Where are you from?

I’ve just returned from a weekend writers’ conference. Usually, I falter to answer the simple question, “Where are you from?” Do they mean originally? Well, that’s easy. I answer The Eastern Shore of Maryland with pride. Do they mean where I live now? My answer won’t tell anything about who I am.

At this conference, the name of my town was broadcast on my nametag. Strangers commented, “Ah! So you’re from Mill Valley, California.” I found myself making excuses. “I’m not really from there,” I’d say. “I just live there.” What I wanted to make clear is that I’m not wealthy and I don’t feel entitled or superior; I’m not one of them. I realize I’m embarrassed to be identified with the place where I live. And that’s rather a sad place to be. (Lest you think I’m being too harsh on fellow Mill Valleyans, my neighbors collected over $100,000 to sue Habitat for Humanity to prevent them from building on our street.)

I felt proud to live in Romania and Hungary. And I loved living in Berkeley – just across the bay. People in Berkeley and Mill Valley share many values, but that’s where it ends. Berkeley people order their lives according to their convictions. When a Berkeleyite says they don’t think animals should be killed, they become a vegan, never touch leather, and spend a year in a tree to protest. A Mill Valleyan might make the same claim, but they do so wearing a suede coat from their gas-guzzling SUV with leather interior en route to a five-course duck confit dinner. I prefer Berkeley’s way.

I’m hoping that when we move in nine months, we’ll settle in a place that I’ll be proud to call home. Until then, I sincerely apologize to the good-hearted people of Mill Valley whom I’ve now offended.

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