California happened to me at the perfect time in my life.
Like many of the best, most defining moments it was a complete accident of circumstance – the right place at the right time. I was lucky, and I’m thankful that I stumbled across an opportunity that I needed.
London will always have a very special place in my heart. It’s where I turned from a confused teenager into an adult. It’s where I first loved and first had my heart broken. It’s where I went truly, deeply mad; and where I healed and put my demons to rest and became whole again. It’s where I learned the true meaning of friendship, and hatred, and forgiveness. It moulded my habits (bad and good) and my attitudes (bad and good).
In short, I would not be who I am if it weren’t for London and the indescribably wonderful people that I was lucky enough to meet there.
But when I left it was because I was ready to leave. I’d been feeling trapped for over a year, worn down by the incredible rushedness of everything London; tired of walking out into the street and feeling bombarded by the perceived psychic soundtrack of everybody’s minds silently screaming “eeeeeee!” as they scurried from place to place; tired of my own mind silently screaming “eeeeeee!”
I missed seeing the horizon and the sky as an overarching dome. I missed quiet, contemplative time. I missed an indefinable part of myself.
For a while before I finally left I’d toyed with the idea of moving somewhere a little less fraught; somewhere down in the West Country maybe. But if you work in the British tech industry (particularly the web side of it) then everything focusses on London. There are a vanishingly small handful of companies who work elsewhere, and even fewer worthwhile jobs with them. It felt like a trap.
And then the offer of work in Sunnyvale dropped into my lap, and I took it.
I’ve put off writing anything about this for the best part of a month now, because my feelings regarding concepts of “home” as relates to London and California are a giant, tangled mess of half-formed emotions and ideas.
I wanted to do the experience of going home to the UK for the first time some justice by exploring it in a nice, logical way but I’m finding it impossible because I can’t unjumble the overarching complexity of it all.
It was deeply lovely to spend some time with some of the best friends I’ve ever had, and to spend time with my family again. And whilst London couldn’t quite feel like “home” (simply because I was sleeping in borrowed beds or on borrowed floors), it was nice to wander those old familiar streets again for a short while.
But I’m not ready to move back to London, and I’m not sure I ever will be. I still perceive that “eeeeeee!” soundtrack; still feel that pressure.
I suspect that if I somehow spend 8 years living in the Bay Area I’ll get to the point where I perceive a similar negative psychic soundtrack; I’ll get annoyed at the SUVs and the foggy San Francisco Junes, the encroaching Christian fundamentalism of America and the studied, slightly fake hippyism of Northern California. But for now it’s still shiny and new and different and it gives me the headspace I need to just be, well, me.
Ultimately, it doesn’t even matter. I realised tonight that I used to define myself by place (“a Londoner”) and now I no longer do. I was looking at two photosets (here and here), one taken in London and the other five days later in San Francisco. Both capture evenings which hold a lot of fond memories. Both include people who I feel very lucky to count as friends.
The only common link between the places and the people is me, but somehow I know that it wouldn’t matter if the Californians were drinking with me in London, or the Londoners in California; or if we were all in Beunos Aires enjoying carnival. What matters is the bonds I have with the people I care about, and the way I live my life, not where I am at any given moment.
I’m still a Londoner in London; fast becoming something of a Californian in California. I’m still a Brit, but I’m probably slightly more American than I used to be. Yet none of those labels and concepts are important.
I’m happy with my life; happy with who I am and who I’m continuing to become, and happy that California affords a perfect backdrop for me to carry on that progression.
So here we are. Happy New Year. I can’t wait to see what accidents of circumstance it brings.