the following is an interview with my friend margot as part of my home project. i met margot on my roadtrip with eli. we stayed with her for a week, making music, pitching in at soul fire farm and the watershed center, and scheming for margot’s then-upcoming chicken project, linke fligl (‘left wing’ in yiddish!). margot did her own project on ‘home’ after a house she was living in burned down in 2014. listen to margot singing a lovely folk song about home with friends. content note: the following conversation discusses general trauma around fire / physical loss of home, and ancestral trauma.
Who are you and where in the world are we?
My name is Margot, and we are in Millerton, New York.
Do you have a place you’d consider a home of origin?
That’s a question I am continuously trying to answer. I grew up in Elgin, Illinois, an hour from Chicago. My parents grew up there, a lot of my grandparents grew up there. It’s where my great grandpa came when he left Lithuania and he started a synagogue there. I’m technically very rooted there, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like a home of origin. At the end of the day, it’s a suburban neighborhood, lacking many of the values and types of community I hold dearly.
Jews are diasporic people. I’m a queer radical Jew. Where’s the home of the queer radical Jews? It was New York City, for a while. That’s where the queer radical Jews have held it down in recent decades. More recently I’ve been like, oh what if New York City is my home? It’s the place where I feel most connected to the history, in some ways.
My understanding of diaspora is there’s no physical origin of home. How does that tie in to a physical location?
It’s both that I manage to build home wherever I am, and it feels important to feel oriented to some location. Otherwise it feels like I’m just kind of constantly moving around and trying to find that. I need a north star. I need to understand why I’m in upstate new york. Otherwise I feel like I’ll always be wondering and lost. Maybe that means I need to do a lot of work rooting, in that sense of diaspora and finding home in myself. But I think that can only go so far. It feels important to really commit to community and people.
Can you tell me about the current ways you’re building home where you are now?
Something that feels exciting to me is that this physical home has the possibility to feel like home to a lot of people. Before living here I was living at Isabella Freedman Center. That’s a place that I continue to feel very much at home. There’s something beautiful about places that are a lot of people’s home, places people continue to come back to. There’s something powerful in everyone knowing, this is the place we go. That leads to such beautiful magic and intersections of different kinds of people. In this day and age where there’s so much scheduling and overbooking and planning, there’s something magical about being able to have a kind of space in which that connection organically happens.
As much as it’s about having a space that feels like home, whenever I move into a place I immediately make it feel like home. When I was at Isabella Freedman I lived in this cabin for a month and I immediately put down a carpet and put up artwork. People would walk in and assume I was there for years when I had just moved in. But that’s only so important. When I lived in the Bay everyone came to the home of these two women who didn’t have a lot of money, and their house wasn’t the nicest or most amazingly decorated, but it was home. You walked in and you could feel this was a place people wanted to be and came back to. Creating the sense of home through the way the space feels can only go so far.
I wonder if you could talk to me about the experience you had where your home burned down in a fire.
That was a big opportunity to rethink home. The space I was living in that burned down felt like home more than any other space I’d ever been in. I loved the space, I loved where it was, I loved having people there, I loved being on my own there. It was the first space I’d been in where I loved being alone, and didn’t feel lonely. It was just my home, my space. When there was a fire and it burned down, I could feel it in my core. This complete disorientation of not knowing left from right. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to exist. It was intense. It brought up a lot of what felt like ancestral things. Like, oh , I know this feeling. Maybe I haven’t felt it personally before but this is in my bones, this feeling of losing home in a traumatic way.
When it burned down I was in a somatics course in Seattle. The answer that came to me now feels obvious. I realized home is in my body, home is in relationships. I knew that theoretically but it was an embodied sense. People really came through for me, both emotionally and to fill my life up with beautiful things. I just felt really held and cared for. Once I was able to recognize that I was like, oh yeah, it’s okay. I still can feel at home and I don’t need that physical place even though there’s obviously a lot of grief and loss in losing that. Something opened in me. I had gotten so attached to that physical place that it could have been detrimental. I could have stayed there for years. It gave me the opportunity to move on and start this new journey, which has a lot more potential for a long-term building of collective home.
I can see how that would contribute to your feelings of diaspora. Do you mind talking a little bit about your healing process through that loss and rebuilding?
I was lucky because I was in a somatics course at the time and surrounded by people who had been trained in somatics. I was able to let myself feel a lot of grief, which is something I usually don’t do. I was able to let myself cry for a week straight. When I came back, inched myself back into it little by little. My friends had taken all the little things that had survived and spread it all out in the arts and crafts room. The first thing I did when I got back was to go in there and connect with those things. That was the only time I was actually able to grieve once I was back. I had done so much grieving before I got back, by the time I got back I was kind of done. It was like there was no more left.
There were lots of beautiful moments and opportunities for ritual. The first time I went back to the house, I brought some people from the community with me and we did some rituals. What was also intense was the building stayed there for eight months after the fire and I had to walk by it every day. There was a numbing out that happened to that place. My body just couldn’t handle having to feel things about it every time.
I also did an art installation. I put out an ask for people to respond to the prompt ‘home is’. People sent back all sorts of things. Sukkot was coming, which is this Jewish holiday where you’re celebrating in a temporary home. I wanted to create a space that reflected that everything is kind of temporary. The building was basically to the ground. There was one wall standing. I took paint and wrote on the wall, “Home is…” and collaged art out of pieces of wood from the fire. I’d never done an art installation. It just felt natural to interact with it in that way and reclaim it as beautiful. It went from this burned down dilapidated building to this beautiful art project. It was cool to transform it back into something that felt life giving.
In what ways are you seeking and making home, and in what ways have you found home?
Over the last three years, really grounding in Jewish community, and specifically, radical queer Jewish community… I have this general sense of feeling at home wherever I am that feels really different than before I was connected to that community. Home feels like all of the places we come together, the songs we sing, the prayers we create. What feels hard and what I’m really longing for is just to have that in a more consistent way here. It feels like a struggle sometimes to continue to be in deep relationship with folks who don’t live in the same place. I really want to shift to having relationships be more in person than not.