)

I now know why I broke out in that sweat, and it has nothing to do with whether Seattle is a nice place or not. It was the wrong place for me, and for my family, and somehow my subconscious knew it, in spite of the page-long single-spaced list we had composed of rational reasons why it was the right place for us to be. We stayed for weeks, loved every minute, but never felt at homecoming.

Those of us who are blessed with the wherewithal to choose from among two or more places to live are often tempted to try to rationalize the choice. But such choices should not be born of reason. They should be born of a voice that speaks to something more elemental in us, that calls to us and tells us that this is the place to be.

I live in California not because it is the wisest choice. It is certainly not the cheapest, least crowded, or least dangerous place to live in America. It does not have the best job prospects, the best transportation options, or the most stable economic foundations.

I live in California because no matter where I am in the state, from Chula Vista to Eureka to Tahoe to Death Valley, I feel at home. I am, as my wife would say, centered here like I am no place else in America or on Earth. Not everyone will feel that way, and I suspect that more than a few of the state’s  38.8 million inhabitants feel horribly out of place here and spend their days trying to convince themselves otherwise. But that is what keeps me here, droughts, economy, earthquakes, and brush fires be damned.

Next time I am in Seattle, I’ll stay a few extra days. I’ll spend a morning at Elliot Bay Books, I’ll linger long afternoons in independent coffee shops, listen to struggling poets and earnest bands, and I’ll take extended walks along the Puget Sound, savoring every minute. And then I’ll fly home to California, grateful for the gifts of the Pacific Northwest, but ever more convinced that the Golden State is home.

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