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.