liv: A woman with a long plait drinks a cup of tea (teapot)
[personal profile] liv
[personal profile] cjwatson gave the really thinky prompt:
"Homes": you have active roots in several quite geographically separate places, not only in terms of where you actually spend your time, but also communities you feel attached to. How does this affect your concept of home?

I imagined for a long time that I'd never really put down roots anywhere, I'd be an academic on perpetual short-term contracts and I'd just wander around the world following wherever the interesting research took me. So I keep finding myself surprised that I've had the same job, living in the same town, for over 5 years. The wandering around part lasted just 12 years, in fact, from the ages of 18 to 30. What changed was partly that I realized I'm never going to be a brilliant scientist, so career-wise it made a lot of sense to take up a permanent position in a small provincial university which will always be a bit of a backwater. And partly that I met [personal profile] jack and I started to understand that I want this relationship to be permanent, I don't want to sacrifice it to a career that probably isn't going to work out as my younger, more ambitious self might have hoped anyway. And partly that at 30, my desire for comfort and familiarity has grown to outweigh my desire for adventure and novelty and excitement, though that desire is still present and I do sort of miss my contract researcher life.

I still have a sense that my home is not any geographic place, but my people. My family of origin, who are now living all over England, but we do manage to get all of us together at least a couple of times a year, and I always feel at home whenever I'm in a room with my parents and all three of my sibs, and sometimes their partners as well. (As an aside, I find I have no paradigm for how to deal when one of my sibs breaks up with a long-term partner; it's a sudden transition from seeing the person as part of my family to having essentially no relationship with them. At one point, 'all of us' was 11 people.)

And my close friends; I do have the typical core network of people I was close with at university, but I have been lucky enough to continue making new close friends through my 20s and 30s. On my honeymoon, for example, I managed to get [personal profile] pseudomonas, [personal profile] hatam_soferet and [livejournal.com profile] darcydodo all in the same place, and that felt very home-like, since we were really close as a group of four at the start of our adult lives. As with the siblings, I'm still close with all three as individuals, but we're not really a set any more, and going back to that, even if temporarily, gave me a distinct sensation of coming home.

There's an old LJ joke slogan, LiveJournal: because all your friends live in the internet. And that's to a very great extent true for me; just a couple of years out of uni was the peak time when my entire social group was on LJ, and that allowed us to maintain strong connections after we graduated and scattered across four continents. Even though by no means everybody is on LJ these days, we still keep in touch through the internet, often one-to-many channels rather than personal email. That's my primary community, in many ways, I've been in and out of touch with specific individuals depending where we're at in our lives, but there's enough overlap of most of the people I know being around that it feels like a community. In another sense, my Dreamwidth page specifically is my home. It's a virtual 'place' where I feel comfortable and everything is arranged to my liking, and it contains conversations with the people I care about.

As I was talking about in my Cambridge post, throughout all my wandering I've had Cambridge and London as a home base, throughout my 20s I was coming back to visit and keep those connections strong. There's a sense in which the Pembury Tavern is my home, it's the place I invited my people for rather longer than any individual house I've lived in. I nearly went to Australia instead of Sweden in 2006, and I think if that had happened, my social circle would look very different now (I probably wouldn't have met [personal profile] jack, for one thing!) I have very strong positive feelings about my online community, but I think it's the coming back to the southeast of England semi-regularly no matter where I've lived that has kept me properly connected (while equally I wouldn't have had any motivation to come back to see people if I hadn't kept in touch with them online).

That said, I have formed surprisingly strong attachments to the places I've lived. In every case I assumed the place I was going to was unimportant, the reason I was going there was to do science so it was all about the university or research institute, not the town. Despite that, I've grown to love all my places, even if I only spent a couple of years there. I have a really strong feeling of, not exactly nostalgia, but perhaps hiraeth (though I'm never quite sure I'm using that word correctly) for everywhere I am familiar enough with that my feet know the steps from the centre of town to my former home. I intensely miss Oxford, not just the little utopia of being a university student, but the actual town and the architecture and... not so much the obvious touristy bits in the centre of town, but the outlying suburbs where all my friends lived, Jericho and surrounds especially, but the Cowley Road area and Abingdon too. And Dundee, which has such a bad reputation, everybody sucked in their breath when they heard I was moving there, but I love it, climbing the Law and looking out over the Tay (which really is silvery, no matter how much else McGonagall got wrong) to Fife, and just the random not terribly salubrious suburb of Lochee with its stone tenements.

Stockholm was really the perfect place for me to live in many ways. My job there kind of sucked, but the rest of my life was just amazingly wonderful. I mean, I wasn't quite at home there because I always was an immigrant, limited partly by the language barrier but mainly by unfamiliarity with the cultural nuances. But culturally it was so well suited to me, and also geographically, the way the city merges and patchworks with the forest and the sea, and even the weather I enjoyed, I do much better in cold temperatures than hot. One time I went for a walk with [twitter.com profile] RabbiHugenholtz and [personal profile] lethargic_man around the lake behind my rented house, Älvsjö, literally the fairy lake, at dusk with the water reflecting the lights that were starting to come on in windows, and [personal profile] lethargic_man started singing the hymn to Elbereth from LotR. It's an ache that I can't go back there and walk round that lake, even though it's really an unremarkable little suburb.

I miss all the people I've worked with or met as neighbours who for whatever reason I didn't manage to keep in touch with when I moved on, but I think it's normal to have a certain amount of turnover in the people you spend time with over the course of your life. But I never expected to miss places quite this much. And even if I did go back, say to Stockholm, I would still miss all the other places, including where I live now.

I have never really put down roots in Stoke, which is why I decided to rearrange my life so that I actually live in Cambridge even though I work the other side of the country. But I am rather attached to Keele campus and the surrounding countryside, the way it kind of amazingly backs right on to what is more or less the edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands. Having moved up here I can now go walking or running in some really gorgeous landscapes, pretty much straight outside my door.

My idea of home doesn't tend to be attached to specific buildings; I think I am going to get to the point of feeling like Pumbedita is home, but it's too new yet, I haven't convinced myself emotionally that we're actually staying there, it's not yet another short-term rental. I generally feel like if I have my books and my internet connection, and it's basically safe and comfortable, that's home; people have expressed surprise at how little I tend to personalize places I live, and Pumbedita is an exception to that habit, it's been important to me to put my ornaments and our wedding art on display. I very dearly love my parents' house, which is absolutely beautiful, the garden especially, but because I was in my late teens when we moved there and fairly soon moved out to go to university, it's always felt more like their home than mine.

So, what is home to me? It's a place I'm familiar with, where I know all the little backstreets and recognize the almost unremarkable small features, and where the smell is familiar. There are several such places because I've moved around so much; I'm always going to feel simultaneously at home and not at home, because of missing my previous homes.

[December Days masterpost]
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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