Pick me up and turn me round
I feel numb, born with a weak heart
Guess I must be having fun
I’ve written about home before, maybe not here. I’ve certainly written about nostalgia and for a long time home was only something I could think about in the past tense. Home was that place I used to live, that town I left behind, the loved one I am no longer in touch with. Home was the way I looked when I had short hair, or maybe it was before the tattoos, before those mountain biking accident scars, before the chipped tooth. Home was before I was able to feel sadness, longing, or loss. Home was before I started running.
I think I originally planned this tour because I wanted to find myself - I usually travel for that reason. I find that when I’m out of my element, away from my bed and belongings I get a better perspective of my life. It’s like that saying, “you can’t see the forest for the trees.” It was also important that I head back to the place I’ve been running from for so long, it felt necessary that I face up to my past. What is the self without an origin story? I’ve been running from Alberta long before I finally moved to Montreal and it had been a full two years since I had actually set foot in the place. I’m the kind of person who always feels vaguely uncomfortable no matter where I am and I wondered if I've placed too much of the blame on my birth place. So I planned a big tour, a lesson in self-reliance and hopefully an opportunity for self discovery. Perhaps feeling homesick is the perfect mind-frame for exploring the idea of home.
and share the same space for a minute or two
Home is a geographical landscape, a weather pattern, specific smells, a particular style of architecture. I missed the prairies, the wide open space and limitless skies. Growing up, they sort of annoyed me, made me feel small and insignificant. At the time I much preferred grey skies and rain because it felt like there was cap over the world, the glass of a snow globe that kept the world measured and contained. It rains now in Alberta but precipitation was in short supply during my childhood. Yet, as I started my wandering, I realized that the forests of Northern BC made me claustrophobic and the scrub of the Okanogan made me miss the rolling plains. The little green bumps, Mont Royal and Mont-Saint-Hilaire, make me wistful for the sublime blue jagged edges of the Rockies that peak the distance. And as much as I love flowers, the rhododendrons in the Vancouver suburbs strike me as slightly gaudy and comical next to the pragmatism of prairie flowers.
But home is also the character of the city. When I’m gone, I miss the garbage in the streets of Montreal, the graffiti, the broken sidewalks. I miss the deciduous trees that line the streets, the brick buildings, the old architecture, the public parks that people actually make use of. The uniformity of the suburbs still perturbs me, the wide empty streets with no one in them fills me with a familiar sense of emptiness.
The thing about visiting a place that used to be home is familiarity but the strangeness brought on by extended absence. It feels like locational Capgras Syndrome: I recognize this place, that river, those houses, but I don’t feel the emotional recognition that used to be there. And coming back to find gentrification gripping my favourite neighbourhoods or the change caused by previous floods, the venues I used to love filled with strange faces, it’s alarming. My childhood room no longer has my things, my furniture, or my clothing.
Do you ever really feel at home after you leave your childhood home? Afterwards it’s just an ongoing process of making new places homes, however transient. Your hotel room that you have only slept in for three nights is now momentarily home. The restaurant bar you keep going to becomes familiar, the suitcase with all of your belongings becomes the only constant in your life. How many of these little homes have I made? Hotels, motels, friend’s couches, tents, vans. And then there are the places I will likely never see again, if only for the reason I have no need, the relationships and connections have dried up. Those places sit in my chest and just behind the eyes, flashes of those places like still images in a slideshow, hints of the way they smell, the people who used to live there playing back over-exposed like old home movies. In that way, home is likely that place you’ll never get back to - Those places are preserved and purified by my memory. They will never be tainted by my returning, my mis-remembering will never be corrected, I will never have to see the alterations first hand.
Did I find you or you find me?
Out of all those kinds of people
You got a face with a view
Home is other people and I guess this works on the macro and micro level. On a large scale, it's the culture of a place, the different types of people who live there that give a place character. I find that I now have to adjust the sound of people speaking English when I leave and I've always listened for accents that aren’t midwestern. Even the West Coast approach to fashion is very different to that of the East. It strikes me as curious, this new awareness. I felt like an extra out of Oliver Twist that first winter I lived in Montreal, with my torn skirts, uneven short hair, no money for a new back pack or fashionable winter boots. Now I head back and I’m struck by how overdressed I feel - was it really necessary to wear matching shoes and a purse? Is this scarf too much? As much as I admire the Southern British Columbian dedication to health and self improvement, I miss all the people in Hochelaga smoking and taking sips from sneaky beers.
But I also went back to see my friends - friends from all the different steps of my life, who knew the younger versions of me. They call me by different names, we share different sub-cultures and jokes. All of us seem slightly bewildered that we moved away from our home towns, or in some cases, that they moved back. Adulthood is creeping up on us and it’s a bittersweet exercise comparing our present situations with all the plans we talked about when our friendships were young. I feel myself slip back into old patterns, back into the person I was when I first knew them, on some level in an effort to better connect with them, on the other, because they expect that version of me and I can’t seem to avoid living up to it. This can be the most disorienting thing about home - the test of how much you have actually changed and grown. Have I really moved beyond those old bad habits or that youthful pettiness? Is home where the more ideal version of yourself lives, the one who grew up and got better? Can we pick up and leave behind our old mistakes, perhaps make a new home on brighter foundations?
And then there are the times when you meet people who feel like home - family members, friends, lovers. It is beautiful to find a home in another human being. Your personalities fit together, your interests align, maybe you even share an almost psychic connection and find yourselves ordering the same food, thinking the same thing. Now this place that seemed so strange is made better - your parents still live in that childhood home and you feel an old safeness once back in their company. Your travel partner is there when this new location seems too hostile, too different. Your friends and lovers are back home, waiting for you, reminding you why you must return eventually.
But I guess I’m already there
I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone entirely comfortable in their own skin - I’ve always assumed those who claimed to be were hiding something, or at least lying to me and themselves. Maybe they exist and my skepticism is unwarranted, who knows. I know that I have probably not been comfortable ever since I could make sense of what skin was and how it delineated me from others. I have met people who I envied because they seemed like they were at least close. They appeared to me to be capable and ready for any situation, what I thought to be the ultimate tool against fear and uncertainty. Or maybe this self-possessedness came from a total disinterest in how others thought of them. I guess I’m working on that one.
A cab driver in Seattle asked me why I had gotten so many tattoos and stretched my ears, he seemed to think I had disfigured an otherwise attractive body. I’m used to this response and I don’t get it as often as I do admiration for all my body art. I won’t go into the ins and outs of owning a “female” body in this contemporary moment, being bombarded by advertisements, unrealistic beauty standards etc., etc., etc. I’m likely preaching to the choir so I won’t waste your time. So why did I start getting tattooed? It makes my body feel like mine. No matter how I’m feeling about my appearance, my hair, my skin, on any given day,- I can look in the mirror and feel proud of the work I chose, saved up for, helped design. When I look at those tattoos, I remember that I’m home.
Quotes from "This Must Be The Place" by the Talking Heads