H-Wood: Proud To Be From The S.A.C.
A Birthday Ramble.
I’m a long way away from Sacramento. I left nearly three years ago and haven’t been back, and there have always been days where I hated it as much as I loved it, but Sacramento is and will always be my home. And, 33 years ago today, January 20, 1980, I was born right downtown, at Sutter Memorial Hospital.
For the first three decades of my life, for better or worse, Sacramento raised me and made me who I am. The scars on my body and the creases on my face bear the names of the streets that I prowled — El Camino Avenue, Fulton Avenue, Arden Way, Watt Avenue, Marconi Avenue, Edison Avenue, Howe Avenue, Bell Street, Northgate Boulevard, Grand Avenue, Norwood, Auburn Boulevard, Lerwick, Larchwood, Ball Way, Kent Drive.
The light in my eyes reflect my favorite haunts: Capitol Park ringed by its barrier of palm trees, Old Sacramento, Tower Bridge, the Esquire Grill, the lobby of the Sheraton Grand, an empty Light Rail train in mid-morning, the view from the multi-story parking garage directly across L Street from the State Capitol building, the seismograph a few steps away from the door to the Governor’s office, the orange trees on the grounds of the Capitol where, if you know where to stand, you can peek directly into the window of the Governor’s office, the cigar shop on Front Street, the stretch of 160 between Arden Fair Mall and the wild licorice bushes near the Radisson and American River levee where you could smell the Wonder Bread factory cooking early in the morning.
The shadows on my face and the perpetual bags under my eyes are reminders of long days and never-ending nights. Some of them were fun, some of them were not, but all of them were experiences. Friendships established, relationships demolished, life always being lived. Everything shaded by the sheer number of trees — practically anything can grow in Sacramento’s climate — not merely dotting the city, but populating it. Trees all over the city like my memories — wild, diverse, growing, dying, happy, sad, overcrowded at times, but sometimes lonely.
People like to say that they’ve made mistakes in their lives and then add that they regret nothing. I’ve made mistakes in my life and I regret many of them. I even regret some of the things that weren’t mistaken. We don’t learn from mistakes. We learn from the consequences of our mistakes — and those are usually called “regrets”. For many years, I lived too slowly, and then I lived too fast. With many people, I loved too quickly, and then I loved too harsh. When somebody hurt me — especially somebody that I cared about — I often tried to destroy them and who they were to me and what we shared. Up until recently, I still did that — annihilate attachments, eliminate emotions, crush connections, liquidate love, ravage relationships…eradicate, exterminate, desolate, shatter, sabotage, vaporize, ruin, ruin, ruin. Today, at 33 years old, I now actively seek to preserve rather than obliterate. Seems odd that I should have to work so hard at preservation when, professionally, my life’s work — the study and promotion of history — is, at its core, an act of preservation.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all darkness and shadows, debris fields and wastelands. Like everyone, I’m simply visited by the cloud of depression that Winston Churchill would call “the black dog”. But I am in a better place than I have been in close to ten years. I have somehow found a way to actually make a living with my writing. It’s so surreal and such a long time coming that I still feel like I tricked somebody. The idea of advertising revenue and royalty checks backed by real money, legitimate legal tender, coming my way because of words that I wrote continues to blow me away. For years, I wondered what it would be like to be a professional writer and, in many ways, it’s inexplicable. For some reason, I always figured that I would realize that I had reached that point when some editor sat me down and said “You’re hired.” But, really, I didn’t recognize that I had reached that level until it suddenly hit me that I was somehow getting paid for the things that I was writing. By no means have I “made it”, but I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, and, at 33, that makes me happy. It still doesn’t feel quite real, but it feels right. It feels like I deserve it because, despite those mistakes and regrets, this is the one thing that I’ve always worked hard at and taken completely, utterly, 100% seriously.
I like the fact that my birthday is close to the beginning of the year. It allows me to feel like the new year is genuinely a new year for me. The past few years have been difficult — personally, professionally, emotionally, and even physically. Of course, 33 isn’t 63, but I feel every day of every month of my life when I wake up in the morning. I feel it in my bones. I see it in my eyes. But I’m still here. I have all of limbs and all of my hair, and I know my brain is still working hard because I can’t slow it down when I try to sleep. That race never ends.
It’s 2013 and I am 33. I like the number “3”. All of my life, whenever I set an alarm or set the microwave or have a target number of sets for a workout, the target number I use always either has a “3” in it or is divisible by 3. I don’t have many superstitions, but that is one of them. So, both 2013 and the age of 33 give me an optimistic feeling. I haven’t had a great year since 2002 or 2003. Some of them have been downright horrible, particularly 2005, 2009, 2010, and 2011. Last year was a bit better, but I feel like the year 2013 and the age of 33 will prove that I have turned the page. I don’t exactly know why or how, but I’m now old enough to realize that hope and optimism should never be dismissed. For the past decade, I have been so thirsty for reason and hungry for logic that I’ve needed to know the explanation for everything. That hasn’t necessarily resulted in happiness, so I’m going to let hope and optimism stick around this year.
I didn’t really mean to ramble on like this or get all philosophical just because it’s my birthday. It just happened. And, let’s be honest, I just wrote a whole bunch of words without really saying anything. But, I rarely get personal here. However, hearing this song brings back a lot of memories and a blank computer screen, blinking icon, and welcoming keyboard was an invitation to open up for once.
I am a long way away from Sacramento — in more ways than just the mileage distance. I am a better person than I was three years ago, two years ago, even five months ago. Goals that I have set — goals which seemed to never get any closer for many years — have been met and more have been established. I feel like I learn something new every day. When I don’t, I feel like that day has been a failure and, although 33 doesn’t seem old, who knows how many days I actually have left to learn, create, teach, share? I’m a long way from Sacramento and I don’t have family here. I don’t have many friends here. But I have a huge personal library of books that I rarely have had to pay for. I published my own first book and people actually bought it (and continue to buy it). I’m in the process of finishing my second book. The book reviews that I write have received attention from publishers and big-name authors who I have revered. I’ve become a person who college kids will e-mail with questions about their studies and a historian that mainstream news outlets like Bloomberg have reached out to for commentary. I’m in a good place.
I am a long way from those street signs that I mentioned. I now live in a tiny town of about 2,000 people — a town the size of my junior high school. I’m not kept awake by police helicopters or hours of sirens. I’m not worried when I take a walk to the grocery store or the park. I live in peace, as we all should. As H-Wood’s song says, I’m proud to be from Sacramento, but I’m also proud to be in New Haven. I’m proud to have made it to where I am. I’m proud to know that, at 33, I have made improvements, made my life better, made people who know me proud of what I have become.
I am a long way away from Sacramento, but in many ways, I am still home. I’m proud to be from the S.A.C., but I’m also proud to be me. Yes, I feel every day of my 33 years and, while I used to look young for my age, I now look every day of 33, too. But what I feel is 33 years of memories and experiences that continue to shape me and, hopefully, make an impact on others. Maybe I don’t love enough or put enough trust in others, but I will. It’s taken me all this time to finally love and trust myself, so I think I’m ready to try it out on others. I’d like to think that this is an example of that because in this new year of my life, I’m going to try to lift the curtain and share my history, as well as our country’s history. Don’t worry — you’re not going to get rambling dissertations like this all the time — but I wanted to share this today so that I can make sure that I’m accountable for the improvements I strive to continue. Of course, it’s far easier sharing myself with 10,000 readers who I don’t know than on person that I do (yes, you read that correctly, I’d rather stand and talk in front of a crowd of 80,000 than sit in a small group of three).
Alright, alright, enough out of me. Thanks to everybody who is sending birthday wishes today and to anyone
bored brave enough to make it to the end of this post. It’s 2013, I’m 33, I’m proud to be from the S.A.C., I’m proud to be where I am right now, and I look forward to my next year of sunshine and shadows and, of course, plenty of history.