Growing up, my mom got these catalogues: pages full of homes, and objects to fill the homes. There were even floor plans to the homes on those pages, which was in part how I knew what the inside of a house with stairs might look — at that point, all I wanted was to live in a house with two floors and some stairs. I memorized the floor plans of my favorite houses and decorated them inside my mind: this is where the intercom to all the rooms would go (because it would obviously be too big for my mom and I to hear each other if one of us called); these are the curtains; this is the bathtub.
Catalogue in hand, I acted out going up and down the stairs. I told my mother all about what our house would look like, and I know she listened to me, but I remember a sadness about those conversations, too. I knew we’d never live in a house with stairs.
For most of my young life, we didn’t live in a house at all — most of the time, I learned my way around the complexes of condos and apartments, relishing in a pool to swim in during the summer, but bending a longing ear toward my friends when they talked about their own homes, most of which they’d lived in their whole lives. I knew I’d never know what it was like to live in one home my whole life.
It’s almost impossible to describe the ever-present tension that lives in the body of a woman who aches for home and belonging, but has never belonged to a home. I have never not been aware of the impermanence of every home I’ve lived in, which means some boxes stay unpacked and the home, even if imperceptible to others, for me remains un-lived-in. It’s a feeling of hovering above my life — always with a thin layer between me and what I know isn’t mine — that I’ve come to realize with great sadness means I’m never really home.
The fact that I also feel a great deal of belonging to my experiences of place (as opposed to belonging TO a place) — the novelty of travel and the natural world being two of my closest friends — means I live quite comfortably on the fringes of home and community. A little more than a year ago, I was ready to strap a solar panel to the roof of my car and live as an adventure-seeking nomad; the only thing I was really worried about was the cold. (I figured I’d just head to Florida until it warmed up around the rest of the country.)
I grieved some when it became clear that my life was asking something different of me. The fact that returning to Southern California also meant coming back together with Bae after a lot of years apart was a really joyous byproduct — and a huge part of my decision to hunker down, get a day job, pay rent, and finally lean into the pieces of domestication that suit me.
Of course I’m understanding now that being constantly on the move in some ways meant I got to avoid the plunging feeling of loss I’ve felt with every move — novelty is a great way to stay out of the current of the River Grief. Staying put is a warrior’s path for someone like me, whose whole body begs to be pulled into the warm grounding of permanence, but is not wired to conform to the expectations of organized society.
I’ve spent a lot of the last year trying to remember myself in a day-to-day that seems designed to smother the fire out of us. If I’m not careful, I begin to believe that putting one foot in front of the other is enough.
The civilized world is not nearly as beautiful as the one that emerges from a person who has the freedom to truly express themselves — and my task (and everyone’s, I’m realizing), is to not only develop a practice of learning and expressing this True Self, but to be a tool for the bajillion other people who are struggling with the same pressure. It’s not a matter of distrusting a domesticated life — it’s a question of how to remember and express what’s natural to us: what joy and creativity is vibrating in us, and how to do so under the litany of pressures coming at us from every direction.
Earnestly making a home in a place I know I won’t live forever is a serious task for me. I don’t know if normal people feel this tension, but holy hell: it’s like tilling concrete. So is keeping a day job, and doing normal things like applying to grad school and folding laundry. I’m charting a course which includes staying put, loving my partner and leaning into the deep content of routine and a decent credit score. It’s wild.
I mean, honestly. The fact that we all have to somehow afford to live might be one of the greatest mindfucks of the human experience. For folks like me who have never really been comfortable with feeling like cattle ushered to the milking stations, we have to try extra hard to pump out work containing traces of our soul. If you are also a hermit like me, and sensitive and have a shockingly clear view of what is being felt around you at all times, it’s also hard not to hide in pajamas and eat ice cream sandwiches all day.
My greatest motivation is to allow myself — and everyone — the permission to explore what expressing truth means at every turn, with every change in season, so that making a life reflective of who we really are is something we are well-equipped to do. Maybe not perfectly, but authentically. And maybe possibly while still wearing pajamas.