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No Place Like It



I've been traveling lately, one of my favorite things. To pack and go; interrupt the routine; experience something new and unexpected; be awed––they're part of what it means to leave home. But it doesn't come without a challenge, including a sense of anxiety, especially the older I get. There's something comforting about the familiar and known. In a sense you'd have to be foolish to leave it. Anything can happen out there, and yet it calls.


The German Romantics were famous for posing a situational bind, the notion that when a person is home they dream of being away, and when they're away they dream of being home. I relate, because as long as I can remember I've had that double awareness. When I was young, living in Cleveland, I used to watch a local show called Jim Doney's Adventure Road with my father. He and I tuned in most afternoons after he got home from work, and he would say, There's nothing like travel; you'll never get a better education anyhow. That sentiment stuck, instilled in me the bug to to see places.


Curiously, when I am away one of the first questions I ask is, Could I live here? In a way I'm never not thinking about expanding the parameters of home, turning a foreign space into a domestic one. In fact many of the places I moved to were ones I visited first, just to see. Idaho Springs, CO; Denver; New York City; Paris; Beacon, NY; and Santa Fe are the main ones, all places I traveled to first, knowing little about them beforehand. They became home, not unlike Cleveland, the place I was born and raised. In the case of Paris my stay was less than a year; my husband and I lived in Brooklyn for twenty-six, the longest place I've lived. 


Living in Cleveland as a child, at the top of my agenda was getting out. Having said that, I think of it in a special way because it shaped and molded me more impactfully than anywhere else. Conversely I spent decades in Brooklyn, but it never really felt like home to me; it always seemed foreign, and being there I sensed I was on an extended visit. Dyed in the wool New Yorkers would even say, You're not from here, are you? You can take the boy out of the Midwest, but you can't take the Midwest––. 


I never traveled more than when I lived there, felt the urge and even need to travel. Apartment living, urban density, noise (the constant sirens and din of traffic), and safety concerns made it difficult to cozy up to the place for good, for me at least. It became clear over time that it's a city for the young or rich––if you're one of those you got it made. 

It's a two-paycheck city too, for any couple that isn't wealthy. If something happens to one of those incomes it's time to consider moving on, and quickly. Which we did. We moved to Beacon, sixty miles up the Hudson. My husband and I owned our first house there, one we called home. We learned to be home-owners, whatever that means. How to maintain a dwelling and secure it; how to tend a garden and lawn. 


But from the get-go we felt the urge to return west, which is where we are now, in the land of my husband's ancestors, countless generations that've been in what people refer to as The U.S at least five hundred years and more like several thousand, way longer than anyone of Anglo or European descent. Ironically, I've never felt more at home. Like I finally found it, the place I've been looking for, despite the fact I have no ancestral connection whatsoever. Which is to say that the idea of home is a funny thing. It's indistinguishable from travel to foreign places and being-away, at least for me, someone for whom remaining in one place my whole life is unthinkable. 


My mother lived in the same house for over sixty years. She and my father owned a time-share for a few years, and occasionally they visited other places, but her center was in a small 50s bungalow near Lake Erie. The very idea of that kind of physical stasis is unimaginable to me. Instead, for me home is unfixed––mobile––in fact it isn't tied to a place at all but to people, that is to loved ones. When I'm away from them I feel split; when I'm with them I feel grounded––at home. The rest is sight-seeing, no matter where I am. The people that mean the most to me reside in different places, including different states, different parts of the country, even different parts of the world. They constitute parts of the fragmented, multi-sited place that is home to me. 


In The Wizard of Oz Dorothy remarks famously that there's no place like home. She obsesses about being back in the loving arms of Auntie Em on a farm in Kansas. Yet from the moment she wakes up there all she can do is talk about her time in Oz, the people she came to know and love there––she started missing them before she even began the triple-click of the heels. That is her heart is split. Perhaps a better formulation than "there's no place like home" would be "home is no-place in particular." It's not a physicality or a spot to locate on Google Maps but a state of mind, a condition––a familiarity, warmth, and comfort––which can be anywhere, irrespective of geography, "at home" or "away." There's no place like it.

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