I’m not a local, but then again, who is?

So cliche.

I was born in Colorado, spent three years in West Virginia, lived in Oklahoma for middle and high school, went “back east” to Boston for university, and then farther east to Egypt, and then even farther east to San Francisco.

To many people in California, Oklahoma is just as exotic as the Lost Kingdom of Thormasgurd, except no one wants to know more about Oklahoma. They assume things are radically different “out there” and they’re usually right. Sometimes they even express a fear of going to the middle place in the US because it’s a lawless, conservative backwater where people tie jackets around their waists, and I encourage this by tightening my cardigan around my middle and yelling “Yeee haw!” every time I meet someone.

I remember the first time my parents visited me at Boston University. I’d been away for all of eight weeks or less when they visited in early October, but on the way to Legal Seafood, I felt compelled to show them how city-savvy I’d become by wearing an eggplant J. Crew sweater and jaywalking, often stranding my parents on opposite sides of the street. Instead of proving myself an adroit city-dweller, I pissed off the parentals through my reckless walking behavior and ended up feeling dumb and sweating because it wasn’t cold enough to be wearing a sweater and speed walking.

Over the course of four years, and it did take me four years because I’m a slow realizer, I found that I would never be a local in Boston, that somehow my Oklahoma roots were standing out ever starker on the scalp of my collegiate experience (unwise metaphor?), and that, to my never-ending surprise, I was actually encouraging it, getting involved in things like stew-making and contra dancing and prairie-dress-wearing. While in the northern wasteland, I found comfort in identifying with a mostly mythological Oklahoma, not at all the same one I had mildly despised while growing up. The Oklahoma in my collegiate mind was something else. It was a warm fire in winter and a sense of belonging in a place where everyone was far from home.

Now in San Francisco, I’m finding the same phenomenon to be true. Though I haven’t lived in Oklahoma for roughly five years, it’s still the place I’m “from,” and I will likely be from there my entire life. In cities like San Francisco, many people are in a similar boat. Maybe not one quite as conservative or mythologically rich, but most people are not “from here.” Many are from other parts of California or other states on the West Coast, and they’ve been drawn to the hilly flame of San Francisco like hapless moths, just like I have. Quite often there’s nary a local to be found.

Being a local is a kind of rare currency in this city. It connotes intimacy with a place that so many people desire, and it’s something that can’t be bought or earned. It can only happen or be given by parents foolish enough to try to withstand the expense and private-school calculus of raising a child in the city.

I will never be a local here, no matter how asymmetrical my haircut is.  The only place I am a local is back in Oklahoma. I think that makes me a continual explorer, but it also adds the burden of creating home every place I go, but I guess that’s what we all have to do anyways. At least I’m in good company.

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23 thoughts on “I’m not a local, but then again, who is?

  1. […] you liked this blog post, you might also like: I’m not a local, but then again who is and Finally, a Bachelorette Party that Celebrates Pain, Confusion, and Fear and The Oatmeal that […]

  2. Taylor Huff says:

    And who wants to be a local? Unless the local’s locale is as exciting as SF.. but who wants to live in the same place they have always lived and do things they have always done?

    A fellow Okie, of course, but now in Houston. Texas or no, Houston is incredibly diverse. Yet it’s still the Southwest (?). With the same attitudes. And the same “My Carbon footprint is bigger than your Carbon footprint” bumper stickers.

    And the worst part – 10 days of vacation for the ENTIRE year. Does ‘real life’ have to be this way?

    • edrevets says:

      I honestly don’t know what ‘real life’ looks like. I’ve asked a couple friends and they don’t know either. I think we make it as we go along, but it’s not as rosy as the “follow your dreams” rhetoric I believed all the way through graduation. That stuff turns into “get a job” pretty quick.

  3. Arizona girl says:

    I will always be an Arizona girl at heart, but because of my family’s roots, I am very comfortable with life in Germany. What’s odd though, is when you feel at home in two places, it leads to this sense of always missing out on something. Example – in Germany I miss the open desert and everything bagels; in Arizona I miss riding my bike to the grocery store and cozy winter evenings.

  4. I was born in Montana, so I am not a local in Texas, where I currently live…..and I’m glad I’m not a local.

  5. Kimberly says:

    Calgary, AB is similar. People have a certain celebrity status if they were actually born and raised there.

  6. Being born in one country in the UK but brought up in a different one, still within the UK also has problems, in 1997 I returned to the city I was born in and people still reckon I’m Scottish. I’ve always thought of myself as a British European since the early 70’s anyway. In fact there are more “foreigners” living here now than there are Natives. I reckon the same is true of almost every city these days, no-one seems to stay in one place all their lives. However, I see this as a positive thing because it brings a terrific mix of people together and I like to get on with as many as possible, Arabs, Jews, Irish, Americans, Canadians, Chinese and this helps to breed a sense of new communities as long as people don’t hide away.

  7. gwynnem says:

    I couldn’t agree more with your post. For me, home is where I have friends and a connection to that place. Great post!

  8. sillyliss says:

    You know if you keep going east like that, eventually you will break the space-time continuum, right? You have been warned…

  9. tomwisk says:

    We’re all visiting on the way to somewhere. Make the best of where you are and you’ll always be from here.

  10. I lived in Florida for four years in my early 20s, which was . . . a while ago. I still feel like Florida . . .or at least “the South” is where I’m from. It’s weird.

    “Back east” is a term that has always fascinated me. My daughter and her boyfriend just visited Boston and loved it. They think I should move there. I’m not sure what that means. Do they want me out of town?

  11. artzent says:

    Good company is the important thing not what part of the world you are in. You are a sharp lady that will do well anywhere!

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