Saturday, December 26, 2009

Where am I from?

As I write this, I am, technically, homeless. I’m going in between leases at the moment after I realized I could save myself a fair bit of money by starting the lease on my new apartment two and a half weeks after my last lease expired. For the time in between, I’ve been traveling, visiting friends and family for Christmas and crashing on couches. It’s the most transient I’ve ever been, and I’m rather enjoying it.

I’ve never had a stable lifestyle, but this has taken it to a new level, a period in which I have no choice but to travel and move around because I have, at the moment, no place to call my own. My travels have taken me to and through places I’ve lived in the past. It is, in fact, not all that unusual for any of my road trips, wherever I go, to take me past some old stomping ground, childhood memories littered across the highway, but though all of them are familiar, none of them ever feel like home.

I hate it when people ask me where I was born, because I can never give them an easy answer. This is not a question we ask because we’re curious about geography. We’re looking for labels and identities, an easy key to understanding someone we’ve just met. Being from Provo and being from Brooklyn mean completely different things regardless of how those places may have shaped you. It is meaningless though, to say I’m from Grove City, Ohio, a place about which I know next to nothing and have only visited twice since my family left shortly after my birth. The time I’ve spent in Vermont (I don’t even know where in the state), Millersburg, Ohio (a city I had to find on a map to even know where it is), Edwardsville Illinois, Flower Mound Texas, Colorado Springs, Honolulu, Oklahoma City, Austin Texas or Tampa Florida are equally meaningless. Even the fact that I have lived in all of these places is misleading, since the first assumption, “Is your family in the military?” is wrong. The routine for the “Where are you from?” line of questioning is so predictable I can answer the questions before they are asked.

I’ve grown weary of trying to explain it to people. Even the stock answers, “I’m from everywhere” or “I’m a citizen of the world” feel like cheesy cop-outs to me. I don’t like them because I don’t believe in them, they’re a means of lying my way out of the question. It’s been suggested to me many times to just pick one of the places I’ve lived to claim as my own, usually, they suggest, the most interesting, which for most people is Hawaii. Anyone who has lived in Hawaii though knows that I can no more claim to be from Hawaii than I could claim to be from Sicily or Ireland—it’s a culture you have no right to call your own unless you’ve grown up with it, lived and breathed it from birth. It’s another lie. What do I claim then? Texas? Too misleading. Calling yourself a Texan is a political statement, one I do not adhere to. Colorado? Never particularly cared for the place. Beautiful scenery but far too cold for my taste. Illinois? Vermont? Ohio? All lands of my early childhood, defined more by the fantasies I projected upon them than by my experiences in them. Oklahoma? I would claim any of the above before I would claim to be an Okie. Florida? The verdict is out, I’ve not had enough time to understand what Florida really means to me, but my instinct is that it will ultimately be another bust. Besides, I am quite certain that Florida is just another stop on the road. When I graduate I will have to move somewhere else, find a job in the I-don’t-know-where.

I think there are some people who spend their lives looking for the place they were born. Like love, they seek the place they were meant to be, the soil their roots should be growing in. I suspect that, like lost lovers, there are many of us wandering the earth seeking our birthplace. Each place I have lived has been a love affair, some heartbreaking, some beautiful but never meant to be, some have made me a better person, some have made me worse, but in the end I’ve had to break up with all of them and move on to the next city. I worry sometimes that my entire life will be an endless nomadic search, but always I’m confident that my birthplace is out there, waiting for me to discover it.

1 comment:

  1. "Where am I from? I am from my mother's vagina."

    End question.

    Preferably with an awkward silence.