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I live in the city.  Portland, Oregon, to be exact.  But I've also lived in other cities.  The East Bay of San Francisco.  Los Angeles.  Oklahoma City.  Columbus, Ohio. I have lived in these places, but I have never been of or from these places.  I have never belonged.  One doesn't belong to a city...one just passes through.  Some cities feel more accommodating than others, it is true...and you may even feel a bond to them while you live there.  I felt a bond to the East Bay while I was growing up there...but perhaps that's just because of my age then.  I was still not yet 12 years old.  And I needed to feel a connection to a place.

And so I formed one.  And then my family moved again.  To Southern California.  Seems I've been transplanted all my life.  Remember the movie "The Professional", with Jean Reno and a quite young Natalie Portman?  I am the potted plant that Jean Reno carries with him from room to room.  I survive wherever I am, but I have always wanted to sink my roots down into a more permanent location.

The only place that has ever felt like home to me is the place that I left at the age of 6.  Southern Ohio.  Moving every 2 or 3 years growing up tends to lend a certain impermanence to wherever you happen to be.  And, as I look back upon my life...I'm 58 years old now...impermanence sums up my attitude towards "place" quite succinctly.  Wherever I have been, in my adulthood, I have felt as though I were "just passing through."

It leaves me feeling hollow, and I can't quite explain why.  Am I an anachronism?  I Luddite?  A malcontent along the highway to modernism?  Why can't I adapt to, and embrace, the urban milieu in which I find myself?  Be it now, or 5 years ago, or 15 years ago?  Why can I never feel connected to the place in which I find myself?  What does it mean to feel connected?  

I feel like a rootbound plant.  You could pull me up out of my pot/rooting medium with little effort, and transplant me anywhere.  I will adapt.  My roots will stretch out a bit...but they will never sink in.  Cause you never know when the next move might happen.   Or where it will take you.  I have lived my life this way since I was 6 years old.

I don't want to be the potted plant in "The Professional."  I want to be truly rooted.  At home.  Comfortable in my environment.  I want to recognize it, and feel a connection to it.  I want to feel its gravity and its history.  I want to feel like I have been here, and I am here, and this is where I belong.

And it occurs to me that...well, not many others feel this way.  That's alright.  But am I alone in feeling this way?  Am I crazy for thinking like this?  Has that boat left the dock way, way long ago?  Why do I feel so unconnected, after so many years, and so many addresses?  

Is it me? Or is it place?

If I could move back to my home town, and make a living, I would do so in a heart beat.  Sure...there are no good restaurants.  The two grocery stores are Walmart and something else, and neither offer the kinds of produce I have become accustomed to.  There is some poverty there, to be exact...you'd have to be blind not to see it.  But after living in the Big City for 40 years...I also know that there is just as much poverty here, and you don't have to be blind to not see it.  You just have to live in the right zipcode.

I live in a good city.  A progressive city.  With good restaurants.  Clean air.  An environmental ethic.  Mountains in the vista, and a coast just 1 1/2 hours away by car.
(not that you can actually swim in the ocean here...unless you area polar bear..it's a beach, but the water is fricken cold,)  I live in a great city, and I realize that.

But I don't feel the glue.  I don't feel the gravity.  I don't feel the connection to this great place that I do to a much less great place that I just happened to be born in.  Whenever I have travelled "home" over the years, be it by car or by plane (and even by plane requires a car rental), I have rolled down the windows as I enter the county line of my hometown.

It's usually spring or summer.  I can smell the place.  It smells like cut hay.  Freshly plowed earth.  Leaves.  There are cicadas in the distance.  A farm stand selling sweet corn and half runner beans.  The best beans you've ever eaten.  There's a road off the main highway that I can turn off onto and it quickly turns to gravel, but it takes me by the place where my grandparents used to live.  The house is still there, although other people live in it.  My grandmother helped build it back when it was built.  I know where the spring is, and I have hunted squirrels in the surrounding woods.

I know this place...this town...this county even, like the back of my hand.  Even to this day.  I know the back roads, and I know all the other roads.  I know its flaws, and I know its good points.  

I don't know Portland that well...and that is my fault.  It's not Los Angeles...it's a city on a much smaller scale.  I know parts of it, and I like living here.  Except after 2 months of steady rain.

But I will never be from Portland" as long as I live.  

I feel the tug of place...and I feel it more so now, at the age of 58, than I did 20 years ago.  

Why does a place I have never really lived in since I was 6 years old, even though I have revisited it quite often over the years, hold such a pull upon my soul?  Why do I consider "Home" a place I haven't lived in for 50 years?

What is home?

And can you ever go back?

Where do you call home?  And why?

Originally posted to Keith930 on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 09:31 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I'm back at home in Northwest Arkansas... (5+ / 0-)

    ...after nearly 12 years in the Mississippi Delta region. Back where I grew up, etc. I would like to move somewhere more progressive, more fun...somewhere with more opportunities. Thanks for the diary.

  •  Just maybe, Keith, the clue to your dilemma (3+ / 0-)

    is in your sig line?

    War beats down, and sows with salt, the hearts and minds of soldiers." Brecht

    by DaNang65 on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 10:11:08 PM PST

  •  I've lived all over Texas (9+ / 0-)

    and I've tried to go home twice. The first time was to the city where I grew up- that was a misery for a variety of reasons. The second time was the town where I spent my early 20's, and I'll be happy to stay here the rest of my life.

    Most folks wouldn't- we only have 2 stoplights, people free-range chickens that wander onto the main streets, the grocery store closes at 7 (5 on Sunday) and most of the Democrats are in the closet, but I belong here, probably because my lovely husband does, and even he isn't from here.

    When we were moving my stuff here, him in the truck and me in the car, he called me as we crossed the county line, and said "Welcome home, darlin'". And I am indeed home.

    Very thoughtful diary. Thank you.

    Anyone who scoffs at happiness needs to take their soul back to the factory and demand a better one. -driftglass

    by postmodernista on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 10:16:40 PM PST

  •  Hey Keith... (6+ / 0-)

    how goes it man...nice diary. This'll take you home.

    Been missing you at EB, brother.

  •  I was born and have lived all my life, (6+ / 0-)

    except for when I was in college, in a city two-and-a-half hours from Chicago. I'm happy here--it's home.

    So many books--so little time. Economic Left/Right -7.88 Social Libertarian/Authoritarian -6.97

    by Louisiana 1976 on Sun Mar 02, 2014 at 10:42:37 PM PST

  •  I've lived in essentially four places (7+ / 0-)

    I grew up in the suburbs of Boston. I spent 12 years of my adult life in Manhattan, roughly 6 in San Francisco, and the rest in Los Angeles. I don't think I'd want to live in Boston again --it had changed too much the last time I was there five years ago -- but any of the other three places will do just fine. I think, in fact, I'd prefer San Francisco because it's just easier to get around in.

    Yes, I'm a city guy.

  •  Nice diary, Keith930. (9+ / 0-)

    Before leaving southern CA at 22, I drove by the house where I was born. I'd lived in five other houses since leaving it at the age of ten, but I always thought of it as my real home. I looked at the little rundown house, the patches of bare dirt where my mother's flowers grew, and the corner where the big green pine tree stood. It was still standing, a stiff brown skeleton of what it had been when I was a child. They couldn't even be bothered to give it water. I'm sorry I looked; I never went back.

    I was talking last week to an online friend. We compared his rambling life with my settled one (I've lived in the same house for 44 years now, worked the same job for 27. He grew up in foster homes and orphanages, and has lived a fascinating life that has taken him all over the world, sometimes with nothing but a backpack and a guitar.

    When things go wrong, his first impulse is to hit the road, while mine is to go home and shut the door on the world. Those early years make such a difference.

    Can you go home again? My home was gone more than 50 years ago, and this town is as close as I'll ever be to "home" now. Sounds like your home is still there. Could you go back  and be happy? Sounds like maybe you could. Good luck, whatever you decide....

  •  Since my mid-20s (6+ / 0-)

    I've lived four different places (Chicago, Phoenix, Urbana (downstate Illinois), and now Tallahassee.  The first three for about seven years each and now coming up on six in Florida.

    Each of these places was/is simultaneously home and not home.  And with each move in some ways I make less of an effort to really set down roots.  I pay less attention to the local news, for example, now than I ever have in my life.

    "To see both sides of a quarrel, is to judge without hate or alarm" - Richard Thompson

    by matching mole on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 05:43:17 AM PST

  •  Oh, sweet nostalgia! (10+ / 0-)

    They say that home is where you hang your hat, but the place we think of as home seems to be where we spent our formative years, the place where we felt safest and most cared for, the place where we had extended family and a network of friends and neighbors.

    I live about 40 some miles from the place of my birth. Home for me is the farm where I grew up, the land having been in my daddy's family since the 1740's. I played there as a small child and later worked the fields. I was fascinated from a very early age by both family cemetery and by the huge, framed photos and oil portraits of bygone generations of the family. My grandfather used to  identify the ancestors and told me stories about them. That experience inspired me with a long standing interest in genealogy. As much as home is a place, it is also state of mind. Home is as much about the people who are or were important in our lives as it is about the physical location.

    Can one go home again? Well, yes and no. We can always go home in our memories. Two or three times per year I drive over to the family homeplace, walk around and pay respects in the graveyard. Not being at all religious, I can only call it a   spiritual experience to stand on the same ground where the family has lived and worked for centuries. It brings a sense of connection to the past and of the continuity of life. Were I to decide to live in that place, things would not be as I remember them. Our perspective changes as we grow older, so we may find that our memories of "home" have been overly idealistic. Also many of the people who populated our childhoods are no longer among the living.

    •  Beautiful comment, and one that i ... (7+ / 0-)

      ... heartily agree with.

      I would add that those of us who are unable to see our own history within the frame of a Norman Rockwell painting can be left with a constant sense of detachment and isolation from the world.  In my case, "home" has no longitude and latitude, but rather exists, of all places, in my husband's blood stream.  We met as children (i was 16!), children for whom "home" had nothing but negative associations.  But we found comfort and safety in one another.  Geographically speaking, we've moved around quite a lot in this life, but always together.

      Is it the most healthy relationship one can have with the world?  Probably not.  Are there empty spaces and unfulfilled longings?  Sure.  But it's who we are, and who we've always been.  As long as we're together, we're home.

  •  I think I have felt some of what you're (7+ / 0-)

    talking about.

    For one, my Dad was Treasury rep for the Marshall Plan in England, starting when I was 4 months old, and ending when I was 3-something. I went back to England at the age of 41, and the "rightness" of it was really striking. If I found out I had a terminal illness, I think I would have to go back to England one more time.

    I now live in Berkeley, as you may know from the WFD comment threads. People ask if I was born in California, and I say "no, but I should have been." I do feel at home here. OTOH, I've lived in my present home since early 1978, so that's a long time for a place to grow on you. It's a great cultural fit for us, and we love the food and the friendliness and the climate, and the view from Tilden Park.

    Another place I call home is where I grew up. My parents bought a house in the NW suburbs of Washington DC upon returning from England, and my Mom still lives there. Thus it is a place I have been connected to since early 1951; but in some ways the culture feels alien to me. It feels like a home, b/c of the familiarity, and seeing the brick houses that I grew up around (which would be sheer idiocy here in earthquake country) gives me a warm feeling. And I'm sure I'd have to go there on any "final trip" too.

  •  My classmates at an international school (8+ / 0-)

    who have since lived in many countries say they only feel at home when their bags are packed and they're ready to go.

    The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right. -- Judge Learned Hand, May 21, 1944

    by ybruti on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 07:52:37 AM PST

  •  Hiraeth (6+ / 0-)

    a Welsh word that doesn't translate directly but refers to homesickness or a deep bond with one's homeland. It has also been defined as a longing for a place or a person who has never existed. In this case, it deals more with a sense of incompleteness.

    I start to feel this way when I've been in one place for enough time to feel roots growing, when the itch to get moving sets in.

    Some would say that you need to find peace from within and quit running. That advice assumes you have something to run from. Maybe you have something to run to.

    I say embrace your inner nomad and go exploring. Recognize that many races of people have been or are nomadic and some of that blood may be flowing through your veins.

    So, I'm not sure where I call home. I know I've been in one place now the longest I've ever been, and it feels like time to hit the trail. I get homesick for being on the move.

    Definitions and examples of the word Hiraeth here and here and here.

  •  on one of our early dates, hubby and I drove thru (8+ / 0-)

    an area I wasn't familiar with that was so beautiful that I thought to myself wholeheartedly "I could just live here." Amber waves of grain in the shimmering summer sun. But I didn't say anything.
       A couple years later, hubby dragged me out in a thunderstorm at night in October to see a house somewhere. Even though it looked entirely different in that season I instantly recognized that I was home. We signed immediately and moved in a month later. Been there 28+ years now & still happy.
       But I also found my lovin' hubby through what some would call 'love at first sight' although I have always felt it was 'recognition' at first sight, as in 'talking with this guy is just like interacting with one of my family members,' even though it was the moment of our introduction. We started a conversation then that still continues.
       But that's just me and my fairly intuitive style of living. Hubby has the same wanderlust that it seems like is the spark in so many men, he's just found ways to channel it into traveling without moving house so that I could keep the place where I feel so rooted.
        Last night I was thinking about the nature of rootedness and the feminine compared to the traveling instinct as the masculine. I'm no expert, I was just thinking about it. And I also agree with the thought that 'wherever you go, there you are.'
        I like the travel commercial in which they guy says that when he was a child he made a list of all the places he wanted to go in his life.  He hadn't crossed off Mars, yet, but otherwise travel was inexpensive, blah, blah...I just really liked the thought of Mars being on his list. Never occurred to me. All I ever wanted from when I was small was Little House in the Big Woods, and I happened to get it right away. What do you really want from your surroundings?

    We are all pupils in the eyes of God.

    by nuclear winter solstice on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 09:33:33 AM PST

  •  I'm home where I am now. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, PeterHug, Ahianne

    I, too, live in Portland, Oregon.  However, the home I'm talking about is the apartment I'm living in and the complex it is part of.  The complex I live is the kind of place where you move out soon after the initial 6-month lease is up, or stay something approximating forever.  I've been there since September of 2004.  My daughter since September of 2007.

    In the wider sense, "home" to me is anywhere that winters are gray and green and mud.  I'm a nativeborn Oregonian, and lived in the mountains around different parts west of the Cascades while I was growing up - from age 10 on in the Philomath School District.  I lived fairly happily in Los Angeles for 25 years after going there to attend college, but, with all its interest and beauties, it was never really home.

    Strength and dignity are her clothing, she rejoices at the days to come; She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the law of kindness is on her tongue.

    by loggersbrat on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 10:53:47 AM PST

  •  Yi-Fu Tuan pioneered human geography (6+ / 0-)

    and wrote a scholarly piece, Topophilia, which surprisingly became a runaway best seller because it investigated what you describe here.

    Yi-Fu Tuanis a Chinese-American geographer famous for pioneering the field of human geography and merging it with philosophy, art, psychology, and religion. This amalgamation has formed what is known as humanist geography.

    Humanist geography as it is sometimes called is a  branch of geography that studies how humans interact with space and their physical and social environments. It also looks at the spatial and temporal distribution of population as well as the organization of the world’s societies. Most importantly though, humanistic geography stresses people’s perceptions, creativity, personal beliefs, and experiences in developing attitudes on their environments....

    ...Tuan produced his most influential work called Topophilia which looked at the love of place and people’s perceptions, attitudes, and values surrounding their environments. In 1977, he further solidified his definitions of place and space with his article, “Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience.”

    That piece, combined with Topophilia then had a significant impact on Tuan’s writing. While writing Topophilia, he learned the people perceive place not only because of the physical environment but also because of fear. In 1979, this became the idea of his book, Landscapes of Fear.

    My roots are deeply embedded in Oregon but particularly in the Willamette Valley. It is home for me; I draw strength from its very soil and rivers.

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:31:54 AM PST

  •  Moving and being (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, PeterHug

    When I was in college one of my roomies was an "army brat." We had both moved every two or three years as children and discovered we had a lot in common. Later I learned that military kids had a saying about being able to fit in anywhere, but being at home nowhere, and realized that pretty much described me too. I've now lived in the same house in a small town (which is just one slightly distinct place in the huge suburbs surrounding LA) since 1971, and I still don't quite feel that it is home!

    If your internal map of reality doesn't match external conditions, bad things happen.--Cambias

    by pimutant on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 11:45:36 AM PST

  •  Interestingly, (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Elizaveta, RiveroftheWest, PeterHug

    I haven't moved around that much but nowhere has ever felt like home to me.  The house itself, sure, but the city/location?  Nope.  I really did love the time I went to school and lived in Dallas, Texas.  I'd love to live in Texas again (and help fight on the ground to turn it blue).  Maybe someday, who knows.  My ultimate dream job is in Montreal (never lived there or outside the US) so I have no idea where I will live, or if I will ever call someplace home.

    "I don't want a unicorn. I want a fucking pegasus. And I want it to carry a flaming sword." -mahakali overdrive

    by Silvia Nightshade on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 12:23:55 PM PST

  •  Home... (4+ / 0-)

    Obviously to most of us a place of the mind and heart and not of "history."  I left the city where I was born and raised when I was 40.  Moved to a state I'd only visited once. Home found. Never in a million years would I go back to that city where I lived for 40 years.  Here I fit. Here I can think free and speak free.  Well--freer, anyhow.  

  •  I have lived in Ohio all my life. Born near Dayton (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, PeterHug, PapaChach

    now live near Toledo. I have never really wanted to go anywhere else. For all its' quirks, it is home. Hell, maybe in the next life...

    The things I want to know are in books; My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I ain't read.- Abraham Lincoln

    by Mighty Ike on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 05:11:19 PM PST

  •  Portland transplant here! (4+ / 0-)

    Well, I'm not "from" Portland, and I can't be.  I can't identify with any of the K-12 schools here, for example.

    If I'm "from" anywhere, it's Houston, Texas, where I spend all my K-12 years. I still have family there. But I haven't lived there since 1972. Hard to imagine going back.

    I had a few other homes for a few years each: Austin, Boston, Santa Barbara. I loved all these places!

    On the other hand, I've lived in Portland for thirty-five years now, way longer than I lived in the town I'm "from".

    I guess, if I'm going to have roots anywhere, it's gonna be here! I'll stake my claim and call it my home. Raise my son here the best way I can.

    So I involve myself in the affairs of my neighborhood and the city. I plant trees (my roots!), restore stream habitats, take care of parks, sing and dance with friends. My parents and their ancestors are strewn from Texas back through Tennessee, Mississippi, Delaware, and beyond the sea.

    We (my families) are a wandering bunch of tribes. Our roots are in the earth, not so much in a particular place.

    Kinda makes my mind ramble to a song by Alaskan Libby Roderick, "Bones" (full lyrics):

    I come from a long line of dead people
    I come from a tall pile of bones
    My people lie sleeping all under the world
    Their souls turn to roots, leaves and stones.

    My grandpa went by whiskey in an L.A. hotel
    His dad died of Ohio coal
    And before him, and before that, they slipped under the ground
    Fewer bones walk above than below.

    I can't help it. I love the state of Texas. It's a harmless perversion. - Molly Ivins

    by rsmpdx on Mon Mar 03, 2014 at 05:57:48 PM PST

  •  I have thoughts like that, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, PapaChach

    where do I belong? I have lived in Ithaca NY since 1974, with one hiatus, to Lodi WI for a postdoc at UW, Madison.

    Do I feel like a native? Probably not. But I hang on to my land and my house. I had from age 5 to 18 in Louisville KY, the"formative years" and was just there and no, can't see myself going back there. I am not an urban person anymore. So here I am in my medium-sized house in the big woods.

    With no spouse now and my daughter still living at home, I am lonely and depressed (it's like -2 outside to make things worse). I think of myself as the only person living who has institutional memory of this property and the house my husband designed. That what's keeps me here. I OWN it.

    I may have made bad decisions along the way, but they were made and I support them (at least at the time they were made). A month before my husband died he called me from the hospital late night to say that he thought he would die that night. All I could tell him was that we had a good life. He lived for a few more weeks.

    Americans, while occasionally willing to be serfs, have always been obstinate about being peasantry. F. Scott Fitzgerald, the Great Gatsby

    by riverlover on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 02:14:47 AM PST

  •  Most people in the world don't move around Keith (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    they know all their neighbors and so did their parents in the same place. Cities are soul suckers, move out, it's not too late. Learn to eat what vegetables are available and grow the rest, you really don't need a Starbucks and Whole Foods to survive. Do you want to die in a city? Anonymous, surrounded by strangers? At least in a small town all your neighbors will notice your passing.

    “Conservation… is a positive exercise of skill and insight, not merely a negative exercise of abstinence and caution…” Aldo Leopold

    by ban nock on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 07:59:35 AM PST

    •  Country life sucks (0+ / 0-)

      I thought I'd never miss the big city until I've been out of one for a while.  I'd love to say that I'm one of those enviro-crunchy types who loves watching plants grow and can throw on a backpack and take day-long hikes in the foothills on a moments' notice, stopping every 5 miles to whip out an indie-bluegrass jam on my banjo.  I'm just not.  I know I won't live as long, and I don't care.  I'll take a noisy club with a loud band any day of the week--and have.

      Col. Brandt: "What do you think we'll do when we lose the war?" Capt. Kiesel: "Prepare for the next one." --from "Cross of Iron"

      by ConservatismSuxx on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 11:11:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Home is where you'd least expect it (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest

    I was born in AZ, just south of Phx., where I lived until I was 7.  I spent my entire childhood and nearly all of my 20's in the LA/OC area, save 3 years being stationed overseas with the Marines.  I thought I would go back to AZ to "get back to my roots" and reconnect with some family that I didn't get to see so much growing up.

    It sucked.  I hated it.

    I now live in CO, which is nice.  But you know what?  I miss California.  I mean, really, really miss it.  I daydream about it.  I get homesick every time I see a movie or TV show set in LA.  I miss the sprawl, the traffic, the smog.  I also miss the ocean, the Sunset strip, the diversity, the restaurants, the comedy and music scenes, the colleges and universities, always being able to find your niche, and the fact that there is always something to do just five minutes away--the culture.

    My wife wants to move back to AZ, because she is intimidated by the comparatively high housing prices in SoCal.  Makes sense.  To me, though, if we do wind up moving back to AZ, I look at it as just another stepping stone on my anabasis to California.  Something to keep me going, y'know?

    Col. Brandt: "What do you think we'll do when we lose the war?" Capt. Kiesel: "Prepare for the next one." --from "Cross of Iron"

    by ConservatismSuxx on Tue Mar 04, 2014 at 08:28:30 AM PST

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