Reset asks movers and makers to share the places that have shaped who they are.
CAT - MOVER AND MAKER
Cornwall - India - California
I was drawn to Cat, first through her writing and second through the feeling that she was someone who shared my ineffable affinity for new environments. She truly feels a place and in doing so, she is able to capture her surroundings with a precision and potency that makes you want to be wherever she's writing about. In this case it's California, the Golden State that she has always been fascinated by and sought after deciding that small-town life in Cornwall wasn't for her. She shares the magic of the West Coast that fuels the strength of American people and that never-fading American dream.
Where are you from and why did you leave?
I was born and bred just north of London in a little village in the commuter belt of Zone 9, called Chalfont St Giles. I went coastal at 18 attending the University Of Exeter in Devon, and after returning to the city for 3 years, I made the move back down south, relocating to the East coast of Cornwall. I moved down to Falmouth, working for a cold water surf brand called Finisterre. It’s where I cut my teeth as a copywriter and where I found my first real sense of home. After a while, I really began to fall into the habitual daily motions of life in a small coastal town, and whilst some of these rituals I take great comfort in (and miss to this day), it started to feel like a trap I was perpetually being caught in. I went through a bit of a bad patch and found myself increasingly anxious and low in the space and place I was in. I quit my 9-5 job (my first and potentially last) at Finisterre, knowing that I was destined for something more fluid.
What was it about Cornwall that was making you feel trapped?
I think for me, Cornwall was this idealised dream and by the end of it (after a pretty rough year), I was actually living out my dream life. I moved to a tiny little shed at the bottom of a friend’s garden, complete with my own greenhouse and vegetable patch, and I began to lead the life I had always dreamed of. I was working with a woodfired chef, spending my days outdoors, swimming in the sea, cooking, creating and living freely. Yet, I always felt like my ideas were too big, dreams too wide and passions too frantic for the sleepy wilds of Cornwall. It was a place I saw families settle; where my friends were settled; but I wasn’t there yet. I desperately wanted to be. Until I realised I wasn’t ready, and I needed a change.
I had my routine and rituals and I was getting the right balance of spending time alone, working on myself, and with friends, nourishing them and finding comfort with them too. The problem with living your dream life, is that it becomes reality too quickly and for me, I was onto the next dream. To me, Cornwall represents such a great life - but one that I wasn’t ready to live out yet. It’s a place I consider to be one where I would want to settle down with kids and a husband and a dog and a house we built from the ground up - but I wasn’t there yet. I’m 26 and even though I’ve travelled, there is still so much of the world I hadn’t seen yet. It’s so easy to get caught up in these daily motions - the good and the bad ones - that you blink and the next thing you know it’s five years later and you’re still doing the same thing. I just think I always knew I was destined to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone.
What were your next steps?
I was offered an opportunity by a good friend to volunteer in India, and it’s where my journey began. After 4 months of living in Kerala and Sri Lanka, I made my way to California (via Oregon and Washington and a brief encounter with Homeland Security).
What led you to California?
Knowing I didn’t want to go back to the UK after my time in India, I was at a crossroads of where to go and what to do. I was broke. I had no money in the bank - just a credit card which I could put my flights on. The only way I could afford to travel was to volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation. I knew a friend who had done this trade with Campovida, and I reconnected with Anna and Gary (the owners of Campovida) through Instagram and started setting a plan in motion for me to come over to Hopland, Mendocino County, where the vineyard is based. So with no money to my name (and no identity seemingly, after losing my passport and driver’s license in one fell swoop), I arrived at Campovida, with nothing but awe-inspiring love for this beautiful undiscovered part of the world.
I now find myself in the middle of California’s wine country, working and living on a beautiful vineyard 2 hours north of San Francisco. I came here back in July 2016 to volunteer for an event called Do Lectures USA. It’s an intimate gathering of creatives who are sharing their stories about who they are and where they came from. It brought together people from all over the country (and me!), whether they were speakers, attendees or volunteers. It was here I met soulmates and lifelines, and it’s where I truly fell in love with California and particularly this land. Now, only a couple of weeks in, I am settling into the team as fresh eyes on the vineyard’s storytelling and branding, helping out with social media and learning about viticulture, gardening and running a business built on family and a sense of home.
Tell me about your affinity with the West Coast?
I have always had this strange fascination with America, and particularly California. I’m not ashamed to say it probably started with The O.C - thank you Josh Schwartz! The music, the lifestyle, the beaches, the romance, the food - I became so enamoured with the promise of endless summers on the West Coast. I had spent time in California as a kid but hadn’t appreciated it - in the way you never do as a child - but as I grew older, my curiosity of American culture grew, along with my lifestyle choices of coastal living, surfing, travelling and the freedom of life on the road. When I knew I was going to Hopland for the Do, I planned a trip with my brother, driving from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Spending time road tripping from place to place, driving up the Pacific Coast highway and feeling like I was a part of this landscape and seascape gave me a renewed lease on life. My trip ended with The Do Lectures, and it was at Campovida where these friendships and opportunities to learn which really cemented my love of California. It was a place I found such common wonder with - the vastness of the state, the transformation from coast to forest to mountains to desert, and the feeling that anything and everything was possible if you just had a car, a killer soundtrack and a good company (canine or human!).
When I stepped into San Francisco airport - even as I was being searched by Homeland Security during my first 3 hours on American soil - I felt this instant sense of relief. At Campovida we call it the exhale - the release of pent up energy, the sigh of home. I guess I can’t quite explain it in words. It’s the magic felt only within in when I am here and present. I could say I relate to the relaxed atmosphere of West Coasters, or that I live the lifestyle of the travelling nomad who bears no claim to home except in the land she finds herself walking upon, but really, it’s just a sense of wonder that arises in a totally inexplicable way. I suppose it’s like falling in love - except you know that this place isn’t going anywhere.
America has been getting so much negative press recently - what was it about the culture that appealed to you?
My friends over here are so enamoured by how much I love America. I guess to them, it seems so strange that someone would love this country after what’s gone on. They’ve coined my fascination with a hashtag: #catlovesamerica, giving me bucket lists of all-American experiences. I hope it’s given them a sense of excitement and reinvigoration at their own country. Of course the discourse of the country over the last couple of years has dramatically changed; Trump’s election has altered the political landscape in so many ways. But I genuinely think that it’s given people rise to take action, speak out and become more engaged and awake to what’s going on. Actually what I see here, especially amongst my group of friends, is a solidarity and unity that surpasses any of the racist, homophobic and sexist rhetoric Trump could ever throw our way. America is still such a global country - and that’s what I love about it. There’s so much to learn here; and I think the American people are a lot stronger than they are given credit for.
When I drive through the terrains of California, I’m reminded of how varied and exciting the world is; and although it might sound like a cliche, that concept of the American Dream - runs right through my veins when I’m here. The landscape of America as a whole is just one of total vastness. And to me, that represents possibility. I am a dreamer. I’ve always been one. And once I achieve one dream, I move onto the next, because there’s a never ending supply of dreams if you can tap into that wonder, or the inner kid in you.
How have you changed since leaving the UK?
It’s hard to explain how I’ve changed, because it’s been so dramatic yet so subtle at the same time. I guess I would say that when I left the UK, I was full of hope, but the year before me was such an exhausting one, I was on a low level of self-confidence and understanding of what I was doing with my life. Yet I knew the path ahead of me was bright.
India and Sri Lanka (where I began my exodus from Cornwall) were so challenging. It was hard work acclimatising to the climate and the landscape. It’s the most foreign culture you could possibly get from the west. And even though I spent so much of my adult life by the coast, the heat and colour of the Indian Ocean astounded me. So for those four months, I would say I learnt a lot about surrender - surrendering to the place and my surroundings, but also to myself. That I’m not perfect, and I never will be. That our flaws are what make us unique.
I think this mindfulness and power of self-love that I learnt in India (which is so indicative of its people and culture), is what I’ve brought with me over here, and what is helping me to grow further. I feel like those challenges enabled me to become more resilient and understand myself a lot better, so here I feel like I can overcome things a lot quicker. I am less likely to get upset and anxious about something because I know in the grand scheme of things, it’s not as important.
So yes, a lot of change. I think I’ve just rediscovered what my true essence is. What I consider my identity to be, behind what clothes I wear, the brands I love or the places I go. India taught me about inner truth. California is teaching me about harnessing it.
Do you see yourself staying in California for the long term?
If I could get a visa, I would 100% spend more time here; sadly given the political climate, it’s pretty hard to get one long-term. But, I’m going to spend as much time as I can travelling around North and South America. I’ve got a flight to Mexico City in May, and my yoga teacher training in Nicaragua in June. After that, who knows. I don’t think I’m quite ready to come home. I’ve got friends in Canada and I’ve been thinking about applying for a 2 year working holiday visa there (where they are far more accepting!), so I can be based in North America still.
I suppose I’m just not ready to be stuck anywhere. Gary, whose family I’m staying with in California, gave me some sound advice the other night that I’m planning on sticking to: be selfish and go right. I’m young, I don’t have any commitments (man, dog, house, babies) and the beauty of that is I don’t have to be anywhere.
Because so often we walk down the path, keeping left, staying safe. But I’m always wanting to turn right. And I guess I’m waiting to meet someone who is willing to turn right with me everytime.
Read more from Cat at Stranger Than Fiction.
Photo by Katie Rae.