Sometimes, going to new places can shift you back upon yourself. They can help you find your voice.
I was struggling to make some sense of myself through photography. I’d stumble through streets and alleys, all too often photographing the same things over and over.
I’d put the pictures up on my walls, and try to make something out of them. I wasn’t “trying” to be a photographer, it just sort of happened that way. I liked looking at things. I liked things that bugged me. But miles of film weren’t showing any growth, or change. Just the same old things, restated.
Then Rex took me to Venice Beach, California. An hour there netted me more things to think about than I had achieved in the five years that preceded this. It was as if I found my voice.
I went back a lot. But the change impacted my whole life, even when I wasn’t there. I just saw the world differently. Sure, Bakersfield didn’t have chainsaw jugglers and girls on skates. But it had light, shape, and shade. The trick wasn’t in the scenery, but the perception of it.
Some places just exude a “sense of place.” For others, it’s a subtle quality that you miss when you live there everyday. Every place is special, and you don’t realize that until you are confronted with the oddity of places that aren’t home.
I did grow to feel at home in Venice, but I never lived there. I often fantasized about renting a place and staying there a few months. I never did.
Since that time, I’ve found a few places where I really feel at home, Santa Fe, New Mexico, for example, but I’ve never lived in one. I think that finding my voice had a lot to do with becoming comfortable with the idea that for me, there would never be a home. When I became comfortable with always being a visitor, a stranger, no matter where I stood, then I figured out who I was. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable? There’s just something odd about that. But then, being odd is a large part of my identity too.
So a big sigh was uttered when I read this offer on the C-18L list:
Wanna hobnob on the conference circuit but don’t have the funds? Need aplace to stay for the short-term while you research at UCLA, Clark, USCLibraries?
I have an unusually large two room apartment in commodified-beatnik VeniceBeach. Borders Santa Monica. I am offering a room (but you get the runof the whole place) for short-term stays (up to a week) at $30-40/day (grad.students/asst. profs/independent scholars) and $50/day (other profs.).Price includes breakfast. You can rent the whole apartment for $100/day.Cheaper than a hotel. Full kitchen, bath, etc. Free internet access.Fax machine. Nice sunsets from front windows. 5 minute walk to beach.Shops, dive bars, and trendy restaurants within minutes. Near 3 major bus lines(30 min. to UCLA; or 10-15 minute drive by car). This part of LA is oneof the only areas where the buses are actually decent.
Apartment also has 20 vol. OED, most scholarly eds of all 17th and 18th-cmajor British poets (California Dryden, Yale Johnson and Pope, etc.), plusmuch of the major criticism and biogs., etc. A mish-mash of everythingelse.
I was thinking that the first place I live where I feel comfortable in having a 20 vol. OED will be home (I’d get one, but I certainly don’t want to move it!). Maybe someday. But for now, I’m comfortable with being a stranger, drifting around, doing my best to notice what is strange and wonderful about each place I pass through. Few places scared me as much as Venice though, because I just felt so damned “right” there. I say scared, because perhaps feeling “right” would be the death of me. It certainly worked out that way the last time. I ended up in Arkansas.