Meditations in Comfort: East to West
It’s winter here in Carmel Valley. I make myself coffee, step out into the light, listen to the birds and watch a tiny lizard peek from under a pot. I carefully tip toe around some new spider webs. My new concern for their homes simultaneously baffles me and makes sense.
We’re all being blown around by the wind while trying to create a home -- a place where we can comfortably exist.
Flash back to New Year’s Eve, 2016. A night of high-volume, never-ending dinner service. A no square-inch to move, champagne flutes everywhere, barely walking out at 5am kind of service. Not an unusual way to end the night as a restaurant manager in NYC. The type of night you come to expect, in which you won’t kiss your love at midnight, but hell, a lot of money was made.
I didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to drag my bones home at twilight. I didn’t want to fold myself into an Uber in the empty, dark night, to an empty, dark matchbox. I didn’t want to miss out on celebrations with people I loved sharing life with. And so by fall 2017, after a glorious 14-year rollercoaster ride in the big city, I moved. I moved as far west as I could.
Carmel, California. A place I find many know and no one knows about. Some know Clint Eastwood was the mayor. That it has some of the most beautiful coastline the U.S. has to offer. The coveted, multimillion-dollar waterfront homes. The proximity to wine country, rolling hills, ranches, olive trees. For my partner, Claire, however, it is a place of childhood memories with a dear uncle. One who passed away, and whose memory we preserve by caring for the home he built with hard work and love for nature.
At first, the escapism I attained and focus on housework pleasantly numbed what I missed about New York. My friends were far, yes, but a healthy obsession (not) with Instagram allows me to “be with” them. A virtual trickery that I allow to fool me, making me feel as though I am hanging with Russell or Laura on the town, watching Sarah make new ceramics, or witnessing Tomer’s restaurant grow step-by-step. With them in my back pocket, I search for jobs, offer my writing to those who graciously accept to help me make a living, pull weeds, hang pictures, and start a new life.
The comfort I seek and find—the ease and freedom from the pains I allowed New York and restaurant life to afflict upon me—come with some adjustments.
Living in the retirement Garden of Eden, I find myself active and socializing before sunset. Supermarkets, restaurants and bars here cater to the demand of daytime life, and so I accept. But I am a nocturnal creature. This started at a young age, forcing myself to stay awake until my dad, a chef, came home from work, so I could nibble on sardines with him and watch CNN (his downtime, my dad time). Now I’m driving (!) to Trader Joe’s before noon and occasionally treating myself to a midday cocktail in town.
A conversation is often struck with locals at the bar, mostly retirees who lived here before it was pricey and cool, some who worked on ranches, or lived full lives decades ago and worked hard to live here. Some who have lost husbands and wives, dear friends, and still circle back to their haunts. Holding onto cherished routines and memories. Compared to the post-shift, late night soirees I was used to, where conversations go these days put much into perspective.
I see comfort as a symbiotic relationship between physical surroundings and mental state. And my comfort has evolved. In my twenties, the whiplash of restaurant life and blur of late night satiated my need to move in all directions, to use all parts of my mind and bounce around in social circles between Manhattan and Brooklyn. To funnel all that curiosity about human nature and attempt to understand the nonsensical machine behind restaurants in cavernous urbanity—the burrowed tunnels tucked around and deep in the beehive that is the city.
By the end, the wine dinners, the late night crawls, the extra pours became mind-numbingly routine.
The comforts and privilege I initially yearned for and worked toward became a twisted test of endurance; I was looping around a racetrack that had no finish. What I wanted, and didn’t know quite yet, was to tap the breaks and be present without worrying about a missed opportunity. To take a job and learn to love it fully, to cultivate myself in it before wondering what other hotspot would lead me to better networks. To sip on a glass of wine where I am and not chug it because I have to check out that new spot downtown.
I’ve planted a seed of hope here, in green hills and by blue ocean. When the memories of old comforts come back, I walk out into the yard, sit and absorb the sun. We drive 10 minutes to the beach, walk the shoreline, and let the salty fresh air penetrate our lungs and release inner doubts about the future.
At the beach, I secretly anticipate watching the ducks. The currents come in from the horizon and they ride the waves with enviable nonchalance. I imagine they have no fear of what’s to come because they’re so in the moment, so aware of the pattern. I imagine we both sit there, looking out and seeking answers.
Watching plants faithfully grow their fruit, the ocean ebb and flow, the sun cross the sky, I see everything has a purpose. One that is, when observed, beautifully simple and complex. And then I realize I am, too, both simple and complex. And that realization is a wonderful relief. Nature is present, confident in its patterns, giving me an ease and freedom in myself. I know that I am not finding myself here, but growing new layers of my identity. These new comforts, in nature and no longer in city life, are new circles in a personal evolution.
Adjustment and discovery have gifted plenty pleasures. The lack of nightlife allows me to cook and make cocktails at home. The idea of driving home on winding dark roads after dinner and drinks is not inviting, so I make our martinis and plan nice meals. Claire and I make a list, meeting halfway between her herbivore and my carnivore. Some dish we had or tired but true favorite often inspires me. Grilled vegetables with sea salt. T-bone au poivre in a cast iron skillet. Red curry and coconut soup, reeking with lemongrass when I miss Thai food.
The steps toward daily-prepared dinners become meditation. I zone in when making a list, prepping, and plating. I engage in a series of pleasing actions that I bring to completion. Picking up vegetables, cutting them, arranging them; the smell of sautéed onion and garlic, the sounds of coconut milk softly bubbling in my wok; seeing Claire’s eyes widen when surprising her with buttery scallops.
When the looming reality of landing a job and finances set back in, I repeat and am rewarded by the following exercises: walking in the green expanse of the yard, walking the beach, listening to and squinting for insects and birds. Until I focus, until I am calm.
The active earth and moving water around me give answers and provoke a catharsis. I try to keep up with the hummingbird, who doesn’t fret, but keeps moving until she finds the nectar she needs. The succulents in our garden unwaveringly steer toward the sun. The snail in her shell, who when exposed, knows the wave will cover her with sand again.
They are present, and the answers to their needs come to them in it. They find comfort in the presence of their small, big worlds. And so l, as a being focused on my own experience, but also a smaller part of a living, breathing world, mimic their actions. I release and find comfort just being here, in my mind, on this chair, on this soil. Growing as the horizon bears answers.