Fresno. When I lived in southern California, we called Fresno the "armpit of California." I'd visited the city because my dad was giving a lecture and spending time with his sister and her family who used to live in Fresno. All I saw of Fresno back then was my Aunt Eloise's house and a Mormon church. When I had my interview in Fresno, my flight was canceled so I ended up spending less than 24 hours in the town. I didn't see much of Fresno, but I was quite sure that I didn't want to spend my life in small town Texas, that I wanted to be back west, back in California--so I accepted the job, packed up my things and moved to Fresno. I've lived here for 10 years now and, after a year in Norway, I've been thinking a lot about what it means to me to have made my home in Fresno.
Fresno is a city with an inferiority complex. The most common praise for the city is that it takes only 3 hours to drive to the Bay area, Los Angeles, the coast, national parks. Yeah, the best thing about Fresno is leaving it and going somewhere else. But I think Fresno has more to offer that that.
Let me use this weekend as an example. Thursday (I know, not technically the weekend, but I'm starting there), our former colleague Steve Yarbrough who left this year to teach at Emerson College in Boston was in town. He gave a reading on campus, and then many of us went to Connie and John Hales' house for a party. I arrived there at about 10 p.m. and the party was in full swing. I sat in the living room talking with Samina, John, Alex, Tanya, Linnea, Matthew, and others about the reading (which I had missed), about the Young Writers Conference, and about Fresno State's upcoming intersession in London. Living in Fresno has brought writers I hadn't heard of before into my consciousness, including my wonderful colleagues past and present: Steve, Alex Espinoza, David Anthony Durham, Liza Wieland, Connie, John, Steven Church, Tim Skeen, Ruth Schwartz, and Lillian Faderman (to be fair, I had heard of Lillian, a seminal theorist of lesbian history, before I arrived here). Last night, I went to a reading at Palominos with some local poets: Tim Hernandez, Mike Medrano, Marisol Baca, Lance Canales (I may be mis-remembering his name) and Connie. Mike mentioned Juan Felipe Herrera, who spent years here, and all the poets celebrated the local experience. Also last night, I went to Audie's Olympic where a local band, the Suppressors, performed, including a piece about the Marcus Wesson ska (an infamous local who fathered children with his children, many of whom were killed or committed suicide together). So, what's my point here? The Valley is a fertile place for creativity and self-expression. Locals and transplants both find inspiration in this agricultural, sometimes dysfunctional, but always interesting town. So, that's one reason I love Fresno.
Another reason I love Fresno is embedded in the previous paragraph: I have great friends here. Staying in Fresno as long as I have has allowed me to develop friendships over a long period of time. I've always made friends easily (a skill learned from moving around a lot), but the great thing about living somewhere so long is that I've had the chance to really find friends who stick, who I trust and love, who I hope will be in my life forever. These last few years in particular have been quite rich in terms of my friendships--and after a year away, I'm also making new friends and deepening relationships with people who have been in my life for years. I appreciate the openness of people here--it feels easy to socialize with old friends and new. Friday night, John and John invited Tanya and I over for game night and dinner. John, a fantastic cook, made a cheese souffle, sauteed green beans, salad, and roasted potatoes. It was all so good. We also played Scrabble. John B. won, as he always does, and, even though I get rather competitive with games, I still was so happy to lose . . . because it meant I was hanging out with people who are really important to me. . . . oh, and because I love playing Scrabble and I don't get to do it enough. Last night, Kristie and I met in the Tower district: we went to the aforementioned poetry reading at Palominos, ate dinner at Veni, Vidi, Vici's, saw the Suppressors at Audie's, and hung out at Livingstone's until about 1:15 a.m. Kristie and I have known each other for years, but in some ways, she feels like a new friend, new because we're getting to know each other better. We laughed a lot and I had so much fun jumping from one place to the next in the Tower. So, yeah, there are amazing, wonderful people who live in Fresno, and I'm lucky to count so many as my friends. I think Fresno's inferiority complex adds to the sense that people who are interested in the arts want to stick together, to support Fresno's efforts to celebrate the arts, and to take advantage of the cultural opportunities that Fresno offers. I can go to events by myself and encounter people I know, even though Fresno has a population of almost a half million people. Sometimes, Fresno feels like a small town that way.
This morning, I slept in late, skipped my morning walk (which is another thing I love about Fresno, walking around the Fresno High/Fig Garden area), mowed my lawn, trimmed some trees/bushes, and picked up fallen fruit in my backyard. I love my house--it's comfortable, pretty (at least I think it is), and homey. It was built in about 1945 and is in an established neighborhood with quiet, tree-lined streets, friendly neighbors, and beautiful yards. I'm grateful that my job has given me financial security, allowing me to be a home owner in such a charming neighborhood. I don't know if I would have ever been able to afford a home if I'd stayed in Huntington Beach.
Recently, a friend posted a great Facebook update: "John Jordan loves Fresno--maybe for no good reason, but he does." Many of us agreed--and some posted good reasons why. I guess this blog entry illustrates some of the reasons that I love Fresno.