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Where Do You Call Home?

posted by Jason Kottke Dec 15, 2023

a small Thai house with 'HOME' painted sloppily on the front door

As part of the Walk and Talk I went on with 11 other people in Thailand last week, we had nightly discussions over dinner — one topic per meal for seven nights, with each topic suggested by one of the walkers. I’d known about this aspect of the trip for a few months and I had a hell of a time coming up with something. But on the first day of the trip, I thought of question that I posed to the group on our second night:

Where do you call home? And why?

I’ve been struggling with the concept of home for the past several years. NYC very much felt like home to me shortly after I moved there in 2003 in a way that Minneapolis and (especially) San Francisco hadn’t. Since moving to Vermont in 2016, I’ve never really felt at home here. But NYC isn’t home anymore…and neither is Wisconsin, where I grew up. Where do I want to go to find a home? Do I need to feel at home somewhere? Or is home simply wherever my bed/desk/stuff happens to be? I had more questions than answers around this issue and I was interested in how other people in the group, which included folks that had lived and travelled all over the world, would answer the question.

So, I put the same question to you if you feel like sharing your perspective: Where do you call home? And why?

Discussion  67 comments

Monica Danielle

I think about this a lot. I was raised in Utah then lived in NYC briefly and loved it more than anywhere else I've lived. Marriage brought me to central Pennsylvania and now divorce and co-parenting keep me here, for now. It's not home. Doesn't feel like home. But Utah certainly doesn't feel like home and neither does NYC. I think, for me, home is consciousness and awareness. Setting thoughts and context aside and being mindfully present of aliveness. Truly recognizing the immense awesomeness of existence. Those brief but beautiful bolts of recognition feel like home to me.

That and having all my kids with me at once no matter where we are is also "home."

Monica Danielle

(I wouldn't mind calling a giant tree stump in the woods home, either.)

Mark Reeves

When you figure out how to figure this out, please let me know.

Since moving to Vermont in 2016, I’ve never really felt at home here.

💯 same.

and neither is Wisconsin, where I grew up.

Northern New York, where I was from age 12 through times home from college, isn't for me, either. The Hudson Valley, where I first grew up, feels a little closer, but also still too busy.

I still feel that sense of relief when I drive back from New York State and finally hit I-89 in Vermont and there's just more space. But so much of living here feels like a challenge.

We'd be priced out of Montpelier, VT, for what we want at this point; when we bought it worked for us after feeling like we were priced out of Western MA. We definitely tired of Greater Boston when we moved from there to Western MA. I'd love to set my sights on a place where my long-time friends live as the next goal, but I can't get the space I want where they are. That's the conundrum for me: having the space I want without running myself ragged to pay for it.

There's a part of me that feels like I'd like to be back in NYS someday, but not the part—Northern New York—where I have childhood friends. (I drove up there this summer to check out some cheap land for sale, and remembered that, despite our regular summer vacations on the St. Lawrence River, I left there for a reason.) The kids are no longer doing home study here now, too, so I don't have to make that a criteria anymore. Northeast states outside of New England tend to require more credentials for the work my wife does, so that's a consideration.

There's a recent book about this, This is Where You Belong, by Melody Warnick. It didn't give me any answers, but it was nice to read along with someone else wrestling with this.

Eric Fredricksen

(BTW please bring me on the next walk. It sounds amazing.)

I think the feeling of home is akin to a feeling of love, kind of deep and irrational.

I lived in San Francisco for a long time and moved to Seattle and it took a long time for this to feel like my home. Instead I felt like Seattle didn't (I guess) "deserve" the honor of being called home. It was just a place. Where did it get off?

I remembered the proud feeling I'd get when I'd see the SF skyline after a trip away, feeling lucky to be a real, live resident. I think I'm partway there with Seattle by now.

Autumn Young

I love your description of the feeling of home as being deep and irrational - that one hundred percent resonates with me, as does that feeling of somewhere needing to deserve being called home. Do you know what leads to somewhere feeling "deserving," for you?

Eric Fredricksen

No I don’t. But maybe it has to do with feeling like being part of something that feels special and unique?

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enbeecee

Home is where I was born, wish I could live, and don't.
My life is elsewhere, but that's not the same thing.

Chris Wubbels

This question makes my heart ache! I bet it’s going to resonate with so many people who follow this blog.

I was going to make some comment about how my “home” is my network of friends who also have lost their sense of home. But that’s not home at all. That’s just keeping familiar company.

Then again, I’m not sure it’s unusual to struggle identifying home. I suspect there’s a profound and pervasive sense of dislocation moving through our culture right now.

Actually, I’d like to know if *anyone* who reads this blog feels certain about where home is.

enbeecee

I'm more certain about where it is not.

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Gary P.

Home is the town in Northern Virginia where I've lived since 1997. I was 24 when I moved here from Florida. I bought my first home here, married my wife here, both of my sons were born here. We moved to a trendy community 20 minutes west of here for a bigger home after Son the Younger was born, but that move proved disastrous for our family. The community... wasn't one, and we all suffered. We moved back to this town in 2018; my wife loves her job here; both boys are thriving in school, on their teams, and with their friends. We couldn't ask for a better place to call home.

Autumn Young

I'm currently living in New Zealand, a place that does not feel like home at all, which is a bit ironic, because I'm here exploring the concept of "place attachment", a term from environmental psychology that describes people's emotional connection to a place, for my masters thesis.

It wasn't until coming here though, that I realized I have two places that feel like home. The alpine tundra of Alaska, and an organic farm in Ohio, where I grew up. Both places are beautiful, in very, very different ways. But I also know both places. I know their seasons, their moods, the plants under my feet, the geologic uplift and glacial movements that carved and shaped them. For me, at least, that knowing is vital to the feeling of home, to a feeling of intimacy.

I also think that kind of knowing is a sort of luxury. I lived in Alaska for six years with no kids, no family, giving me ample time to just be in that place. Here in New Zealand, school and work have completely consumed me, so that I still feel blind to everything about this place - the plants, seasons, rythmes. There's no knowing, so there's no intimacy, and no feeling of home.

Chris Wubbels

Oh, I love what you said about Alaska, and Ohio!

Can you suggest a starting point for learning more about "place attachment"? That sounds like a familiar concept that I've never realized I needed a name for, and you've just taught me the name.

Autumn Young

Yes, I felt the same way! A really great book is Place Attachment: Advances in Theory, Methods and Applications. It sounds academic, but it actually describes some really fascinating (though I may be slightly biased in that regard) aspects of place attachment in a very accessible way. The paper "Between fixities and flows: Navigating place attachments in an increasingly mobile world" is quite a bit more jargon-y, but offers some excellent food for thought, and is, I believe open access.

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Mark Van Cleve

LA's fine, but it ain't home
NY's home, but it ain't mine no more

Logan Sholar

At this point, home equals being with my kids, for the most part.

Another part of being able to call a place home is the sense of emotional peace I get while living there. I live in Boulder, CO, and while I could care less about the actual city, the ability to go for the most beautiful bicycle rides daily brings me so much emotional peace (and a little adventure).

The last critical part of being able to call a place home for me would be to have a group of people that I really connect. I have a little of that now, and I want to work on having deeper connections with more people where I live.

All to say I think I could call any place home with this equation:

H(home)=K(kids)+EP(emotional peace)+F(friends)

Jenni Leder

“The last critical part of being able to call a place home for me would be to have a group of people that I really connect”

This is what is important to me (after being where my kid and spouse are). It can feel very lonely without a group to hang with.

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Kim D.

I've changed "home" two times in my life. The first time at age 22, I went from Seattle to Nashville, I was young, I didn't adapt well, it was different and I fought it. I matured and I adjusted, it took about 8 years for me to be able to say or think "home" and mean Nashville, not the NW. It's a process. For my second major move at age 42 (Nashville -> North Jersey), I was more experienced with such a life change, the area wasn't entirely new to me, as I had visited a lot before living here. I did volunteer work to meet people, I went to job search support groups and met people. I look back now and realize I made deliberate steps to not be a stranger in my own neighborhood - I interact with the people here. I've developed a great network of friends, and I couldn't bear to relocate anywhere else again. This is now home, I live among my people.

Katrin

I was born and grew up in Western Germany before the wall came down. The town I grew up in is my archetype of home. I wander the streets before I fall asleep, and I often miss the feeling of belonging I had there. But I don't want to go back.
I have lived in Eastern Germany for 25 years now, and despite the fact that the two halves of Germany have become more similar, I still feel friction with some of the culture here.
Like others, I am creating a life here with my people, my cats, my interests. But is it a home? I've kinda giving up on trying to answer that question.

Phil Wells

Home is where you might bump into someone from way back in the day. For me that's North Bergen.

Jay Schuster

I've thought about this a lot. I just turned 60. My parents moved to Vermont from just outside NYC when I was in first grade and aside from some years away for college (Ithaca, NY; Palo Alto, CA), I've lived here my entire life.

I always have wondered what it would be like to live somewhere I hadn't spent my childhood in. I talked with my mother about this once and her response was that she'd always wondered what it would be like to spend adulthood in the place she grew up. You can't have it both ways.

I had a love/hate relationship with living here for a very long time. My parents were part of the late 60s/early 70s hippie influx and being that family (we had a vegetable garden in our front yard!) in a suburban subdivision in an IBM company town meant I never really fit in. Coming out as gay in high school in the late 70s didn't help me fit in any either, but at least gave me some community. I started a business here when I was in college and only relatively recently have I been able to leave Vermont for any extended amount of time.

Vermont is not an easy place to be gay -- too few people for there to be a critical mass to date within, to support dedicated spaces, etc. It is exhausting always having to forge your own way. So when I could, I escaped to Montreal, Boston, NYC, and San Francisco. The people I've known the longest in my life have all ended up in San Francisco, even though I met them all originally in Vermont. Half my generation of blood family has ended up there, even though we're all from the Northeast. There's something about being from New England that limits the other places in the country you can feel comfortable in -- most everywhere has way too many churches, for example. [Sidebar: the non-Spanish West Coast was settled by New England whalers, so there are some cultural affinities there. Read Colin Woodard's American Nations]

It really is beautiful here. But also isolating.

A therapist once told me that the familiar isn't necessarily the comfortable. Vermont is very familiar. It wasn't comfortable for a really long time.

So where is home?

Home is anywhere I am surrounded by friends.

Paul Josey

Is a tradition grounded, safe definition of Home static and easily definable for our migratory generation(s)? Like the impossible definition of a favorite album, there is no true single home definition but many and the definition moves like water through life. For me, there was a different high school/coming of age home and pre-teen discovery home followed by a spread-my-wings west coast home, a mountain summer home, a this relationship and that relationship home, a pre-kids home and finally a growing family home.

And while they seem to more easily define themselves once their chapters are past, I try to remember to ground myself in appreciating the present home moment ("the glass is already broken", thank you, Jason) because the definition may change again soon.

Chris Glass

I've lived in a two hour radius my entire life. When folks in Cincinnati ask where I'm from I used to joke that I was born and raised here and never escaped. As the years roll by I’ve stopped saying that last bit... Many of the things I appreciated abroad found their way here, or I found them... (Except for temperate weather and a large body of water.)

I'm always happy on the return leg of a trip, no matter how restorative or exotic. And I've moved around the city quite a bit which helps reset clutter and rejuvenate perspective.

While no abode has been perfect, all have been lovely in their own way and I would call each home without hesitation. But is this my forever home? I think I'd need to find the right combination of space and light to proclaim that with certainty.

Natalie D

That's a nice way of putting it - I've lived lots of places across the US and have delighted in discovering the unique loveliness of each, including Cincinnati! I arrived here in my 30s and have lived here the longest I've lived anywhere, making it home enough.

Moving around the city sounds invigorating, though I'd have trouble trading in my current location (Oakley) for its functional walkability.

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Lisa S.

I loved this question when I saw it mentioned in the various posts on the walk. I've been thinking about this a ton lately, mostly in the guise of how to answer the question "where are you from?"

I live in Canada and have for 20 years, and I am Canadian. My house and immediate family are here. But I was born in the U.S. and native-born Canadians remind you of that frequently, so it's never felt like "home". I've lived here longer than anywhere else in my life, but for the rest of my life I will be described as "American-born". My new manager this year found out I was born in the U.S., and when I took U.S. Thanksgiving as a personal day for completely unrelated reasons, he told a bunch of people that I was off to celebrate Thanksgiving. No. We celebrated that in October, like the Canadians we are. Things like this stand in the way of feeling like Canada is "home".

I was born just over the border from where we live now, so I identify with the general geographic region. But even though my dad moved back there and has been there 30 years, it's still not "home" as I personally haven't lived there since I was 4. And other than my dad, I have no family there. My stuff from childhood is there, but the house isn't really "home". And whenever I say I'm "from" that small city because I was born there, people who grew up there will suss me out ("where did you go to high school?").

So is high school representative of where you're "from"? I lived in the rural Midwest for high school because my dad was military and assigned there. I haven't been back since he moved away and am unlikely ever to visit. I disliked it from day one when we moved there and it never got better. I have never identified with that place.

I have a suspicion this feeling of not having a home or not having a place you're from may not be all that uncommon for Gen Xers like me. I think it may be different for subsequent generations, for various historical and demographic reasons.

Anyway, there are probably two places that qualify as "home" for me. One is my grandparents' farm, which is funny because I've never lived there or near it and I feel very little connection with my family in that area except for my quite elderly grandma. But it has been my one home base for my entire life, and when she goes, I will mourn her and the loss of that home. The other is Germany, which is a bit surprising as it's the place where it's most obvious that I'm not "from" there, given my accent and eternal clumsiness in a non-native language. But I lived there as a kid, and in university, and I go back nearly every year. It's the place where I've felt the most free and independent and challenged. I think it's freeing, in a way, that I don't expect to be accepted there, unlike in Canada.

I may not be able to say I'm "from" either of those places, but they are the places that feel most like "home" to me.

(And this whole discussion makes me think of a Neko Case song called "I'm From Nowhere". :) )

Nat D

I've lived in Chicago for more than half my life at this point, but it's not home. And I don't think it ever really has been.

I grew up in New Jersey, just outside of Philadelphia, and lived there until I was 19. And while I don't specifically feel 'home' there anymore either, I do feel a sense of relief and belonging when I go back to the area that I've never felt in Chicago. I think I could move back to the region and feel at home there in a way that I never have here. And as I get older, the desire to have that feeling again -- which for so long I didn't think I needed -- gets stronger.

Moira Dawson

'Relief and belonging.' Yes: that's exactly what I feel when I'm home. Thank you for expressing it so clearly.

Nat D

I'm getting ready to go back to my childhood home for the holidays next week, and I've been thinking about this post, and my experience of going back. It hit me that the time I feel most at "home" is when I'm leaving there, to go back to Chicago. When I visit, it's generally for a short time, and I spend it with family or revisiting familiar locations, but when I leave, I'm struck by the untapped possibilities of a place I haven't truly known in years.

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Sébastien B

Home is where it's easiest to be myself.

Andreas Karsten

I have felt at home in different places during different times of my life, but right now, I am floating.

I have lived, with a fluctuating sense of reluctance, in Berlin for some time now. It's a great city to be queer and wild and independent, but an ambiguous city to raise kids to be queer, wild and independent.

My heart and soul and brain and bones ache to be elsewhere: in a place governed by common sense instead of vitriol, by science instead of superstition, by empathy instead of narcissism.

I think the place I have felt most at home in has been my own blog, for some time at least. It's a digital archive right now – maybe a digital graveyard; we'll see.

There are days when I am content living in place that doesn't feel much like home anymore, there are others, when it fills me with profound sadness. But then, looking at the state of the world right now, maybe it's okay to have trouble feeling settled and at home?

David Pacey

Great question. While contemplating somewhat deeply on whether where I am right now is home, after being in another part of the state (Washington) for 22 years, I came to the conclusion that maybe i'm rather a bit of a low key nomad. I grew up back east, was an exchange student, moved west in my thirties, but have never hesitated to move around out here.
In contrast, I work for a small indigenous tribe, and they've been in the same river valley for thousands of years. We had a wellness retreat last month and I discovered that among my 60 coworkers, only two of us are from farther away than 50 miles. I don't think I have the right to call this place "home".
I do consider Washington to be home atm because I don't want to live elsewhere for now, but then again a TFG presidency in '24 could make me re-evaluate even that.

Tom Robertson

I thought about it for a minute, but it’s Toronto, where I was born, left when I was four and came back to when I was 13 (we did a stint in Winnipeg for my prime kid years) and have lived in ever since I graduated university.

I don’t know that there’s anything particularly special about Toronto to be honest. I mean, it’s diverse and has an okay social safety net. But it’s certainly not without its problems (racism, poverty, housing costs, underfunded transit.)

But I just know this city so well. I’ve frequently walked, cycled, driven and taken transit all over it. I know what to expect when I emerge from every major subway station. I think fondly upon the places that have been standing since I was a teenager, I mourn the places that have been stupidly torn down.

I live in the same neighborhood i did when I was a teenager, and I pass by the places frequently where I first kissed a girl, where I had my first beer, smoked my first joint. The downtown bars that would serve minors, the secret alleys and shortcuts downtown that you only know if you’ve been here forever. The weird street signs that you still don’t always understand (monolithic sidewalk!).

For all its warts, this city just feels like a part of me and it’s unquestionably what I call home.

Dave Thompson

Have a professional musician friend who wrote a swingin’ jazz chart titled: “Home Is Where Your Socks Are”. Think about it all the time…

Jenni Leder

I moved about 8-9 times growing up, different cities, states, school. So home was more about who I was with, rather than the place itself.

My spouse and I feel a little unsettled everywhere we’ve lived. (He’s from Toronto and has felt the pull to move back there as well).

I’ve spent the most time in Texas. I was living I n Houston as a child, but I have no one there now, except a childhood friend. And it’s changed so much, I wouldn’t be able to find my way around.

I spent my 20’s in Dallas, but I was only there because I went to college nearby and it was just logical at the time. I don’t love it. I have a large group of best friends who are here and that is what made it great.

I lived in San Francisco for a handful of years, it never felt like home, but it was beautiful. And now I’m back in Dallas for cheaper houses, and it feels comfortable to be close to my friends again. But I definitely don’t love Texas.

Clay Harris

Have lived in Chapel Hill, NC for 26(!) years now, after having never spent more than 4-5 years in any one place growing up.

Have been thinking of just this question for the past few years post-divorce and have settled on simply … wherever I am with my kids, that’s home. Our house, AirBNB, the car, a plane…

Also recognize this is problematic and limiting in many ways … will keep ignoring that for a while longer.

James Sullivan

Back in the mid 80s I took a golf trip to St. Andrews, Scotland and on arrival I had a feeling of being "home". I was never able to establish residency there. Now a days I'd say my home is the planet Earth.

Ben Kelley

I lived in St Andrews for a little while in the mid 90s. What a wonderful town it was, at least then.

Meghan Lowe

I am from New England but lived in St Andrews for nearly a decade - and now live 20 minutes away, just further down the coast. It’s got a lovely homey feel to it.

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Jason Heiss

Such an interesting question. Right now home is where my (teenage) kids are. But looking forward a few years it gets a lot more complicated. The highest priority for me is likely to be the proximity of friends and (extended) family. But I have spent nearly twenty years prioritizing my immediate family and work, so I don't have the friends and friendships I wish I had. Another complication is that my wife and I have different notions of the physical places we want to call home. I would be content to be nomadic, but I expect we'll maintain a home base for her sake.

Mark Reeves

This all sounds incredibly familiar.

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Wayne Y Hoskisson

For the last twenty four years I have lived in southeast Utah. I consider this my home. But I also consider Utah my home. I was born and lived in the Salt Lake Valley when i was younger. In my late teens and twenties I was fluid in exactly where I lived. I visited San Francisco in 1965, 1966, and 1967 but still spent most of my time in Utah. I first visited the small town I live in now in 1958 when I was twelve. I knew I loved this place then. I took a job here in 1999. I am not sure I could leave now even though I have considered that as I grow older. I have spent much of my time hiking and backpacking in the mountains and in the deserts of southern Utah since my teens. There are traces of my family all over Utah since they were among the first white settlers that arrived in 1847. Over the last nine or ten years I have gotten to know a number of Native Americans whose families have been here from time immemorial, as they say. That opportunity re-engaged me in a way that feels exciting.

I am a reluctant traveler but will when needed or desired. I was in Washington, DC on 9/11 and watched the plane flying overhead just before it hit the Pentagon. I didn’t leave home for a couple of years after that.

I cannot remember when I first started reading Kottke.org. It does provide a different kind of information than usually engages me.

S. Ben Melhuish

Like a lot of others, home is where my family and I are now — currently one of Seattle’s inner suburbs. It’s never quite fit me perfectly: I think I’m more of a city boy than a suburban boy. But a coffee shop opened up the street, and then a good pub, and next month a bookstore, and all of a sudden it’s starting to feel like a good urban neighborhood.

Home is also where my good memories are. I haven’t lived in Portland for decades, but for all it has changed, I’m instantly comfortable when I return. I know the city far more intimately than I ever have Seattle, or perhaps ever will. And I’m somehow looking forward to returning to Los Angeles for my upcoming college reunion; I’ve never for a moment regretted leaving, but there are certain parts of it that still call to me.

So that’s what home is: Family, amenities, memories.

But when I visited Rome for the first time in the late ’90s, I somehow immediately felt at home there, too. I have no idea why. But it fit me like a glove, and the handful of times I’ve returned, it felt like a homecoming. So now I’m back to not knowing what home is after all.

Where would I choose to live if I suddenly had (God forbid) no attachments to anybody? Maybe home is the answer to that question.

Phil Gyford

From my mid-twenties I lived in London for almost half my life but it never felt like “home”. It was too big and too impersonal and, while I had plenty of friends, everyone was too spread out for me to feel the density of connections I thought “home” required, compared to the town in which I grew up, or the city in which I went to university.

But since moving away from London to the edge of a tiny village, surrounded by fields, London now feels like it was “home”. I miss those friends, no matter how dispersed across the city they were. I miss the familiar places I used to go, and all the familiar streets I’d walk to get there, no matter how bored of them I’d then become. Now, when I visit London, I smile and breathe a sigh of relief, feeling the comfort.

But if I moved back to London would I look back at this rural peace and quiet, the views of green hills, and think, “Oh, that was home, I do miss it”?

Laurie Kramer

I grew up in Western Massachusetts, went to college in Connecticut then alternated living in both states for the next 10 years. I met my husband when I lived in Boston and after he completed his medical residency we moved to Baltimore for 5 years. I loved Baltimore and was very sad when he got a great job in Central New Jersey. I was also aghast, since my image of New Jersey was what I saw from the NJ Turnpike. But we found a 5 acre home in a beautiful semi-rural location and have lived here now for 25 years. We talked about retiring to another state but I couldn't imagine starting all over again somewhere else. Although we don't have family in the area we have a very wide network of friends. We've been here longer than anywhere else and are happy to call it home.

David W

I’m amazed at how often Western Mass has come up here! For a place that is relatively out of the way a lot of interesting people spend time here.

The pattern of NYC -> small town/rural New England seems to be a theme here, that I am also part of. NYC is so welcoming of outsiders- you few like a New Yorker after your first week of riding the subway. Conversely, you can live in a New England town for 2 generations and still be considered a newcomer.

I’m in the “Noho” side of Northampton, which is made up of the college/intellectual/ artist/NYC/Boston contingent. It lives in parallel with the “Hamp” local culture. There’s a lot of crossover - our kids go to the same schools, we join in the Halloween rag shag parade, but there are definitely parts of no life that will not mix. Thankfully both sides are large enough to be vibrant and similar enough to get along!

Tim Gerdes

I suppose in a schmaltzy "home is where the heart is" kind of way, because I live in New Jersey, and have for my entire life, it is home. And yet I've never felt that I belong to this place. My wife and I have a nice house in the suburbs and are raising our kids here but I have always innately felt that I belong in California—one of the reasons that Mad Men and the character Don Draper have been so resonant to me. A show, that this site first introduced me to many many moons ago, so thanks for that Jason!

But yeah, while my family is here and I feel a sense of home simply being with them, I do feel that there's a place for me in the world where I belong, but that this is not it.

Stephen L Rutledge

"Home is where I want to be
Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, burn with a weak heart
I guess I must be having fun
The less we say about it the better
Make it up as we go along
Feet on the ground
Head in the sky
It's ok I know nothing's wrong... nothing"
D. Byrne

I grew up in Spokane, and I NEVER felt I was home there, even after I made the error of moving back after being away at university for six years. I have lived in NYC, LA, and Boston, but I have spent most of my life in Seattle (1981-2001) or Portland (2001 - present). I ended up missing Seattle, and I return for a three day visit every six weeks, Living in NYC made me realize that I am truly at home in the PNW: the light, the rain, the green.

But, home? Home is where my stuff is (and my husband), but I would not choose to live anywhere but the PNW, although I had a past life in NYC, and my dreams are often set there.

Lacey V

Home is Pittsburgh. Home is my actual physical home and also my nearby parent’s home where I mostly grew up. Home is where you can let your guard down and be yourself, I suppose.

Home is also traveling with good friends who don’t live here, the ones I rarely see but talk to often. It doesn’t matter what country or city we meet up in; it always feels like a homecoming.

One of those friends sent the group text this post recently: https://rojospinks.substack.com/p/the-friendship-problem which really resonated. I do feel at home in our home partially because we have street-local acquaintances but I wish some of them were deeper friendships; if they develop that way, I’m certain this will further cement the feeling that this is our forever home.

Kat

I wrote a big long thing, and I included it at the bottom, but the first few paragraphs are my TL:DR answer.
Home is two things:
1. Home is a comfortable living space that you like, that fulfills your space needs, where you can relax, be safe, and recharge your batteries, figuratively and literally, every day.

2. Home is a place where you are an active participant in a supportive community where people care about you, and you care about them. You see these people regularly, ideally every day, and over time, you build strong bonds with them.

If you're fortunate enough to be born into a stable family life, you begin life with a home that's been created for you. You're born into a house, a family, a school, maybe a church or other social community; all of the things that make a home were set in place for you.

As an adult, if you choose to move away from those things for your own reasons, you have to be an active participant in building the home you want. If you move to a place with no family or friends nearby, you have to make the effort to go out into the world and build connections, participate in your community. You have to find a living space that is (hopefully) affordable and that you can make your own. You have to make an effort to cultivate that living space into something that is a safe harbor for you. You have to mindfully decide that you're going to put yourself out there and meet people, routinely, in order to very deliberately build those bonds.

Here's my story:
I live in the PNW. I moved here just before the pandemic, in July of 2019.
I've been in the PNW for almost five years. I hated it here when we first moved. Being in a new place without friends or family, and then going into lockdown, unable to make new friends, compounded the situation. It's getting better now, but I must admit, I still don't love it here.
We moved here because there are a lot of opportunities for jobs in my industry here. Pre-pandemic, going to the office was a way of meeting new people and, through work acquaintances, discovering new communities. Kids are also good for this. But, thanks to the pandemic, nobody works in an office any more. I work remotely for a company in another state, where I DO NOT want to live, and my spouse does, too. There's nothing holding us here except out kid, who loves it here and who is thriving in schools.
Part of me wants to move back to the East coast, where my family is. But I try to visualize what that would be like, and I'm not sure it would make me happier. Maybe I just want to be there because there is an easily accessible community there, the one I left behind when I grew up and moved away. Why did I choose to move away in the first place? Would I be happy there?
So I've come to the realization that I need to make a deliberate effort to become part of the community here. It's hard, because it's so easy to just hang out in my house. But it's important.

Jacob Mul

Home is where a good conglomeration of friends are!

Bill Connell

Our family moved every 2-3 years until I was in middle school (and parents divorced), so I have no real connection to my birthplace or most places in between other than fond memories. The rest of my family is scattered around too, so there have always been multiple anchor points to choose from.

Since coming to the Twin Cities for college I found a community (several, in fact) that felt comfortable and though I moved around town I've stayed in the area for over 30 years. An earlier comment mentioned home being somewhere you run into people you know, and that happens surprisingly often here, which feels good.

I've been in the same house for 20+ years now, and through a lot here, and it's full of my sweat and favorite things, and it's home. Now that my kids are on their own I can imagine other houses that might suit better as I get older, but I'm planning to stick around, snow and all.

Nick Husher

I was standing outside my suburban Boston Metro house a few minutes ago. I caught the curl of a northern wind carrying the scent of wood smoke, and I thought of home. I grew up in central Vermont, and I miss almost everything about it. I miss the glass-sharp dry winter days with neon-blue sky, I miss the gentle abiding summers. I miss the food.

I miss the terse, kind-but-not-nice sort of Yankee that lives in Vermont. When you put your car in a snow bank on the back road with no signal, they're the one to stop their truck and say, "That's a bad place to park," while they pull some chains out of the bed to get you unstuck.

My wife and I talk about moving back from time to time, but that's tough for so many reasons. Even just the phrase, "moving back," sounds counterproductive. We travel and look for places that are more like home than not, and daydream about moving there.

Steven Champeon

My parents are both from old New England families (mom's side goes back to 1644 in Lynn, MA and my dad's to at least the 1700s in New Hampshire and Maine) but my mom was born in England to an Irish war bride and mostly grew up in Reading, MA with summers spent Down East on land that is still mostly in the family and has been since the mid-1800s. My brother and I now own my grandfather's camp in Jonesboro on Look's Point, named for my mothers' forebears, the land where she summered and where she always preferred to be, although she was pale and blond and half-Irish and shy among dark cousins with deep roots in that place. She spent a lot of our childhood trying to make us feel at home, but it mostly felt forced and unnatural; it's hard to create a feeling of tradition and belonging out of whole cloth.

I was born in Syracuse, and spent two years nearby before my father was transferred to Indianapolis, where my brother was born. I was raised from age four through high school in Orrington, ME, but we were the children of professionals living in a new subdivision in a town that had been mostly farms, and it was clear that we weren't locals, in a state that refers to anyone not from there as being "from away" (my wife is from North Carolina, and she was placed in the same category as my cousin's husband from the Middle East and another cousin's wife from Australia - if you're from a minute south of Kittery you're "from away").

Maine can be a very clannish place, it's not terribly densely populated, and your background and family can determine your place in harsh and judging ways, so when I went to high school in Brewer I was a kid from Orrington, different from the kids from East Holden or Eddington or South Brewer, and never really escaped that. My best friend and next door through the woods neighbor was also from northern New York, so we had weird accents and pronounced the Rs in words that others didn't, and he went to a different high school so I always had friends in both worlds. My parents divorced before I was twelve, and while we stayed in the house, we had to visit my father in Bangor, then New Hampshire, and later in Glenburn, but none of those places felt like home.

By chance I also went to college in Syracuse, and spent more than four years there, and have a couple of good friends still living there, so it's nice to visit and reminisce but much has changed and had even started to before I came back to Maine for a few months after graduation. My old apartment has been replaced with a Synagogue annex, the club I worked in all four years is now a shop for facilities maintenance, and so on. Like someone said, you can go home again, and as often as you like, because they've turned it into a motel.

Steven Champeon

(continued because as a piece is was too long for the comments engine)

I've been in Raleigh, North Carolina for thirty years, 23 of them in the 150-year old house we own in a historic district that was the first suburb, but with very few exceptions our friends here are from somewhere else, too. And the online diaspora doesn't help - most of our oldest friends are people we met online (waves to Jason) in mailing list communities or from their blogs or what have you, and they're in constant motion, as Jason exempifies in his post. Back in the mid-90s so many of them moved to SF, while we chose to stay here where my wife went to college, which we've never regretted, especially given that almost all of them later moved away to different places anyway. We've spent so much time in certain places that they're intensely familiar, but have never been home.

It's difficult to say what home really means, there's a sense that goes beyond familiarity and memory and proximity and knowledge. For years, when returning from work trips or conferences, there was a stretch of I-40 approaching Wade Avenue from RDU that sent a strong signal of home, especially after a week in Austin or SF or New Orleans or Maine, but even that has been changing due to all the growth here and new ideas of how to design interchanges and overpasses. I feel at home in New England, certain times of the year, driving the stretch of I-95N or I-90W where I know all the exits by heart, or parts of I-81S that I drove to visit Heather when we were first dating.

We've done our best to build a home here, and hope to make that more complete in the coming months as we finally try to renovate away the last vestiges of the tastes of the family that rehabbed it back in the mid-80s, but I have to remind myself that making a home is a process, not a goal, and that even if I know to get in the right lane because the left one soon becomes a turn only lane, that's again just familiarity, not necessarily a sense of belonging.

It's funny, and at times tragic, but Heather and I have both long dealt with feeling marginalized, treated as outsiders, whether for being from somewhere else or being treated differently because we were both singled out as "gifted and talented" in elementary school, or because of our accents, or for any manner of other things. I worked in a club for graduate students, and always felt more comfortable with them than with kids my own age.

I suppose that in the end, home is where we are together.

Moira Dawson

Home is and always will be Northern California (or a portion of it, for it's vast), specifically the area from Mendocino to the west to Tahoe City to the east, and as far south as Monterey. I'm at home among the rice fields and orchards of Yuba, Sutter, and Colusa counties, the vines of Napa, Sonoma, and Amador, the blustery gray mornings of Monterey and Mendocino, the tree-lined streets of Sacramento, and the Edwardian-covered hills of San Francisco with our plentiful parks full of old hippies and young transplants (and, if you're in Golden Gate Park, the occasional bison). I feel utterly at home here in this place where I've grown up and have been lucky enough to call home for decades now.

Samantha Bloom

I’m 38 (today!). I spent my first 27 years in the Bay Area, and for me that feels like home - I understand NSEW by orienting myself against the hills. So I’m a little lost now that I’ve been in LA (Pasadena) for the past decade. Lately, however, it is starting to feel more like home. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get a twang of love when I see a photo of the Bay.

Benjamin Warde

I've always thought about this in terms of feeling "temporary" or not. Starting in my early 30’s I spent a number of years traveling around the world, interspersed with occasional temporary jobs of a few months each, which is a great way to make everything feel very temporary. Eventually I found myself in the San Francisco Bay Area, about to start another six month employment contract, after which I figuired I’d go traveling again. But by this point I'd spent seven years feeling very temporary, and the sensation of being psychologically "perched" was starting to get uncomfortable. When you feel temporary you don’t invest emotionally and that felt like it was starting to undermine my ability to appreciate more or less everything. I decided that even though I was only going to be there for six months, I was going to act permanent. I can't control how I feel, but I can control what I do. If the apartment I wanted required a 12 month lease, even though I only wanted to stay six months? Fine, I'd take it anyway. If I met someone nice who I wanted to date even though I'd be taking off soon? Fine, I'd date her. I would act like I wasn't leaving in six months. That was 14 years ago and I'm still here. It feels like home.

Colter Mccorkindale

Arkansas was home for 32 years, but even then I never really felt entirely comfortable there. NYC has been home for 16 years now, and I still don't feel like I belong here. I tell myself that a certain amount of Zen non-attachment is important, as people have been fighting over borders and land since the dawn of humans. Living in the Internet era, all my best friends are spread to the winds in over a dozen cities. Home may never be a real place for me.

Jordan Davison

I think 'home' is another false singularity. You can love more than one person, you can feel at home in more than one context. Maybe I just have a broad filter for this but anywhere/one that makes me feel comfortable and secure in my most essential self is a form of home. This shifts as my self shifts (a steady tweaking).

Isah

My tween daughter and I are getting ready to move back to the US after 20 years abroad. I felt like we had built a long-lasting community here and assumed we'd be here at least until my daughter was making her own adult decisions. But the pandemic and a dramatic shift in the nature of where we live —it has become far too popular with digital nomads and tourists— have made me feel uncomfortable with calling this space our home. My daughter and I are both dual citizens and have thrived in our community, but as power dynamics between USian migrants/tourists/"expats" and local communities have changed, I have reckoned with what my skin color means here, even if I approach our daily interactions as intentionally and equitably as possible. So, the next few years will be about finding home again. Next year, we plan to have a home base with a friend who needs frequent housesitters and visit places where we are interested in living while still figuring out how to make a net positive impact on whatever community we join. I am heartened to see so many answers —and more questions— here!

Ellen Pruitt

Hi Isah – Shout out as you previously mentioned that my hometown of Detroit is high on your list – I hope you’ll reach out when you’re on your test trip! I really applaud your intentional approach to choosing where to make a home. Places and people definitely change and it can take courage to acknowledge what’s changed and act on it even if it’s sad and hard. Like many of you I ran off to NYC for a decade but when that no longer worked, I headed back home. I framed it as an intentional move, not a crawling back and I’m glad I played that little trick on myself! This has been a lovely spot to raise a kid and establish a little community, but I can see the end point and I’m excited to ponder new locations for Adult Life Part 3.

Isah

Hi Ellen! Thank you for place-checking me! Yes, Detroit is near the top of our visit-maybe-move list, so I will hunt you down somehow, some way, when we nail down dates. Our pros/cons list for Detroit is the most annotated, funky, and philosophical of the bunch, which really intrigues me! (Yes, I am allowed to intrigue myself.) Pondering... and considering new life stages... what an exciting spot for both of us to be!

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@djschwin

There's a wonderful Substack that explores this idea as it relates to Mississippi: natives, transplants, or ex-pats. https://rooted.substack.com/

I'd encourage anyone with notions about Mississippi to read it for really thoughtful interviews with people engaging with the state and all its baggage.

Geoff Yost

I've struggled to define home, too. Or at the very least, to identify when my place became my home, and ultimately embrace that. I found a universality to an observation Colson Whitehead made about New York: "You are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now."

I live now in Charleston, South Carolina, a city that, in the past half decade, has exploded in popularity and population. I still feel like an interloper, despite that in most of my social interactions now, at 15 years, I'm easily the person who has been here the longest. Indeed, to me, what was there before is more real and solid.

Mary Wallace

My father was in the military and we moved a lot before I was 10. We were stationed in Scotland when I was in 1st and 2nd grade (primary 1 and 2). When we were there, we were outsiders and the feeling never quite went away for me. But I returned to Scotland in 2005 and immediately felt back at home. I'd have to go back for longer to see if it was more than a vacation high.
Like many military kids, I've never had a sense of home. Where's your hometown? or where are you from? are loaded questions for us. There are no good answers. I'm still looking.

Tim CarmodyMOD

It's strange, because I grew up in Detroit and lived there as an adult, but Philadelphia is the place I currently call (and have always felt) is my home. When I moved back here in early 2021, I wrote a little bit about it, someone obliquely, in this blog post about Gonzo's song "I'm Going To Go Back There Someday."

Chris Farrell

Home is where you feel like you. It can be anywhere. It can even be a multitude of places.

I've lived all over. Some of those areas feel like home while some just feel like they used to be home. The place I moved to last year is still in the process of becoming home. All of those feelings are correct.

Ken Ballweg

For me it's much easier than most. I am a child of the Pacific Northwest, born in Walla Walla Washington, in 1942. Have lived in California and Florida as a war baby, then raised in 7 different locations in Washington and (mostly) Oregon. As a young adult I've lived in San Francisco, Sidney Australia, and Lahina Maui; so, I've been out and about. Slightly older, it has been 25 years in Ashland Oregon, then 26 in Tillamook, and the past six in Bellingham Wa. Basically, if I'm in sight of the Northwest Pacific Coast or the Cascade Mountains, I'm home.

For me it's people - more liberal than not - and landscape that goes up and down with "grand, green vistas". When I've visited my wife's birth state, Michigan, I find the "flatness" of geography and lakes to be viscerally disturbing. I've found wonderful people pretty much everywhere I've lived and traveled, so it's more about place for me.

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