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FEBRUARY 26, 2009 2:48PM

How much of your identity is where you live?

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 Cities

This is a question I've been thinking about a lot lately... how much of your identity is based on where you live? If you moved somewhere else, would you still be you, or would there be a shift in how you think about yourself?

I've lived in Boston, LA, and Miami. I've spent enough time in NYC to know that I love it. Boston is where I was born. It's forever a part of me even though the Baw-stun accent is mostly gone. I have family there, I love riding the T, sitting in bars or just walking around the city. I never appreciated it when I was growing up, as I really had no idea what was so special about it without having other points of reference. Now that I no longer live there I long for a decent pizza, great cannoli, that Yankee banter that makes outsiders think that Bostonians are all bitter know-it-alls, the crazy curved streets downtown that force pedestrians to run for their lives lest they be hit by invisible cars speeding towards them, blueberry ale in Kenmore Square, and fried whole clams. 

In 1992 (when I was 23), I moved to LA to pursue a career in the music industry. It was ridiculously easy for me to break into the industry, as basically everyone in the entire city works in the "industry" even if they're an accountant or they sell insurance. I started out delivering food to recording studios and within 6 months I was working as an assistant engineer in one. I worked my way up pretty quickly and within 2 years had a great paying job in TV and film.  In addition to a great career, I loved the palm trees, which looked so alien to me,  the hot long haired metal heads that mobbed the Sunset Strip, the fact that you had ocean, mountains, desert, and city all in a 20 mile radius, amazing mexican food, rollerblading on the bike path from Santa Monica all the way down to Redondo Beach and back (stopping at El Torito to get drunk on the way), and the weather. I also loved the Spanish architecture (also alien to me), driving through Century City when it's all lit up at night and looking at the staggering array of interesting artsy people every time I flew into LAX.  I thought I would never move. LA was MY city, the place I chose to live, the place I loved flying into and calling home. I'm still a little unsure why I moved away. I remember writing a friend and saying that I was making too much money and starting to feel superficial. How fucked up is that??!!!

So in 2000, my then boyfriend of 6 years was homesick for Miami and wanted to settle down and buy a house. We looked at places in LA but decent houses on the west side were at least $500k and that amount of money was staggering to us, even though we both had great incomes. For the hell of it, we started looking at houses in Miami and found a place we both loved. It had coconut and banana trees in the backyard. I think I became drunk with the idea of home ownership and forgot that not every place is like LA. It didn't hit me that we were moving until I was on the 10 heading east in a moving truck with 2 cats, 2 cars, a boat, and everything I owned. Oh yes, and the boyfriend too. 

It really hit me 3 weeks later when I turned in my California driver's license for a Florida one and saw a hologram of the state seal imprinted on my face. Panic set in. I had never before realized how much of my adult identity was as a California girl until it was gone.  I loved my house, but I hated everything else. I eventually broke up with the boyfriend, sold the house for a huge profit, and bought my own condo. I've now lived here for 8 years and I don't really have a list of things I love about Miami. The weather's nice, my cats have a good home, there are some great restaurants, and the ocean is really beautiful. Meh. 

It's kind of funny, because people here always ask me where I'm from. It's pretty obvious that I don't look like I belong here. I don't speak spanish, I have blue eyes, and I don't even have a tan. I couldn't look LESS like a native. When I travel to New York City, (which is 7-8 times a year) everyone assumes I live there and I'm always getting asked for directions. I have the pale city complexion, I'm usually alone, and I can tell you where to find the best cannoli (Veniero's), pizza (Lombardi's), chicken wings (Dino BBQ), cheesecake (Junior's in Brooklyn), vegetarian food (Dirt Candy), and Indian food (Banjara). I can even engage in pretty good arguments about the best transportation routes. My boyfriend (who lives in NYC) tells me I shouldn't move there because all the things I love about the city would be ruined once I had to endure a daily commute, 4-5 months of depressing winter, homeless people, and drug addicts. Point taken.

The one thing I'll say about Miami is that I've grown as a person a lot since I moved here. I became an adult. I learned how to deal with people, learned a lot about myself, learned that no matter what language people speak they're still people... for better or for worse. I've learned about different cultures, traveled a lot, and learned to appreciate my family as being the people who will always be there, no matter what. 

But even after 8 years, I still don't identify myself as a Floridian or as a Miamian. This is not my home, it's just where I live. For now. I don't hate it, I'm not miserable, I'm not up for moving again any time soon, and I've made a decent life for myself. Yet something's missing. I miss having an identity attached to where I live. I miss flying into my home airport, seeing the blue runway lights, and thinking "This is HOME!".

Is this just what happens when we get older? Or do you think there's a place for each of us that defines us and makes us who we are?

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hey, congrats on the ep! it's weird, this question. i've called 4 out of 5 continents home. i consider myself a californian of sorts, and i'm dutch!

the one place i'm not identified with, like you, is where i live today.
I know exactly what you mean. Maybe you should consider moving again before you've gone through your life living in a place that was just ok but wasn't really home.
But it is a pain in the ass to pull up stakes and move. I moved to Chicago once, stayed three years, cut my losses and moved back. Thumbed and friended (if that's ok.)
I lived in south Florida for over ten years and it never felt like home. There were some good things about the area: the Bahamas are very close, flights to Europe are a dime a dozen, and the weather in the winter is damn fine. But these were more than outweighed by the ugliness of the ever sprawling urban landscape, what must be some of the most dangerous driving conditions in the country, and horrendously hot and humid summers that got longer every year.

I am much happier on the West coast and don't mind a bit that we had foot of fresh snow (surprise!) on the ground this morning.
Yes, Ablonde. Driving in Miami involves dealing with tourists, the elderly, people who have no licenses or learned to drive in other countries, and the locals who are so frustrated that they drive as fast as possible at all times to get away from all of the above. My friend recently got rear-ended at 8am while going 70 mph on I-95. The person who hit him was on his way home from a party on the Beach, was still drunk, and had fallen asleep at the wheel. At 70 mph!!! At 8am!!!
I know what you mean: born and raised in Boston; moved to SF bay area; up and down the coast of CA; moved to Kauai,then Oahu; moved to Ft. Worth Texas; yearned & yearned to move back to Oahu and did. And might end up in Colorado in the next decade. So interesting! thanks.
I can relate. Born in France sort of by accident, from a French mother and an Italo-Russian father, raised in the French West Indies upt to the age of 6, then in France, then erring from France to the UK, to the ex-USSR, to Australia and now to the US where I think I am finally accepted as everyone else comes from somewhere else here... Just need to make a big final jump to Hawaii where I have been twice now and where home calls, because strangely enough it's like being a child in the Caribbean again.
The questions you ask at the end are ones I've been grappling with, but I think, ultimately, some places are more like home and others are just places one lives. And if you have the option, I'd go for living in a place that feels like home.

I very much related to your post because, although I grew up in Texas, I grew up as an adult in Boston. And I adore Boston. I left a little over four years ago to move to LA for graduate school. And I loved LA. I had been here on vacation and decided that I wanted to live here, so now I do. It's an amazing city. But I think a lot about moving back to the East Coast because it feels more like home.

Anyway, great writing!
I think it's kinda like love. We might THINK there is only one [place/person] that can make us happy, but there are really LOTS of them out there for us. Just not ALL of them. And finding ONE of them is hard enough.

We just all so different, we might have to shop a bit. We stop when we feel like we're home. But that doesn't mean it will always feel like home...
Same here. I am comfortable where I now live and have a good support system. I love the warm winters, but, a big part of me still lives in the Rocky Mountain city I left. When I am there for a visit, I am HOME!
New York City has always felt like home, even though I lived there for 20 years and in the nearby Long Island suburbs for 40 years.
Born in UT, raised in Southern California (Orange County), and chose San Francisco to live. Though I'm back in Orange County again, I still call San Francisco ... home.

I know that SF helped me - it allowed me space to open up, experience life, and start on the road of discovering who I am. That is something that I was able to take with me when I went on the road before I wound up back here.
Golf clapping for the EP!
Great question and one very close to my heart.
I am almost finished with a piece on this very subject.
Moving to Europe was *huge*.
(Can't comment more, I'll give up too much stuff!)

Very good descriptions of the bumps and turns and self evaluation.
I was just answering this question yesterday! (I wrote a book about searching for a home.)

I sometimes think the fastest, easiest way for someone to get to know me is to tell them I'm from Jersey.

I lived in SF for four years and easily assumed the role of Bay Area chick. But when I lived in Boston I pretty much defined myself in opposition to everything I thought a New Englander was.

Even microregionally, we label ourselves. I was a Brooklynite -- but Carroll Gardens, most assuredly NOT a Park Sloper or a Billyburger. It's taken a while to get the hang of it, but now I'm really proud to be an uptown Inwoodite.

Humans are tribal. I think it's hugely important to be able to feel we're somewhere in the world where we belong.
p.s. Your bio could have been torn from a book of my thoughts on life.
I truly believe everyone is gifted and it is our quest to shine as a show of thanks(to whomever/whatever). :)
I do think there's a place we each call HOME. I love where I'm at right now (Michigan) but most likely I will have to move out of state due to economic circumstances. It' just killing me. In many ways I think of Europe as home since I love it so much and identify with the people.

If you have the means to move and to find HOME, go for it. . . you can do it. Just close your eyes and click those shoes three times . . .
One of the best compliments I ever get is when people say to me, "Where are you from? You don't sound like you're from here (Texas)!"

Of the places I've lived, I think New Orleans stuck with me way longer than other places (SF, Boston) but that's probably due to the fact that I was in my early teens living there, which are pretty formative years for anyone.
Great post. Related immensely. As a matter of fact, until I read your post, I never understood why I had such an anxiety attack going to the NJ DMV here...that's why! It was identity. I was giving it back to my dumb, old home state and I didn't want to. The connection was no longer there.

With that said, I think you hit the nail on the head re: growing as a person. Listen, we don't always make the right decisions when it comes to moving but at least we take chances (some of my close friends have NEVER left our hometown!) And while I'm back in Jersey, feeling quite disconnected, I still get work done, on myself. And I still find people, when I allow myself to open up and not be so judgmental.

Re: NYC...trust me, your boyfriend is right. NYC is the ULTIMATE Jekyll and Hyde. Everyone LOVES the city when they visit. Living there, a whole other animal...kinda literally!
So many fascinating journeys. I love the comments!

Seattlek8- I think you're right on with your comment "We might THINK there is only one [place/person] that can make us happy, but there are really LOTS of them out there for us. Just not ALL of them. And finding ONE of them is hard enough." I love this!

Beth Mann- You're so right. LA and NY both have this mythical quality for me. There's something nice about having a place or 2 or 3 that you can fly to and experience Nirvana, even if only for a short time. I get to experience the best of a place by visiting and never have to acknowledge the warts... which would break my heart. My personality type is "Idealistic, IFNP". Maybe I just don't like to live in reality? It works for me:)
I am a Los Angelino till the day I die...no matter where I live.
I've lived in Albuquerque for 35 years, but a recent trip to my home town (almost) made me long to return there. I wandered through the Haight/Ashbury, caught a football game in a really cool neighborhood bar, got my first tattoo, and made a silent commitment to myself that I would some day return. I guess you never quite get over the place you grew up.
I am sitting in my apartment in Santa Monica pondering the concept of home. I happened upon OS by googling "long-distance boyfriend of four years never talks about a future with me". I came upon your posts and found some comfort through your writing. Thanks for sharing:) So, back to the idea of home. I am about to move out of this apartment and into a new one within the next week. My family all lives in New England. Lately with the Fall season quickly approaching I have been feeling a bit homesick. Los Angeles has been growing on me since I moved here 2 years ago. I do believe that I am starting to love it but, when I think of home I think about the people who love me and who I love. I feel at home when I am in Vermont visiting my family, and when I am in NYC and CT visiting friends. I also now feel at home in the company of my lovely girlfriends that I am so lucky to have found here in California. Home...it really is a bittersweet concept in this day and age isn't it? Perhaps it always was.