Late October and by tomorrow, it will be in the mid-90’s. By Tuesday, it will be 100 degrees. The relentlessness of a Southern California autumn hardly ever gets written about. The Santa Ana winds gust from the east at near tropical storm strength and the humidity dives into single digits as the temperatures climb in excess of 100 degrees, and steady in the high 90’s. It doesn’t last forever–but it feels like it will. No one wants to disparage what they see as paradise, not while they’re trying to sell it. Half a million dollars here will by you a 1200 square foot home in need of some renovation. In most other states in the U.S., that money can buy you…well, a lot more.
So people burn through dollars to live here, paying thousands of dollars for rent or hundreds of thousands for a piece of their little slice of paradise–and ignore that the crowded, hot, confines offer very little. In order to afford it, you must work more–or better–to make it work. The young people I know imagine they can get out of high school and get a job and build a nest egg. That’s not even an impossible dream. It’s just impossible.
Meanwhile, the state’s recent droughts have left tinderbox conditions allowing massive fires, the likes of which firefighters say they’ve never seen, to rip through neighborhoods at unimaginable speeds. In the northern part of the state, in wine country, the devastation is extraordinary–the loss of life full of grief, sadness and inexplicable sorrow. And the pronouncements of “we will rebuild” begin.
Dreams of an easier life, a life somehow deserved, compel this irrational focus and as I’ve lived here most of my life and still don’t understand it, I’m troubled by my own incapacity for clarity. Certainly there are beautiful days here, more often than not, actually. And as I have lived here nearly my whole life, the people I love are here–I married a native of this place and our daughter is now a native of it, too. Even still, I find myself a stranger here and I thought by now these thoughts, negative compactions of near ignorant ferocity, would blow away with the cool and temperate breeze of age and maturity. They haven’t, though–and I’m unsure of myself.
This is a moment to say so, to work through this lens of frustration. Perhaps it is 27 years in the same career that has got me to this point–and I’m now restless and wandering through the idea of how to change what I do and prepare to retire from it sooner rather than later. Perhaps, too-it is the realization that happiness and contentment are not brought by outside forces, but by inner-peace and that is found in other moments and cannot be wrought entirely by place and career.
But it is also a warning–that life’s changes are impactful and as brilliant a star as shines over our lot who live a middle-class life in a free country, the dreams of that life–airy and wistful, may not be enough to stem the tide of the changes our hearts and minds seek.