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Yesterday, my aunt emailed me about this blog. She told me about her time studying in Santa Barbara in the 1980s, and the warning she was given repeatedly as an incoming foreigner: “You’ve come to California. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re in America.

I don’t know if it’s true (is it true, Americans?), but it did bring one of my favorite Californians to mind. Let me tell you about her, then you tell me whether the Californian Republic should formally secede from the Union.

I myself am Californian enough that I regularly visit a massage therapist to get thoroughly rubbed. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to call my masseuse “Shanti.” A lovely and vibrant person, Shanti is scary-good at her job.

How to describe Shanti? If she were a drink, she’d be homemade kombucha. If she were food, she’d be an activated almond harvested by moonlight and exchanged for a reiki session from a dear friend. If she were an item of clothing she would be a unique garment comprising a kaftan with built-in yoga pants.

Shanti has a lot of interests, and loves to talk. Last week she chose to wax lyrical on a familiar subject, The Dangers of the Modern World. Among the things Shanti knows are killing us are:

  • hair dye
  • microwaves
  • anything non-organic
  • Apple watches
  • the internet.

She’s a loving being, Shanti, and she really does want to protect me from these evils. She’s been known to go through the refrigerator in my house, uninvited, and discard anything that doesn’t meet her standards. “They are really hurting you, Ro,” she’ll tell me, citing her favorite evidence for the damage I’m doing to myself. Looking at me gravely, she likes to intone ominously: “There are a lot of studies out there.”

If Shanti were an animal, she’d be a llama.

But you know, I have to confess that even when she’s throwing out perfectly good food while I sit quietly and fume (it goes worse if you argue), there’s something deeply caring about my daffy masseuse.

She was the first American to sincerely and unironically welcome me into the world of self-care. “Learn to receeeeive, Ro,” she would croon, week after week, as she rubbed the kinks out of my bad shoulder. And I realized how foreign that idea was to to me.

Bilbo does not struggle with self-care.

Self-care is something that Californians take very seriously, and none more than Shanti. “Girl, you need to dedicate time every day to yourself,” she says, adding with another familiar unironic Californian pop-psych flourish, “Time to escape your worries and your codependency.”

Keep rubbing me, I would think in the early days, and I won’t even snort at this.

See, where I come from, it sometimes feels that the very word “self” is borderline taboo, unless you’re using it in deprecation of some kind. Case in point: not long after I came to live in California, I was on the phone with a friend, and described a plan to spend a couple of days with friends doing some navel-gazing.

“I don’t know,” she said. “Sounds kind of self-indulgent.”

Part of me completely agreed.  There’s an instinctive cultural resistance in me that has trouble finding the line between self-care and self-indulgence, but California has been helping me learn to relax… and receive.

Bask in it.

They say America is the culmination of individualism, and at least on this coast, taking care of yourself is a serious business. Shanti knows it. Shanti’s so into self-care that if she were a scented candle, she’d be Ylang-Ylang and bergamot. Seriously.

So yeah, I’m learning to bask a little in California’s self-care. It lets you have a massage every week. And to forgive yourself for wanting one.

Shanti tells me to receive, and I let my body melt into her strong and earnest hands. I no longer snort when she tells me that the CIA is tracking me on my smartphone. I let her care for me, and in doing so I care for myself.

As she rubs me and my shoulder finally begins to let go, it occurs to me that if Shanti were a chakra, she’d be the heart.

Questions for Americans: Is California really that far out? Or was my aunt just caught up in just those crazy ’80s in Santa Barbara?

I really dig America.

But I haven’t really dug into America. You know? I’ve lived here for a while now, but that time has been spent living in the middle of a forest and so I haven’t exactly saturated myself in the marrow of the culture. (Eww.) No question: ignorance is always a missed opportunity. In my defense, I’ve been busy making a new life and falling in love and other distracting activities, so up to now I’ve given myself a pass.

That ends today.

It’s my intention to go on living in this country until the good Lord strikes me down where I stand. So it’s time I learned… um, where it is I stand, exactly. Time I learned a little something about this adopted country of mine.

I’m writing this on July 4th, 2018, sitting in my home on the California ranch where I live with my cute and unconventional family unit. In less than two weeks, the cute family and I will embark on a Really Big Adventure. We’re moving waaaaay across the country, to the eastern tip of Pennsylvania. So basically, from living 30 minutes from the literal sand-and-water West Coast to 60 minutes from the literal mafia-victim-bones-and-icy-sludge East Coast.

We’re a bunch of crazy kids, my people, and big moves is how we do.

Along with my resourceful, goodlooking wife, I’m going to drive the 3000-odd miles from California to Pennsylvania. Our goal is to do this in five days. Because we’re zany like that. Our travel companions will be Mister Bilbo Baggins of Bag End and Miss Claire Bear Fair-of-Hair. The rest of the unit will fly and meet us there. I can’t vouch for other people’s choices.

Me, I can’t wait to steer Sappho the trusty Subaru through the floor of the flyover states and get me a taste of America.

AMERICA, y’all.

I should be able to at least glimpse it out the window, right?

At any rate, this blog is where I’m going to share my observations and ideas about my new country as I tune in. The hermit years are over. I’m coming to look for America.

I’ll use this blog to chart my unfurling discovery of the country and its people, and invite you to help me out where I’m still in the dark. I’m hoping that my American friends and my American strangers will leap in to share your experience of the country: culture, language, idiosyncrasies, weird and wonderful food, freaky antiquated traditions. Everything!

I’ll be writing about America’s sublime and America’s ridiculous as they appear through my naive little Aussie eyes.

That said, this is not a blog about politics. Two reasons: one, it would fill the sky and there would be nothing else to write about. I want to discuss unity and quirk and humanity wherever I encounter it, not get bogged down in divisiveness and despair. The second reason for no politics is that, as I mentioned, I want to stay here in the US forever — and that’s not yet in the bag, folks. So for those who know me as a political animal, read between the lines and continue to love me.

I want to publish this first blog post on the Fourth of July. But before I do so, I want to tell you how my self-education is going in my own home so far.

Me: Tell me about the first Fourth of July.

Wife: Well, it was just after Jesus died, I guess.

I would love it if you would come along with me on this literal and figurative journey. Please read and weigh in and contradict my suppositions. Please help me look for America. I know I left it in here somewhere.

Question: Americans, please answer in the comments. If there were one thing I absolutely needed to know to get by in the US, what would it be?