Last week, I traveled to Bellingham, Washington, to see my grandmother.
As we drove the last stretch of I-5 that carves into the foothills bordering Lake Whatcom, my mind was filled with a hum that sounded like homehomehomehomehome.
I’ve never lived in Bellingham, but it was home to both sets of grandparents, assorted cousins, and loads of family lore. The happiest days of my childhood were spent there, and I know it felt like homehomehome because it is the place I have felt most safe, most free, most me. As a young adult venturing out on my own, Bellingham was my safety net. My other grandmother’s house caught more than one of my cousins during a tumble, and I always knew I had a place to go if I really needed it.
That grandmother’s house was sold the year I was pregnant with my twins, and the grandmother I was visiting isn’t doing well. Although she’s still in her home, she’s not in a place to have company. Cane and I stayed in a lovely, funky little house we found through Airbnb, close to Bellingham Bay, near the house that has been sold. Through the night, I could hear the sounds I heard when I slept there as a young girl, the trains’ whistles and gulls’ cries. They, too, sounded like homehomehome.
Bellingham has changed since the years it was a regular part of my life. It feels much smaller, as places from childhood tend to do. But it was still homehomehome, and although I didn’t cry when our car moved again through the foothills, this time heading south, I felt heavy inside.
Too heavy to cry. I have lived away from the Sound and my people for more than 25 years, and I want to go home.
Until last fall, our house in Oregon felt like home to me, but it really doesn’t any more. It is just a house now, one my children will be leaving within the next 6 months. I am feeling untethered, and I am asking, again, questions I feel I should have answered long ago.
And so, this is why I am mucking about with words about home.
I can’t say much about my process. I spent more time than I’d like to admit over last week’s spring break just moving strips of words around on a piece of green paper, not getting anywhere. I am not sure why I decided to make houses out of pieces of maps, but I did.
To make the houses I first sketched some house shapes, and then I looked at some images of house drawings. (Do a Google image search for “house graphic vector” if you’re in need of house drawings to help you see the shapes of houses.) Then I just started cutting out boxes and triangles and putting houses together. I did that for a day or two and left the words alone.
Then when I returned to the words, I realized I needed the bit about looking on a map–because the houses are made of maps. I decided to take out anything having to do with building/creating a home.
During yesterday’s early-morning, 4th day of migraine insomnia-fest, I realized that, perhaps, the open space needed to curve on the page the way Bellingham Bay curves into the town. And that I definitely need the water words. I might need to think more about water.
At any rate, this is where I am now.
I’m not that thrilled with this.
I want the houses to look differently. As I’ve been driving about the past two days, I’ve been seeing the shapes of houses. I think these houses may be just practice houses. I know the words aren’t right, either.
But I am attempting to practice stripped-back storytelling, which Jill introduced me to this week. I like the idea of it, raw blogging.
This is pretty raw, all right. Just like my feelings these days. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of any of it.
18 thoughts on “Telling it raw”
One of the dear friends from my group of women in Michigan (I refer to them as my Detroit Posse) once said “I think of heaven as a neighborhood where all the people I’ve ever loved live nearby in places I love” As I’ve gotten older and lived in different places–Seattle, Detroit, Iowa–I see both the beauty and the heart-aching impossibility of her words. I’ve left people and places I care about scattered across an entire continent (or two) and I know I won’t be back other than to visit. I also know that as my parents, aunts, and uncles pass away, I’ll be losing anchors in small towns in Missouri, Arkansas, and Nebraska that now hold no real reason for me to be physically there, even though family history and childhood memories remain. I don’t know if anybody is ever taught to grieve for the loss of emotional geography the way we’re taught to grieve for the loss of loved ones. They’re all mixed up together, aren’t they?
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You know, I was surprised by how much it felt like home. So many of the people I once loved are no longer there. (Although, there are a few still left, and they are in my generation, so there is that.) But yes: emotional geography. Although I’ve lived in Oregon since 1990, where I’ve worked my entire career and raised my children, it’s never really felt like home. There is no big water. The air is too dry. There isn’t enough gray. It is all mixed up. Which is why I need to play with some words to sort it out.
Oh my GOD your posts are like food for my soul.
I need that little house.
To live in, to write in.
And that bookstore???
And your desk.
Don’t ever stop writing.
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I don’t think it’s ever a choice for me, so your soul is no danger of starving. 🙂
And I am going to write/share more about that house. You will LOVE it.
Oh my … what Laura said —
“I don’t know if anybody is ever taught to grieve for the loss of emotional geography the way we’re taught to grieve for the loss of loved ones”
— SO resonates with me! I have mourned the loss of several places, and the shifting of personal relationships that occurred as a result. But strangely, the strongest feeling of “homehomehome” I’ve ever felt has occurred when I’ve been in Holland, my “ancestral” home, a place I’ve only ever visited a handful of times, a place which has never actually been my home, but which has always felt like a place of safety and connectivity.
It makes me so sad to hear you feel your home has turned into a house, Rita. But I completely understand why this would be the case. It’s been a time of upheaval and loss and there’s more change to come, and as woo-worthy as it sounds, walls DO carry memories, no matter whether they’ve been painted over or not. I wish you strength in figuring out this next stage of your life, Rita.
BTW — I LOVE the house collages. Are you familiar with artist Amanda White’s “Writers’ House” series? I have her 2016 calendar, and her work is gorgeous — I smile every time I look at the calendar. http://www.amandawhite-contemporarynaiveart.com/index.aspx?sectionid=1204377
I find your experience with Holland so interesting. I hope you might write about that. I wonder if there’s something deep in your DNA that made it that way for you? (You know, trauma changes our DNA. Maybe geography does, too?)
And thank you SO MUCH for linking to that artist’s work! I swear, this is half the reason I blog and why I share about the things I’m working on. All of you who comment show me things I’d never otherwise see. Her collages are wonderful. And sending me off in a different direction. Maybe. I will keep you posted. 🙂
I, too, mourn the loss of emotional geography. We have relocated many times – four states, 14 houses/apartments. We now have an empty nest away from all family. Estrangements, busy lives, and distance all mean our extended families no longer routinely get together. This lack of roots is unsettling and sad at times, yet I rarely go back to previous homes. I wonder if this is part of aging or just a consequence of our very mobile society.
I have wondered about the same question. My mother grew up with such a web of family in Bellingham. Her grandparents came from Croatia, along with other family members from the same small island. They were fishermen, and settled on the bay, on the south side of town. When I was a girl, I thought that whole part of town was filled with Slavs (as they called themselves) who fished. Now, families are smaller, and the younger ones have mostly moved away. It makes me sad, too. I think there was something very rich in what they shared.
Oh Rita, I love your posts. I love your comment section. I love your map houses and your words (even if you don’t). I wear a necklace most days that is a bitty map of my homehomehomehomehome so it makes perfect sense to me that you would use maps to build your houses. Because at least for me my home is just as much geography (maybe even more) than the structure.
I am so sorry the place you live is feeling more like a house than I home. I know how disconcerting and disconnecting that can feel. I hope that you can build a space (to borrow the words you cut out) that some how or other stays together – even if it doesn’t look like a strong nest.
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Oh, my nest is stronger than I think. I think. And I think I’m like you about geography. And I know I love this comment section as much as you. It’s really what I write for. I just love talking with all of you. You’re all so smart and wise and kind.
Your home has always had a “homey/loved” feeling to me, but so much has happened and shifted that I can see where you would start to feel differently and you are craving some of that comfort you had when you were young. The thing is, a home is a building, at the heart of it. It’s the people that make a home a home. I hope that you are able to find the comfort and security you are needing.
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Yes, I’ve always believed that about home. But at the same time, even though I’ve been here with people I love more than any others, I feel drawn to this other place. That’s a mystery to me. I’ll probably not solve it, but I think there’s value in poking around, Nancy Drew style. With curiosity and a little bravery.
I love this post (and the comments!). It totally resonated. After twelve moves in the past decade, I am not all that attached to houses. I would move back to the south Jersey area in a heartbeat if the Mister could find a job there. But on the past few visits there, I don’t feel connected. I feel like I’m floating, belonging to nowhere. (I agree with the term “untethered”.) My parents sold the house they lived in for 28 years and moved to China. I drive around south Jersey, driving by all the houses the Mister and I lived in, seeing all the friends we left who have kept on living their lives, getting promoted, having more babies, making communities…and I’m still moving every other year like I’m a rootless 22 year old. I have a mild like for California, but I wouldn’t say that I feel like we belong here.
If I were to point to the part of south Jersey that feels like home, it would be my grandmother’s house, which was originally one of my grandparent’s rental homes. It was the home that I lived in for four years in with my parents when we first moved to NJ when I was seven. My grandmother’s house was also always a welcome place to stay; when I first posted about the rat infestation a few years ago my grandmother called me that night to insist that we come stay at her house.
I am sorry that your grandmother isn’t doing well, and I’m sorry that you are having sad/raw thoughts about house and home and babies growing up. I love seeing the process of your art, and appreciate seeing how such a different art form comes together.
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I cannot imagine 12 moves in 10 years, with small children. I know you haven’t really had a choice, but still: I really don’t know how you’ve done it AND remained sane. (Mostly sane?) 🙂
Although I haven’t moved as much as you, I think I understand the kind of not-tethered you describe. I feel that more when I go to the community I grew up in. My parents aren’t there any more, either. And although I haven’t kept in close touch with those my age who remained, I still have a feeling of otherness from them when I am in that geographic space. It’s like I’m still 18 when I go back there, but they’ve all gotten older. That they’ve moved on and raised kids and had careers and all that seems very normal and real when we interact online, and I feel like the same age, but somehow, when I go back to that place, I’M 18 again, and I feel weirdly not in the same place that they are. Hmmm…this feels like material for a time travel or magical realism novel. Something else to add my my list of creative projects (that won’t ever get started, much less finished).
Thank you for the empathy and sympathy. It’s all going to be OK.
I love your description of “homehomehome.” What an artisitc undertaking and even though the final results will be exciting to see, the journey sounds so enriching! Such a neat idea. A friend of mine commissioned an art piece to represent his 40 year marriage and the artist used a model of rock layers and formations. So detailed, such a labor of love. I could stare at that work for hours. Your idea reminds me of that piece.
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That sounds really interesting–I’d love to see it.
I wondered if you were coming up North to visit your grandmother. I’m sorry she’s ailing but I’m glad you got to spend some time with her.
The discussion in your post and in the comments is so fascinating. I’m not sure if I have a place that is homehomehome for me. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. I have a little bit of that feeling from Holland like Marian does, specifically Amsterdam for me, but (despite my ethnic roots) I think it’s not about ancestry. It feels like a place that was expressly designed for the person I turned out to be, not the place that made me who I am.
Still, I love the idea of “emotional geography” and the idea of having to mourn its loss rings true to me.
Really enjoying these peeks into your artistic process and I’m interested to see how your collages turn out.
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Until we had kids I cried every time I left my hometown. What a gift to have a childhood home (or grandma’s home) where you feel such positive energy that it is hard to leave even as an adult.
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