from my archives: place exile and meaning

Rereading Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay.
{While I'm in Thailand, I am republishing favorite posts from my archives every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. This post was originally published 11/10/11.}

As a person who has moved a great many times, I'm keenly aware of the difference that place makes in my life. I remain the same person whether I am in one place or the other, but the fact of how place affects me -- the groceries I am able to buy, the places I am able to visit, even the way the things in my house are laid out -- remains. I cannot live my life the same way in one house as opposed to another. The little changes add up to change life completely.

Tigana, which I mentioned I began rereading last week (I'm almost finished), delves into this issue with some depth. Memory and place (choosing exile vs being exiled) and how place and culture make a difference in individuals lives are interwoven throughout the text. The idea that one can spend one's entire life mourning for a place one never lived, while being particularly drawn to the culture of that place, well, it resonates with me. (And not just from a Jewish perspective, although there is that. There is definitely that. Even as a Jew by choice, I know the longing for home that pervades Judaism.)

Visiting the West Coast again, now that I have put down roots in the East Coast, makes me long for home. For my true home, Northern California, where I grew up (which was not where I was born, but that is another story).

And yet, I'm melding yet another culture into my sense of self and I am greatly enjoy that process.

Living in Canada, I felt my foreignness and yet, at the same time, part of my American identity slipped away during my time there. There are just not that many Americans who get a chance to live outside our country for any length of time. I joined a new club when I lived in Toronto. (And I hope and expect that it won't be my last experience living outside the States! I loved that taste of expatriate life.)

In Alabama, I felt both at home and ostracized. Part of my discomfort in living there had to do with this schism (which was an inner-self issue). How could I remain when I never truly belonged? Although there were things I loved about the area, there were too many ways in which my otherness was pronounced (and which I did not like at all about living there).

Here, in Northern Jersey, I'm more at home than I have been in a long time. It isn't California, but I'm not an outsider in the same way I was in Alabama or even in Toronto. It is closer to my culture of origin. Not the same, to be sure, but closer.

Another difference is, of course, that this place is freely chosen. We didn't have much of a choice in moving to Alabama, but this time around, we did. And once we moved here, we had even more choices, because in this area, the difference between living in one township and living in another neighboring one, is immense. (In a way that is, yes, foreign to this Northern Californian.)

Loving the place I am, while I am there, is an important part of my life, too. I cannot be only longing for home, always wishing to be where I am not. I'll allow that some nostalgia and homesickness seems to be deeply embedded in me, but overall, I am happy to be where I am, taking root in the new places I find myself and then pulling up and re-rooting all over again, as need be. If some of my roots remain in the places I have been, well, that only makes sense, doesn't it?

I love having a life of travel and exploration*. (Even when I can't travel very much, I am still exploring.) That's just part of me, part of who I am. Changing place won't change that, it just adds to my identity as a person who loves traveling and exploration.

 My life has added meaning because of the places I have lived. And I am happier and more myself because of those places, because of my experiences in creating home where ever I am.

And here I am: home.

*Exploration was actually my One Word this year.