#010 What Does it Mean to Stay Home? (Travel - 4)
An Appreciation for Not Going
So far in this series on travel and relocation, I’ve written about the advantages of leaving home, such as reinvention, learning about other cultures, and finding your tribe.
I want to spend some time on the advantages of staying home, but, unfortunately, I don’t exactly know what it means. Technically, I’ve lived in places long enough to claim them as my home, but I never felt as if they were my home.
I searched a couple of scholarly databases on home, but I didn’t find anything that addressed the basics. Perhaps it’s a cultural assumption that we all know what it is.
I understand that home doesn’t have to be a place. I’ve experienced all types of homes. Home can be a person or a set of circumstances. It can be a practice.
However, I want to talk about the kind of home that’s rooted in a physical location—the kind that makes people warm and fuzzy with nostalgia and helps them define their identity (“I’m a New Yorker” or “I’m a Chicagoan”).
I can’t speak to the identity part of it, at all. I struggle to even understand loyalty to sports teams.
I know comfort and familiarity, though. I might not have a home community, but I like being indoors. In many ways, I find it just as adventurous as being out. I travel inwards with meditation and writing. I placate my cat, do yoga, workout, take baths, read books, eat, watch tv, play Chess and Scrabble, etc.
I feel free to be myself. I imagine that a home community is a lot like that, except your playground is expanded beyond your walls.
Staying in a community for a long time means that we get to practice living there, and when we practice something, we get better at it. We gain competence and confidence, so we concentrate on other things, like supporting the community or building a family.
It also just feels good. I always get a little dopamine hit when I have an especially firm grasp on a situation, but maybe that’s only because I so rarely have a firm grasp on anything.
I’ve lived in places long enough where it seems like I should’ve been completely comfortable with everything in them, but I can’t stay that I was. I think this is linked to the identity part that I don’t fully understand. I never felt inextricably linked to the people around me. For that reason, I mostly define home by what it isn’t, rather than what it is.
I’ve been homesick for most of my life. Even before my family left California when I was eleven, I spent a lot of time in the houses of relatives because my mom was in mental institutions. No matter how nice or fun the alternate place was, I always desperately wanted to go home.
The mantra, “I want to go home,” still loops somewhere in the back of my mind. My brain can’t name my home and then move onto the next thought, so it starts over in a confused, broken way, like a scratched record.
Now that I live in Japan, the mantra at least has something real to whine about. Japan is more not home than any other place I’ve lived before.
Now, my home is America, but America is a big place. It’s also a diverse place with many locales that are very, very different from one another. If I try to get specific about where exactly home is, then the mantra goes back to its old confusion.
I think it’s always been especially hard for me, personally, to not have a home. Part of it is what I look like. I’m Asian American, which means I grew up being asked relentlessly, even aggressively, where I’m from. Sometimes, that question was lobbed at me as a form of intentional bullying.
I feel awkward even when people ask innocently because of the assumption that’s embedded in it (that I’m not American, but foreign), but also because it also dredges up all the pain of my uprootedness.
Japanese people often ask me the same question, but it feels fine. I might look Asian American in America, but here, I look like a regular white foreigner, and I’m happy to be that here. When someone acknowledges my foreignness in Japan, it boils down to this exchange:
“Would you like me to treat you like you have no clue what’s going on, right now?”
And, to that I say, “Yes, please!”
I’d much rather be treated like an idiot than end up with a water cooler installed in my living room (true story).
If I wanted Japan to be my home, that’d be a much bigger problem, but as it is, having everyone around me acknowledge that I’m not home makes the anti-homeness of it way easier.
When I move back to the US, I hope to have a new appreciation for it as my home and maintain my appreciation long-term.
Please tell me more about home. What does it mean to you? Do you have one? Where is it? What do you love about having a home? Let me know in the comments.
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This week, I’ve most enjoyed reading the book The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck.
I recently completed a series of interactive fiction games (and the graphic novels they inspired) called “Life is Strange.” Each game in the series features a character with some supernatural ability. The most recent game, “True Colors,” features an empath as the lead character. She is someone who has never really had a home. She was separated from her older brother in the foster care system, but her brother finds her (as an adult) and invites her to live with him. Anyway, there is this line that he says to his sister, and it really is the central theme of the game, but I think it also fits in with what you have been writing about recently: “Home isn’t something you find, it’s something you build.” I kind of think of home that way. Even though I have lived in the same city all but two years (less than two actually) of my life, it isn’t necessarily where I wanted to be. I wanted to stay close to family, but by choosing to be here, I passed up a lot of other opportunities. Instead of being miserable or feeling trapped here, I decided that if I wanted things to change, I had to get involved with building the kind of community I wanted to be a part of. I was very involved in a lot of different projects when I was healthier, and remain involved in some of the ones that matter most to me now. I have this bracelet made from wooden beads that I got from the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, and there is a message printed in Kanji on it. The translation of the message is: “ make where you are where you want to be.” I know that doesn’t work for all people in all places, but it is the way I have lived for awhile now. Will often remarks that even though he is a transplant to Wisconsin from California, he has lived in this house longer than anywhere else, and this is more of a home to him than anywhere else has ever been. He lived in several different cities in Northern California before moving here. It hasn’t been all rosy; I have apologized to him for how some people here have treated him. I still get very frustrated with people here and the place itself. I call Wisconsin Rapids “Crapids” because I get frustrated with things. There have been a lot of things that have gotten better, but sometimes there will be a loss in progression. Even though this place is more diverse than it used to be, there are still so many narrow-minded people. I have visited a number of cities that I thought would be so much better, but found the same problems. It only ever gets better for me when I can help address those problems and build something. It isn’t that I have my name on anything per se, but there are a number of community projects that I can point to and say, I was part of that. Same with Will. Some are things we started, others are things we help out with now and then. We have been involved in developing sustainability strategies for projects that would have died without our intervention. Those have been some of the bigger undertakings. We were the life support. No one remembers the people who function to keep a program going during a period of transition. We fade into the background, but that is okay. We are support beams in a structure; overlooked but vital. My favorite quote of all time is from Futurama, and I based my whole AmeriCorps service years on it, even though few fellow AmeriCorps volunteers got it: “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all.” It sounds counterintuitive in a way, but I think it is spot on. I traverse this fine line between leaving no trace and establishing a legacy. Having a positive impact isn’t so cut and dry. I used to think the best thing I could do is to embrace Jainism as much as possible, and while I have great admiration for the philosophy, practice is beyond difficult and perhaps somewhat impractical, or at least for someone who is as much a force of disruption as I can be. I was at a workshop a few years back where someone said, “we are not so much Earthlings as we are placelings.” There is this whole realm of communication study dealing with place that I have delved into quite a bit over the past two decades, but I always come back to this notion of utility; maybe it is that old saying, “a place for everything and everything in its place.” That notion goes past the constructs of relationships and gets down to purpose. Maybe that is the ultimate home we build for ourselves, but if that is the case, it can be a tall order indeed.