My identity is divided between two states.
I grew up in the great state of Oregon. The Beaver State, home to rocky beaches, Elliot Smith, and Nike. I have an odd relationship with that state. Born and raised there, I always felt the need to defend it, like the brother/sister you can tease but can’t stand to see teased by others.
I defended her because I’ve always felt like where you live defines your identity more than anything else in your life. I had invested a lot of time and energy into figuring out my own identity, and I knew it would never happen without embracing where I grew up. So I did exactly that: I embraced the fact that I grew up in Oregon, and not somewhere more interesting like Chicago or even Seattle. I really learned to love that friggin state, even with all of its rainy days.
My senior year of high school things got a little more confusing — identity wise that is — and it reached a point where I felt I had to run away. Cut my self off from the root, so to speak. So I did, to Virginia.
Since the summer of 2006 I have considered myself an adopted son of Virginia. I absolutely fell in love with that state. Orange leaves, college towns, summer thunder storms, fireflies, all of it. I also fell in love in that state. I love the East. Sometimes it’s hard for me to say that I love it more than the West, but I do.
But now I live in Utah, and it’s been a surreal experience for many reasons. Of all the places in the whole country, I never ever imagined I would live in Utah. I used to joke with my wife all the time that we would end up in Wisconsin or Wyoming, but Utah never even crossed my mind. I had avoided Utah, I thought, because I didn’t go to college at BYU. Because, you see, that’s why people move to Utah, because they went to school at BYU. I didn’t, therefore there would be no good reason for me to move to Utah.
I’ve been fascinated by this whole “journalism” thing for some time now. When I got an e-mail offering me an internship at the Deseret News, my wife and I decided this was the right move for us. So here we are. Salt Lake City. Utah. And now I have a third place to try to fit into my heart and soul. Somewhere new to help shape my identity, even if it’s only for a short while.
I have been surprised though, because both my wife and I have loved being here. The first thing I noticed when I landed at the SLC airport was the beautiful mountains that surround the valley. I can see why the saints thought it would be safe here. It feels so cut off from the outside, like there’s a giant wall blocking Salt Lake from the rest of the world.
We have met wonderful people here. I work with some of the most delightful people I’ve ever met, and both of us have connected (or reconnected) with family out here, which has made it easier to adjust. I’ve even had the chance to meet up with one of my old mission companions, which was something I’ve looked forward to since the day I came home from Brazil almost four years ago.
I love seeing the Salt Lake temple every day. It just doesn’t get old (or at least it hasn’t yet). I love church history, but I was always more interested in the earlier years before the trek west. Being in Utah has piqued my interest in the Utah period though, which has been a delightsome distraction from my usual historical meanderings.
The West is so wide, so open. The streets here are huge which makes Salt Lake the easiest city I’ve ever had the pleasure to drive in. Absolutely everything (that wasn’t built by the pioneers) looks like it was built in the ‘70s. It brings back some weird memories from my childhood, especially the look of the apartment buildings. I can’t explain it, but I can say that Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs hits a different spot emotionally out here than it did in the East. There is something about the hazy dream of the western suburb that I think people who grew up in the East can’t relate too. I may be wrong, but that’s how it feels.
Salt Lake is a very inviting city, and it’s done a great job of welcoming us. We both work downtown so we’ve grown pretty fond of it. I think more so than any other small city I’ve heard of, SLC does a lot to keep it’s young poor people occupied. Free movies projected at the capitol, big name concerts for only $5, and two great outdoor malls within a mile of each other. We stay pretty busy.
Brittany and I talk a lot about the unfortunate stigma that Utah has, you know, because when you grow up outside the Mormon belt you get a little tired of people talking about how great Café Rio is and bragging about growing up in a neighborhood full of Mormons. I think Mormons outside the Wasatch Front can be a little harsh though. This really is a beautiful state, and SLC is really a great city.
Brittany and I had the chance last week to visit her hometown in Southern Utah. I never knew the desert was so beautiful. Big, red rocks that look like they fell strait out of The Searchers. I drove home by myself through those canyons (Brittany stuck around an extra day to be with family but I had to get back for work) and I listened to Joshua Tree. I could swear I had never really heard that album until I listened to it as I weaved through the canyons of Southern Utah.
Besides my appreciation for the history and beauty of the area, I can’t say much about the people. I still haven’t had the chance to get to know many people, besides the ones I work with. They are all great, so If I take them as a representative sample this place is full of kind, intelligent people. We did have a rough experience at a Flaming Lips concert, lots of lame-o’s there, but I hardly think they speak for the state of Utah.
Having said that, I do feel like I’m borrowing all this. It might be a feeling that will go away with time (if we do stay here) but deep down I still feel like an Oregonian son adopted by the good graces of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Utah, to me, feels less like home and more like a fun stop on the way to somewhere else. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.