Where I Find Myself: The Voice of My Native State

Posted on March 19th, by nicholas in creativity, grace farag, rumination, vocation, Where I Find Myself, writing. 15 comments

Where I Find Myself: The Voice of My Native State

Last spring, I wrote a piece for this website on the poetry of Maurice Manning, whose work reflects and draws on the rich language, stories and landscape of his native Kentucky.

One of the things I learned from writing that reflection is that place itself is a kind of language. And like any language, it informs our view of the world and gives shape to our thoughts as we try to make sense of the world around us.

I believe that the place we are from is in our blood, whether we like it or not. I believe that the land gets under our skin. And I know that, for all its faults, for all its shallowness and brokenness and glitter that isn’t gold, California is under mine.

Hopeless dreams, a rootless restlessness, and heartbreaking proximity to a neverending sea are in the air I breathe.

I was born to them and in them, and they are as much a part of me as Manning’s butter beans, Kentucky tall tales, and moonshine memories are a part of him.

Strange as it may sound, reading Maurice Manning’s poetry led me to fall in love again with my own California. To understand that it, too, is a place of rich, complicated, and beautiful language that tells a certain truth about the world in which I find myself.


What is faith? Is it belief in the impossible? Or in a creed? Is it action, is it feeling? Is it all and none of the above?

Yes. And no.

There are things you know without knowing how you know them. Then there are the stories you tell because you can’t tolerate the space between these knowings. Stories born out of the tectonic tension between the substance of things hoped for, felt, believed—and the substance of all you see, hear, touch around you.

It takes work to write a place. Work that is the result of love. And faith. Because the truth is that the world is not what it seems. It defies easy narrative, and if there is any place on earth that reminds us of this, it’s California.

Those of us who make California our home—and I do mean make it; home is a willful act of creativity in this land of transients and transplants—aren’t just granola eating vegan yogis brandishing our venti double-shot soy lattes as we hightail it to the beach with our surfboards strapped to our car roofs, our skin perpetually tan and glistening, the light forever falling in a late-afternoon arc across the looming white letters of the Hollywood sign.

We are restless travelers, forever seekers. We come from everywhere, and we’re usually on our way to somewhere else. We walk the streets of cities where solid ground is only an illusion.

We watch dreams break on reality over and over again just like waves on the hard, brittle, and breathtaking coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway.

Here, hope is routinely encouraged—and ruthlessly dashed. The shadow of countless longings runs like a fault line through just as many vagrant hearts.

California is a siren song for the faulted and faltering, the broken and beautiful, because all those things are California. This is my native state–and this, for better or worse, is my home.

So perhaps it is no real surprise that for me, who was born, bred and has lived most of my 37 years of life in this schizophrenic, unstable and unpredictable environment, there is no such thing as easy faith in anything. There is only one shaking after another, a neverending process of shattering and putting pieces back together again. And you never know when the next big quake will hit, nor what the cost of the damage will be.

The one and only thing you can be sure of: The quake is coming. Always.


Grace Farag is a writer living in Southern California. Her work has appeared in various places, including San Marino Patch (where she has contributed articles on, among many other things, the art of John Frame and a museum exhibit about novelist/poet Charles Bukowski), a devotional prayer book on gender injustice issues, the online journal Ontologica and Offerings: A Creative Anthology.

15 Responses to “Where I Find Myself: The Voice of My Native State”

  1. Joy says:

    I so appreciate this piece, and your willingness to explore what “place” means in California. As a native Californian, I’ve had a hard time understanding how this place has shaped me because it is full of transplants and transients, making for an ever-shifting narrative. Thank you for your thoughts; I know they’ll provoke mine for a while.

  2. grace says:

    thanks for reading, joy, and for your thoughtful comment. the question of how place in general shapes us, well, that’s an ongoing exploration for sure. and california certainly presents unique and (to me) compelling challenges to such a quest. we’ll have to see where it takes us…but i have a feeling that, no matter where we’re from, “an ever-shifting narrative” will end up being a pretty good description of the journey!

  3. David Wimbish says:

    Thank you for the beautifully written and thoughtful piece regarding the imprint California makes on all of us who live here. Every word was spot on, and I especially loved your choice of metaphors. You reminded me that our state is a complex place — far removed from the stereotypes one often hears — and that there are plenty of reasons to be proud to be a Californian.

  4. katherine says:

    “We watch dreams break on reality over and over again just like waves on the hard, brittle, and breathtaking coastline along the Pacific Coast Highway.”

    This sentence and many others in this essay hurt me so good the way that LA does on a daily basis. You are a true, honest gift, grace f. Thanks for waking up my aesthetic side today.

  5. Madison says:

    What a beautiful piece exploring the complexities of roots, direction, and knowing. You are such a gift, friend.

  6. Michelle says:

    Such writing evokes thoughts of the poignancy of one’s life story, whether it be in California or any other state. Though the metaphors are succinctly more coastal California in nature, they speak in broader terms of the common struggle of our species to reach a greater understanding of ourselves and our place in this world. Beautifully written, Grace. Thank you.

  7. Lori Gunn says:

    This is a beautiful piece, “gracefully” written. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself). From one native Angelena to another, thank you for delving in and revealing the scars and beauty marks California leaves on the psyche. Brava.

  8. James says:

    What a wonderfully written essay. It has often seemed to me that stories are one of humanity’s most powerful tools for survival. The ability to craft mnemonic narratives about our surroundings has helped our species remember what to eat, what to wear, and how to comprehend the infinite complexities we are constantly exposed to. Yet, each environment has its own rhythms—and those rhythms may very well shape the tales we tell and the themes explored.

    At times, I have wondered if my love for bittersweet endings comes from the native tastes of a Connecticut fall. Or if my appreciation for circular stories comes from a childhood filled with a regular flow of seasons. And I have wondered to what extent those sensibilities have shaped my own faith.

    In my discussions with friends from home, we are barely bothered by the fact that there is no succinct answer to most spiritual questions. Yet, in Los Angeles many folks seem to demand answers in a three act structure with a tidy dénouement.

    Our environment undoubtedly shapes us. It provides a framework from which we attempt to understand even that which is beyond its boundaries. The question is how do we best employ this powerful tool which we so often wield with little awareness or acuity.

    • grace says:

      james, i loved your observation about the more obvious cycle of seasons back east vs the more subtle season changes here and how that may affect our faith sensibilities. i think you’ve given me an idea for my next post… :)

      this, too, i found interesting in your comment:

      “In my discussions with friends from home, we are barely bothered by the fact that there is no succinct answer to most spiritual questions. Yet, in Los Angeles many folks seem to demand answers in a three act structure with a tidy dénouement.”

      i’ve been pondering this, because certainly L.A., and california in general, is known (sometimes to its detriment in the estimation of others) for attracting a wide range of diverse religions and beliefs. and as a friend pointed out when i was talking to him about this yesterday, if you don’t find one you like, hey, start your own!

      so while my first reaction was that if any place is about asking and living with questions, it’s california! but then i thought that the very intensity of diversity here, the drive to keep on seeking, the constant questioning, may very well be the sign of the pressuring need to have The Answer one way or another, tidy or not.

      but so i wonder, did the willingness amongst your friends to accept that there are no succinct answers lead you to the feeling that there were other questions of more pressing importance? in other words, are the spiritual questions worth discussing if no answer can be found? or is the fact that i would even ask that question a sign of my californianity? :)

  9. Mark Tork says:

    Exquisitely written. Bravo!

  10. Bryan says:

    That was fantastic, Grace….

  11. Gil G. says:

    This is an interestingly insightful piece of writing! I like the statement that insists ” Because the truth is that the world is not what it seems. It defies easy narrative, … ” Bravo!

  12. nan rae says:

    I am in sheer awe of this piece. It’s depth and beauty fills my soul and will be read and re-read. Thank you!

  13. […] previous post launched my ongoing series about faith, writing, and what I keep calling (perhaps not very […]

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