It has been a long time since I’ve been here. It’s good to be back. I am referring to this blog – but I could also be referring to multiple geographic places.
I just returned from seven weeks away.
Returned? Away? Returned to where? Away from where? These terms imply a home base, a “neutral” from which to leave and return. And yet, I claim that I don’t have that – at least, in some ways.
I wrote last fall of a project I was beginning. In many ways, this project has been going on my whole life – I’m just more recently making it intentional and reflective. I am traveling and moving from place to place as I think and talk about “home.” And as I talk about this project, I have said that it’s all one journey – no stops, no starts, no base that feels like my one, true “home.” I talk about this journey being a long exploration of homes in different places.
But then I hear myself say, “I’ll return.”
Often, in the last few years, the place I am talking about returning to is a general region – or rather, two places that are in somewhat close proximity: Chicago, and a small town I’ll call G-town for now. I will most likely return to one of them after this project ends, at least for a short amount of time.
These two places are where I have been based since the fall of 2005. Notice I said “been based,” not “lived.” Don’t get me wrong, I have lived there. I have done a lot of living in these two places. At the same time, I’ve done a lot of leaving them and returning to them.
I have traveled between them as well – from one to the other and back again. Working in one while living in the other; then reverse the roles and I live in the second while I work in the first. My driver’s license says one thing, my lease says another. My paychecks come from both (and other places, too), and my calendar is a series of notes to myself on what city I’ll find myself in, on any given day.
I’ve also returned to New York many times over the past four years, although I haven’t, until just a few days ago, referred to “leaving” it in quite the same way I have referred to leaving the above-mentioned two places. Over time, the city has creeped into my soul and matched my heartbeat, so that now I talk of “returning” and “leaving” from there as well.
In the past couple of years, I’ve realized that the place I say I “live” is a place I am physically in only approximately 1/3 of the time. This spring, I counted the days: from February through May I was in my own apartment an average of 10 days a month. Since May 22, I haven’t been there at all.
Last night I was talking to an old friend – a friend I knew in high school and college and onward into adult-hood. When I told him I don’t know where I’m “from,” he looked at me oddly. “Why aren’t you from here?” he asked, as we sipped our drinks at a lovely sidewalk cafe in G-town, the town where we became friends but where neither of us currently resides.
“I am from here, in many ways” I said.
“But,” I continued, “I’m also not really from here. Or I should say, I’m not only from here.”
This town is one of the places from which I leave and to which I return – a pattern from the day I was born. It is the place where I was born – but that is a more complicated story than it might seem on the surface (one I’ll say more about later). This town is where I attended high school and college; but pre-high school, I lived there a total of five years (two, and then later one, and then later, two more). I left for ten years (and lived three other places), but then found myself back in G-town (or at least “based there”) for four.
Or was it more? I kept returning.
These are the numbers, but they don’t capture the feelings.
In the last seven weeks in particular, I have written a lot in my notebooks (on trains and planes, in cafes and other people’s living rooms) about my questions, observations and conversations about “home.” What does that word mean to me and to others? How do we decide what place(s) deserve that name? Gradually, I will be transferring those writings here, to this blog.
Right now, I sit at a table in a place that is one of my homes, having returned yesterday morning from a place that has begun to feel a lot like another home – and where I may quite likely return to as a future home. In about a month, I will head in the opposite direction, to the opposite coast; returning again to yet more homes.
Right now, my thoughts are a jumble. Slowly, I will be sorting them out, and if you’re reading along as I continue this journey, you can watch (and join, if you like!) that process; my ongoing process of Traveling Home.