"You have to come down if you want your stuff," Beatrice said. "There's termites under the building and I have to fumigate."
I can't remember what I stored with Beatrice while exiting Los Angeles for rural Kansas , but lately I've been missing certain photos, journals and scripts. In ‘04, I fled after 20 years of trying to make a career and happy love life. My friends begged me not to go:
"You're the last person in the world who should move to Kansas !" said my charming boss.
"One thing I'm hearing about where you're going...No available men," said my handsome therapist.
"You won't be able to find a job. People will see you as an outsider. Like when I moved to Florida ," said a well-meaning friend.
I hail from a Florida town that I longed to escape. Left home at 19 and sought my fortunes in Boston, Canada, Chicago, San Diego, and L.A. before two old friends, a mother-daughter duo, talked me into joining them in the middle of nowhere in Central Kansas where they'd moved after doing time in big cities. Nellie and Olga hailed from pioneer stock and had returned to their roots. I was still in search of mine.
I downsized and drove to Lucas , Kan. (pop. 400). Soon my L.A. friends' predictions came true, and instead of settling on the naked prairie, I felt "home" drift even farther out of reach. Still, I found work that I loved within 100-mile radius of Lucas, working for two community newspapers and a PBS-TV station. But that's another story.
My L.A. friends kept in touch. Most liked my fractured tales of the exotic People We Fly Over. But one e-mailed: No more stories of those lug-nut women and their jello creations. That's why I left North Dakota.
In ‘06, my finances tanked so I took a full-time job as a reporter in Missouri and was fired on Day Three. Next came tornadoes. I spent nights on the bathroom floor with my cat waiting for our house to be torn off its foundation and sent sailing through the sky.
At this point, the Dorothy parallels failed to amuse.
My brother in Florida sent me money to move, and an acquaintance in San Francisco advised me that there was a sweet deal on an apartment next to hers. I jumped on it, leaving behind more possessions, and drove back with the cat in the navigator's seat while Joni Mitchell sang, " California , I'm coming home" on the radio.
In San Francisco , most locals view me as a gypsy. A lost human. A stray. They put down their roots long ago and they have enough friends. My creative life has been full. I wrote a play and produced/directed it at a known theater. Now I'm shooting a documentary film. A few Bohemian artists at Caffe Trieste proclaimed me a "good writer." I had an exciting fling with a young man. But internal emptiness remains. My phone doesn't ring much. I don't click with people that way. It's been three years.
I recently began working with life coach Jennifer Clevidence, and we agreed my central question is "What is home?" I have to write out thoughts about home three times a day. And I also ask myself "What supports me?" “When do I feel worthy?”
Last summer I made my first trip back to L.A. and was struck by my old Elysian Park neighborhood's glorious date palms and abundant foliage. On the street, Latinos, artists and strangers smiled hello, triggering good memories that I'd buried in my psyche and covered with ashes of resentment.
When I saw my L.A. friends for the first time in four years, I was able to feel their warmth. Are you coming back, they ask. Are you? As we reconnected, I realized how deeply the City of Angels has affected me and vice versa. I finally got the "homecoming" I'd missed by going to San Francisco first. I went back to L.A. two more times last year.
So now I’m going to reclaim the stuff I left behind as I consider moving back. All the way down, I’ll be wondering why I chose to live in a social vacuum when my heart is in L.A. Is it because I can still remember lonely times in "Lost Angeles”? Yes, my friends are happy to see me, but what would the long haul be like? I'm no spring chicken, as my L.A. friend Tom often reminds me.
Or have I honestly come to believe that home is where I am? Not exactly what Dorothy said. But there's no place like it.
Marlan Warren is a writer/producer currently docked at San Francisco. She wrote/co-produced the documentary "Reunion" and is now producing a doc based on her play "Bits of Paradise," which showcased at The Marsh Theater and focuses on a campaign led by activist Yuri Kochiyama and waged by Japanese American interned girls & women who wrote letters to J.A. soldiers to keep up their morale during World War II. Warren is the unpublished author of the memoir "Roadmaps for the Karmically Challenged.” To view her on-the-road photos, visit http://www.flickr.com/people/marlanwarren/