Matt and I are of that new-ish class of people whose social network sprawls across time zones and continents. We’ve moved around; our friends have moved around. We have numerous homes and homelands. We have lived in cities and in deep shady hollows. We’re part of an activist movement whose human landscape is as quickly changing yet timeless as sand dunes. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track.
I have met lots of people who answer, “Where’re you from?” with “Oh, nowhere, different places.” This concept is kind of amazing. Over several generations, my family stretched only across three contiguous counties in central Illinois, but in the last several years our holidays have become a marathon of driving and plane rides. It’s something I haven’t fully wrapped my head around.
Sense of place is important to me. I like to be able to look around and see evidence of where I am. I like to know what the earth is up to – what time the sun sets and when you put out your tomato starts. I love conversations you wouldn’t hear anywhere else – like “I love hot dogs, but it’s just so much trouble to make all the slaw and chili.” I like weird local history – like the Piasa bird. I like the easy love of old friends and inside jokes.
It’s hard to figure out how to have all these things when I am increasingly becoming someone who isn’t from any one place. There are wonderful and hilarious things that happen when people ramble – like the Mexican Horseshoe – a salsa drenched variation of a fabulous french fry dish you can only get in central Illinois. But it can be disorienting.
Whenever I move, I get this idea that it is an opportunity to organize my stuff and my life, like, for real this time. So I fuss about how to sort out my life so that this time, when I’m peeling the tape off of cardboard and listening to NPR in a new house, there will be a feeling of home, peace and purpose — and less urge to just burn all the boxes in the yard. I think I hope that leaving a place behind will let me lose the messy parts of myself. But as a dear friend says, “You can move all you want, but you’ll always pack yourself.”
So, this time I’m leaning into the chaos. Because bringing along my messy self means I also have the luxurious sprawl of people and places that made me. I am going to hate myself when we unload these boxes labeled”Stuff that was near the desk” tomorrow. But today, I’m in love with all these saved scraps of paper – hand-written fudge recipes, magazine clippings, photographs of Matt and/or I laughing with various people from across the country and across the last 30 years, little gifts of tea and bars of soap and candles, a bag of rubber bands that I bought for a conference in Roanoke, VA and a free pen from a hotel in Memphis and an extension cord from California, and Boston band aids, and marveling at how it all fits together.