leaving and returning

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.


5 thoughts on “leaving and returning

  1. For ten years, I have been thinking about Margaret Mead’s comment that home and abroad are the same to her. I have heard myself telling people that every place is someone’s home. At first, I didn’t realize that I had to explain what I meant. I didn’t mean that places others think of as boring-such as Kansas, where I now live-should be respected because they are someone’s home. I meant that the big grid of New York and the winding streets of Paris and the canal-riddled Amsterdam are all just someone’s home town, as frustrating and banal as any other. Sometimes I think I only feel at home when I am somewhere that is not supposed to be home. I can understand, perhaps, something about what Mead meant. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kim! I have been wondering if I feel more at home when I’m traveling (on the road, in a plane/airport, on a train… or somehow moving between places) than being in one specific place.

      Recently I have also been thinking something similar to your comment (“Sometimes I think I only feel at home when I am somewhere that is not supposed to be home”). It’s a similar concept to traveling vs. some idea of (stillness? permanence?), but not exactly the same.

      I hadn’t heard Margaret Mead’s comment about home/abroad before (at least, not that I remember), but I like it. Do you know what writing it is from?

  2. This is beautiful to me – another person to whom “home” is relative and yet all the more beautiful because if there is anything constant about it – it is always caught in a suspension between longing and belonging. Where I am, or another place. It is possible to having longing for the very space I’m inhabiting, a longing just shot through with pleasure for “being where I am” because it will not always be so. So many homes. I thought of several words when reading this last night. Some of my favorites – not because they fit so well, but because they do.. and yet don’t. Peripatetic, Itinerant, Wayfaring…. I found myself wondering where your points of resistance and synchrony would be with those words and your own form of the “vaiven”. (A combination of “va” and “ven” in spanish which has been formalized into one word). In English that might look like comengo. :-)

    • I like the words you’re giving me, Marcia! I do like “peripatetic” for its sound. One of the definitions given by dictionary.com specifically refers to being “employed in two or more educational establishments and travelling from one to another,” so I found that an interesting! The part I resist is the reference to Aristotle, for what it’s worth.

      “Peripatetic” in its definition also reminds me of the word “flaneury” in terms of a connection to wandering and walking, although that’s not exactly what I’m doing. (I definitely incorporate some walking/wandering/flaneury into what I’m doing, but for me there’s a larger picture…)

      “Wayfaring” makes me think of wayfinding – the signs used to point one on a journey. I’m intrigued by that concept as well (and it contrasts a bit with the idea of just wandering).

      I like all the definitions of “itinerant” – and I wonder why it seems to have some negative connotations when we use it. (Off the top of my head, my first thought is that the negativity is related to classism and racism, and possibly our country’s Puritan history… but if you just look at the definitions, they’re quite nice.)

      And “vaiven”… ah… so nice. Thank you for introducing me to that word!

      What about you? What words are you drawn to / repelled from? (Which makes me think: to which words do we return and leave?)

      • Aristotle? The guy that bought the idea that humans came from little homunculi that came directly out of men’s bodies and women just incubated and birthed them? Along with the “spermists” who thought that original sin came down through sperm because all humans were already formed in miniature? Seriously? You surprised me and I rushed off to wikipedia .

        You are right! So, I’m going to have to do some serious relearning…. Or “Take back the night” from peripatetic. I like it too much to give it up. I just remembered the sort of “thinking journey”. I was also thinking about flaneur reading your work – I just got to read De Certeau’s “walking the city” a few weeks ago and it really inspired me. But flaneur is sort of more about the pleasure of seeing. I admit to being very flaneurish – almost embarrassingly so – because of my deep pleasure in the visual urban landscape…, but if I were choosing vaivenes, they have to be about thinking-as-we-go hither and thither….

        I wondered about the word itinerant as well. To me it is a preacher on a horse going from pioneer homestead to pioneer homestead. That’s because my imagination on this word was shaped by childhood reading of the “Caddie Woodlawn” books, sort of Laura Wilderish reading experience. So I wondered how it looks when you imagine it. My resistances are about the “preacher word” that goes with “itinerant”. A traveling evangelist just isn’t much how I imagine myself. I’m more in the Margaret Mead version that Kim wrote about (Kim, I have to meet you). Turns out itinerants come in all shapes – merchants, musicians, justicies….

        So when it appears you are right about Aristotle, and he’s kind of poured all over the word, I looked at some more synonyms I found there…
        ambulant, ambulatory, drifter, errant, fugitive, gallivanting, nomad, nomadic, perambulatory, peregrine, itinerant, ranging, roaming, roving, runabout, vagabond, vagrant, voyager, wandering, wayfaring… The “related words” were even better: drifting, footloose, meandering, rambling; sauntering, strolling, traipsing, walking; migrant, migratory.

        My favorites? Meander, saunter and traipse. Maybe with a little bit of errant?

        And today a friend told me they were diagnosed with labyrinthitis. I vote no to that one.

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