I took a job in Bakersfield, California, once again leaving all that I know for a place known to be the binary opposition of all that might be desirous. What could it be? What are the people like? Will I notice just how smoggy they say it is? Is there something surreptitiously delightful I would find out about this place once I arrived? Or is it as I heard, “the armpit of California.”
I’ve been here about three weeks now and am finding that there is quite a bit of Bakersfield, CA that I can nest in. True, they say the gangs, and the air quality, and the Okies in Oildale are a tangible reality, but who’s reality? If I don’t turn the news on, and I don’t deviate from the lifestyle I want to live, then who’s reality should I concern myself with? My reality is this: people at the market and gas pump say hello (Minnesota nice anyone?); my coworkers have a small town genuine demeanor about them (as opposed to LA’s, “I-could-give-a-shit-less-if-you-fell-over-and-died-on-the-sidewalk-in-front-of-me ” mentality”); there is an overwhelming presence of vintage country music (Merle Haggard BLVD and Buck Owens Way); and I am in community with people living the real American grind.
This morning I have been reading the free-write journals from my students in my English and Composition 1 class. Though it would be quite innapropriate to share any of their particular thoughts in the blogosophere, I did find a common motif that I’d like to share which ran throughout, something that binds this culture together.
These people are truly living. These are the people who live the grind. In many different ways, holding different positions in the social make-up, they, live the grind. They struggle. They are lonely. They don’t feel comfortable. They have a collective challenge. It’s called, “today.” And here’s the most beautiful part. It makes for amazing writing. The reality flows through the text, swimming and coasting through like the Tule fog that runs through this valley at night. The grind of life, the common denominator. It is these things that makes the art of writing a beautiful aesthetic. It is the challenges of the day that make the 2D text in these Mead Wide Ruled notebooks I read become 3D.
It was in reading these notebooks that I found myself having an identity realization. Now it’s nothing that hasn’t been realized before. It’s something we’ve probably all read about or mused on ourselves, but when it happens, when a realization happens, it doesn’t have to have a stunning “well I never thought of that” nature to it. A realization simply has that slap-you-across-the-face brut truth about it that is definitive of a place and time, or has its own evocation in the moment.
It was something of this nature that slapped truth across my face today, telling me that who we are, who I am, who anyone is, is very much caught up in the company we keep. It sounds like, and is something that Mother’s tell their teenagers. Perhaps it is a timeless truth that comes in waves and at different seasons of life. Today, I find that the company I keep, here in Bakersfield, this is my ideal company. The working wo/man. The Grinders. These, the people whose lives on paper can intrigue as if they were the memoirs of a great Americana writer. Free of trite, hipster guises, and as honest as the itinerant, Dust-Bowler, ancestry from which they stem, this place oozes Americana, where hard work and honesty is what is needed to make something of ourselves. It’s something of a geographical juxtaposition to its neighboring city to the south. The company we keep says a lot about ourselves. Identity.