Occasionally I read a biographical note about someone (usually a celebrity or writer) who is wedded to one specific place–a homestead, a landscape, a state or a country–has found complete happiness there and has vowed never to leave.

I envy them.

Having lived in many places, I find I’ve left a piece of my heart in each of them. I sometimes feel lonely here in Los Angeles–where I don’t have many friends–but then I realize that I have friends scattered all over the world. Thank goodness for email! I grew up in Ann Arbor and loved that town, although I don’t have friends there anymore. I loved it so much that when my father relocated us to the country, I rode my bike on the highway for an hour in each direction in order to walk along the green grass and feed the squirrels on the University of Michigan campus once again. I haven’t been back for many years, but I’m sure it’s just as lovely as it ever was.

Next, I ventured to the Big City: New York City, to be exact. Only a naïve young girl would make such a move, but I’m glad I did, because that’s where I met Whitley, who had just returned from a year in London. His apartment was shabby, but we were happy together. I tell my own kids, who are also struggling, that they don’t have to believe me now, but they will someday realize that these were the happiest days of their lives.

It will always be our home, and we still visit at least twice a year, so I KNOW it’s improved, thanks to Rudy Giuliani. Everyone who lived in NYC in the 90s appreciates what he did to clean up the city by promulgating, along with Police Commissioner William Bratton, the "broken window" theory. Previously, cops took care of the BIG crimes like homicide and didn’t worry about drunks and muggers, carjackers, litter and graffiti, but these two men realized that a messy neighborhood, sporting evidence of lawlessness, inspires bad guys to feel like "anything goes," and commit bigger crimes.

You can even go for a walk after dark there now, something that was unthinkable when Whitley and I lived there. A recent New Yorker cartoon caption says, "It’s not that I love New York. It’s just that I hate everyplace else." Whitley and I both resonate with this.

That’s two pieces of my heart left behind, right there, and the third one was left in Texas. We originally went there because we had relatives and good friends who were sick and dying, or needed to be taken to AA in an "intervention," or in the case of one friend, BOTH.

At first I wasn’t sure if I’d like Texas, and it took me a while to understand it. But once I did, I met friends I hope I’ll keep for a lifetime, and we visit there regularly as well. Nobody makes friends like a Texan. I once asked a woman there why that is, and she replied that it was a legacy of the pioneers, who sometimes had to rely on friends for help that enabled them to survive. My Texas friends have a piece of my heart too.
I now live in a lovely part of Los Angeles, where I can walk to the beach. While it’s probably the most beautiful place I’ve ever lived, it hasn’t captured my heart yet. For one thing, the people we’re in business with here are often too mean–if they can’t use you, they immediately discard you. I know the movie biz is "Hellywood," and I know there are exceptions to this kind of behavior–but I just haven’t seen enough of them yet.

I recently read an article about an expat who was born in Peru, moved with her family to Venezuela as a child and then on to Miami and finally to New York City, where she went college. While a college student studying fashion, she spent four months of every year visiting relatives in Paris, where she now lives. She said she thinks of places in terms of the cities she’s visited or lived in, not countries (for instance, "Miami," not "Florida"). I realize I think of the world in the same way–especially if it’s a city in which I’ve left friends behind.

But I actually see the world more if a kind of honeycomb–and some of those crevices are filled with people I love. So I’m still looking for my "Shangri-La," that magical place where I’ll be content. But I think it may be my fault that I haven’t found it yet–I suspect I’m too restless to ever be completely happy in any one place.

Now I have to learn how to be content with THAT.

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  1. When I was young I used to
    When I was young I used to think that if only I could live in San Francisco or Berkeley I’d be the happiest man alive. I’ve never gotten to live there so I haven’t been totally disabused of that yet, but the last time I visited the rents and cost of living gave me second thoughts. Maybe I could be a vagrant there and take advantage of their excellent social services. Hmmm…

  2. By the way, Anne–“Tejas”
    By the way, Anne–“Tejas” actually means “friendship”.

  3. Anne, your piece resonates
    Anne, your piece resonates with me so much. As a USAF military dependant. I have spent 3-5 years in many places. Taking your cue of cities: Valdosta,Phoenix,Manila,Charleston,Athens,Vacaville,Teheran,Bordentown,Biloxi,
    New Orleans and now Phialdelphia. I am always ready to “change my fish bowl” and live a nomadic life- samness and routine kill my spirit. As a Child, nothing can come close to summers in Greece with mountains & oceans and easy Med lifestyles. As an American citizen one has the best of both worlds. My father often extended his tour of duty as long as possibile, as we never enjoyed coming back to the states as much as life overseas. We loved Teheran so much before the coup in ’79. Big Snows and dry summers, much like CA. I found it lonely to return to the states.You see, people grow up in 1 place and already have their friends and don’t really need new ones. Whereas when you have a small group of Americans living in a foreign land people welcome the new kid in town- it’s Mayberry in an exotic local! Much drama in high school trying to fit in , I moved 4 times in High School a bad time for a teenager to move. I don’t regret it now , but then I did. I left so many friends around the world that I will never see again. My best advice is to be a joiner and meet new folks who share a common interest. My new fantasy locations are to live where I can sail the world or maybe only the ICW! Maybe in Delmarva. To own a hobby farm in a small community, but with marina access. Places like Britsh Columbia, Costa Rica. call also… One day soon. You are fortunate that you are not tethered to your job and you have the freedom to roam. When My children grow up, I shall fly….thx for your journal!
    Oh and btw, you never have friends like when you were in Middle school and in your early 30’s. Good Luck in La La Land.

  4. Boy, what a great piece,
    Boy, what a great piece, Anne. Really struck home for me too. I’ve lived in FL where I grew up. Moved to London at 18 and stayed for 15 years. Moved to Chapel Hill, NC for 17 years and really felt at home there. Now I’m in NYC after a marriage to a native NYer, and I’ve been in culture shock for 4 years! I too hope to find my Shangri-la, but I have a feeling it is all inside me and I don’t know where I’d like to move to after our time here is through. I hope I’m guided when the time comes. Thanks for everything, Anne.

  5. As an academic, I’ve lived 6
    As an academic, I’ve lived 6 places over the last 14 years. I’m mostly worried about how it might negatively affect our kids. Hopefully the benefits of living all of these places will overcome problems of not settling anywhere.

    My spouse and I miss the close friends that we can just call or visit anytime. On the other hand, we’ve gotten to know many fine people wherever we lived. It can be difficult to get to know people, but the advantage is that we can largely manage who we get involved with by the activities we choose.

    I have been able to get involved with community organizations in just about every town, including political, environmental and theater. The tradeoff is that I’m always one of the worker bees and rarely get to any decision making position. Usually that’s fine. I like to work, and others who have been around longer can make decisions better than me.

    One more point is that our mobility has come with great costs associated mostly with fossil fuels. If we don’t have breakthroughs in energy and technology, we could be living in the only 50-100 year window in history when such nomadic wandering is possible for so many. If we do have breakthroughs, it could simply be the start of people having the opportunity to wander over the earth and beyond, or to stay put if they wish.

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