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When you don’t live anywhere

June 17, 2011

This trip wasn't meant to last forever, for crying out loud

I’m used to living out of boxes. My family lineage is matriarchal, due to a lack of strong father figures, except for here and there. Our family matriarchal myth handed down from one generation to the next is reminiscent of Chocolat, wherein Vianne’s mother, a mysterious woman who has no ostensible need for a house, security, and reliable indoor plumbing, is carried off by the elusive north wind, never to be heard from again. This early loss of her mother leads Vianne to become what my grandmother would have called a tsiganka, or gypsy, largely because she never gets therapy and this is her way of dealing with the trauma, no doubt.

The problems this tsiganka lifestyle creates, however, are obvious. For one, you never put down roots, and Vianne’s daughter, Anouk, chastises her peripatetic mother severely for this fact. The little girl wants, more than anything, to have a home, and one can see the appeal of settling down. I have moved 37 times, and am trying to decide where move #38 will land me, but so far, I have no idea. My compass is broken, it seems, and the only thing I do know is that being adaptable to circumstances has its limitations.

I’m on a protracted journey in Europe at the moment. That sounds good on paper, but in reality, what I’m discovering is that I don’t have a clue what I’m doing. I’m looking for road signs everywhere, including in books. I just finished reading Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist, which I picked up partially because its tagline said something about “for those in search of their path” or some such promise that no book could possibly live up to. It’s a wonderful book, don’t get me wrong; but having read it, I am no closer to knowing if I’m on the correct path than I was the day before I read it. I’m still lost, but at least now I’m inspired to never give up on my dreams (that’s the other tagline for The Alchemist: never give up on your dreams, or, at the very least, do not ignore your dreams, because they contain useful information).

When you don’t live anywhere, you do a few things that don’t make a lot of sense. You live out of suitcases; you buy more suitcases, in the hope you’ll find the size that holds the stuff you sent on in advance, but now need to take home with you, since you’ve discovered that the place you’re staying is not where you want to be. When you don’t live anywhere, you feel tetchy all the time, irritable, as though a Scirocco was blowing through your hair continuously. No seat belongs to you, none of the stuff surrounding you is yours; you borrow everything. You throw things away as you go, since you have nowhere to put anything.

The Fool, on his endless journey

Ultimately, it’s an unpleasant life, being the perpetual Fool in the first card of the Major Arcana. Everyone is kind to you, but you don’t actually belong to them in any real way; and not only that, if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language, not living anywhere means you’re a perpetual stranger. Learning a language is key to understanding what’s going on around you.

It comes down to commitment, however; if you’re uncommitted, you don’t put down your suitcases long enough to learn a language. Your goal is to get the hell out of wherever it is you are because you’re tetchy in general, and do not have a lily pad of your very own to light on.

I keep hoping this is just a phase, something my mother would have accused me of. But the family heritage, of being required to move on if things get difficult or boring, is, perhaps, part of my DNA. I am reminded that my ancestors were people who came to their new country at least partially because their need for things to change was very strong, strong enough to tug them across a wide ocean, giving up their quotidian reality for something new and different.

The people I am descended from were pioneers of a sort. They became Americans, but they started out in Europe; in Eastern Europe, some of them, and others from the Continent, in what used to be Austro-Hungary. I have returned to my roots, to some extent, perhaps to find some piece of myself that I can’t find any other way, being an American and all. Americans are kind of lost, if you ask me. We don’t really have our own traditions—at least I never did—and so I went in search of some.

But I now wonder if Americans are, or can be, the ultimate voyeurs. Our European forebears left these lands I now visit, to come to a strange country and find some way to adapt. I am in doubt that I could do the same in reverse. I love Europe, but I suspect I love it the way Americans do, as though it were another Disneyland.

I don’t know if this is what my ancestors would have wanted for me, to return to where they began, and then feel like I don’t really belong here. For some reason, I thought I could go home again, only to discover that I am not sure I belong anywhere in particular. If there’s no place like home, I keep wondering where that might be.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 18, 2011 6:08 AM

    Wow! I spent yesterday on a long flight writing about that question “Where are you from?” I never know what to say and I keep hoping someone might tell me. And where are you from when there is nowhere to go back to?
    This whole issue is one I wrestle with constantly and to find your wonderful piece, well, I think I want to cry. Yet, the people who are so firmly rooted, for whom “home” is and always has been a fixed central in their lives, I don’t know how they do it!
    Emma Bovary was as lost in her own small world as we might be in the larger world but at least you are getting good copy out of your anxieties and I for one am very grateful.

    • June 18, 2011 6:40 AM

      Here at Crisis Central we call it “spinning straw into [ahem, cough cough] gold.” ‘-) I have lived with people who are “from” somewhere. It’s not easy for me. I keep looking at them askance, wondering how in the world they tolerate the boredom? Then, when we have had to see their relative for the second time in one week, I think, “but we just saw this person!” ARGH. Familiarity breeds contempt, something Emma B. was well aware of, sadly. And this is not the “greener grass across the fence” syndrome, either! It isn’t any more interesting anywhere else. It’s just different, that’s all.

  2. Violet Hour Muse permalink
    June 27, 2011 8:16 PM

    The Earth is the only home I have; my body the only home for my Soul. Everywhere else is just…..scenery and stuff to dust.

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