“Community and home are synonymous.”

the following is part of my home project. i met natalie on my roadtrip with eli; they grew up going to camp together. we stayed with natalie at her relatively newfound home base in austin, texas. natalie is currently finishing her prerequisites to go to nursing school. she is a full-spectrum doula, hospice volunteer, and jewytch. she likes to sing, dance, and play with her kitties.

IMG_5414.JPGWho are you and where are we today?

My name’s Natalie and we are in Austin, Texas.

Do you have a place you consider your home of origin?

Sonoma County, California.

When you hear the word ‘home’ are there immediate sights, sounds, or smells that come to mind?

The first thing I think of is the red couch at my friend Jacob’s family’s house. Jacob’s mom, Miriam, is the most loving, warm mother figure to me and to many others. Growing up, I found any excuse I could to go over to their house. We would all just have tea or coffee or sweets and all snuggle on the red couch together. That’s still one of my favorite places. It was really important to me to have the red couch and Miriam as a refuge and sanctuary. My house was very chaotic. My parents fought all the time. Once I could drive I left as much as I could. My three best friends growing up — Rio, Zoe, and Jacob — those people, their families, and their homes are what I think of when I think of home.

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natalie with chosen family on the red couch.

When you talk about trying to get away from the chaos, what are the feelings you were trying to move toward? How did you feel on the red couch?

Calmness, peacefulness, love, connection, and community. Situations that create opportunities for heart-to-heart connection.

Having moved on from that time in your life, in what ways do you see the common threads of connection and love since then?

My response to living and growing up in chaos has been creating peaceful spaces. I lived in punk houses that were chaotic all the time, and I do love that, because I am an extrovert and I love being around people. I’m good at adapting to different environments. I go through phases where messiness or clutter bother me or they don’t. Right before moving [to Austin] I had finally arrived at a house that was totally clean and peaceful and that did make me feel more at ease. I do feel at home here because there are people around who have my back and who I can hang out with and connect with. But what makes me feel most at home is my room space, [my partner] Charlie, and Jellybean [the cat]. I talk about our microcommunity and our family — the three of us — it makes me feel at home to go to sleep and wake up with them every night and know that no matter what’s going on, they’re my home base. 

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natalie’s micro-community with jellybean and charlie

What does Jellybean have to say about that micro community?

You know, I actually can’t speak for Jellybean and I don’t know what he’s thinking. I think he likes spending time with us and he likes to cuddle. It’s so hard because you can’t speak for animals and they can’t really give consent really. But Jellybean seems to also love calling our room home base. He’ll go out into the world and do his thing and then he runs through the cat door and jumps into my arms. It’s so sweet.

It seems like you’re in the process of trying to balance your coexisting needs between craving a lot of community and people, while also needing a peaceful and clean space.

Yeah. Alone time is crucial for me, but having that in a social setting is difficult. The ultimate dream is the queer land project. I really want to have kids in community. I don’t want to raise kids by myself or in a nuclear family situation. I want to have my own cabin or four walls on a piece of land.  I see myself in California and I don’t know how feasible that is, with land being so expensive, and with the drought. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like but I know that living in a community with shared values and visions that I feel safe with is really important to me.

Tell me more about your vision for your dream home.

I have a lot more research to do. I don’t know where it’s going to be. I think about Northern California but it might just be too expensive. I don’t want to close that door. I want to put it out there and believe it can happen. I see it being community that’s rural but not too far out, maybe an hour away from a city. I’m interested in living in community where we share resources, where we collaborate together on projects and on life. I see there being a farm, I see there being children, I would love it to be a summer camp.

I would love it to be a full spectrum clinic. I would love it to be a place where people could come to die. Humans and animals. That’s my dream. I’m a hospice volunteer and I’ve been working with people who are dying. The medicalization of death makes me really sad. I would love to have a place that  could be set up for old folks and other people who are dying to come and not have to give away their autonomy. I would love it to be a place where my parents and my friends’ parents could come during their last days. I’ve talked about this dream a lot with another friend who works with old and disabled dogs. It would be so cool to have everyone — the rejects of society — come and be safe there.

That’s really cool because I feel like so many people talk about the queer land project dream, and so much of what automatically pops into my head is young, able-bodied folks. The vision of a more intergenerational and inclusive place to be is a beautiful one.  

Yeah. And I would want it to be a collaborative project, a place where everyone can have their visions happen. 

Are there ways that you feel like your queerness has played into your idea of home and the ways that you seek and make home?

For sure. In general I prefer to be around queers. I feel safer and more seen. I have mostly lived with queers in the past and I’m not right now. I’m living with one queer person. So many insecurities have come up around my queer identity, being in what looks like a hetero relationship. Something that I’m really trying to believe is — being with him doesn’t make me straight, it makes him queer. (laughs) I just feel more seen around queer people and being seen is something that’s coming up for me a lot in this chapter in my life, moving out here and being in the world with Charlie. I’m so terrified of being perceived as straight. There’s this certain sense of ease when I am around queers. Even if that’s kind of imagined, because of course queer isn’t just one thing.

The one question that I’m asking everybody — is in what ways do you seek home, and in what ways have you found home?

Community is the number one most important thing to me. In looking for community and in making community I’m looking for and making home. Those two things are synonymous. ‘Home’ is about family and when I think about family I mostly think about my chosen family.

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natalie and her mom

I love my family of origin, but it was really chaotic. I’m an only child, and my parents were fighting constantly. I’m also adopted. I think about how that influences every single part of who I am. I often feel like an alien, or an outsider, even with my family, with my parents. Even though ending up with my mom is what makes me believe in something greater. We’re so connected, we’re best friends, we even look alike. But I still have that complex of feeling someone didn’t want me, and gave me away. Having that at my core. If I’m in an insecure place or in a hard place, I’ll go about the world feeling like I’m unwanted or not at home anywhere.

The way I can make myself feel at home is by creating community and connecting with people. I love to create experiences for people and facilitate experiences where everyone can come together. I see myself as a mother or a matriarch. The best feeling in the world is when everyone I love is together — eating a meal, or singing songs. Nothing else matters to me when that’s happening. That’s how I seek and create home. Now I’m in this spot where I’ve just moved here, and I have some friends and a partner. But it’s really hard for me because I’ve gotten used to having lots of very close friends not too far away, people who have known me my entire life. I don’t have that now. It’s a good project for me to try to create home feeling in community when I’m far away from that. Something I really want to do is, I want to have a Seder here during Passover. I think that’ll be a good way for me to create home community feeling.

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Post-interview, Natalie shared this photo of Seder in Austin.

“If we didn’t inherit a land-based home, then how do we create that in this lifetime?” Eliana on home.

the following is an interview with my partner eliana as part of my home project. eliana gave this interview at the very end of our three-month-long roadtrip. it was a year ago we set off on this trip, and two years ago this month when we became partners in adventure, love, and making home. eliana is an organizer, activist, doula, herbalist, among other things, and i’m not even a little bit sorry for loving on them in this public way! content note: the following conversation discusses ancestral trauma and colonization.


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Who are you and where are we?

My name is Eliana and we’re currently at Fancyland, a queer artist and activist retreat center in northern California.

Do you have a place you consider your home of origin?

Thinking about my home of origin brings up a lot of different things. Being on this roadtrip for the past few months and being in so many different places, I’ve had a felt sense that my home of origin is in California, in the Bay Area, as the place I grew up and have spent the majority of my life. Thinking about ancestry and where I come from in my actual origin stories feels really different. Both of my parents moved to California in their lifetime so it’s not like I have even one or two generations of history in California, let alone the historic and ongoing legacies of imperialism, colonization, and migration patterns that have really changed the landscape of this country.

It’s a loaded question and one that I’m thinking about a lot in terms of where do I really come from. When people ask me, ‘where are you from?’ I think it’s so much more complicated than where was I born or where did I grow up. For me it’s about a history in eastern Europe of Jews migrating because of being persecuted. Relatively speaking, that’s a recent history, and I don’t even know where my family of origin came from before that. It’s an ongoing search and discovery to uncover my own origin story and the origin stories of the people whose land I’m on and occupying.

In what ways do your origin stories and histories impact your current search for home?

I used to think about the connection between my ancestors’ patterns of migrations and my own lifetime of moving — the relationship between those two things was fascinating to me when I was starting to learn about my family history. I have this inclination to move a lot and never really feel at home. When I delve deeper into that realm I realize that it is so in my bones and in my blood that for so many generations, my family was constantly moving and searching for home and trying to feel safe. Even though that’s not an experience that I have lived in my life — a real physical threat to my safety being the motivating factor for moving — I feel like there’s something in me that is very nomadic. I feel a constant impulse towards moving.

At the same time, I don’t want to just live out of my ancestral trauma or current struggle for a sense of belonging. I want to heal and find ways of feeling safe and at home that are generative and accountable to the indigenous people and stories of the land I am on.

What do you think that looks like?

It looks like digging roots in deep and not giving up or letting go when things get hard. Trusting that even in moments of tension or struggle where my stability might feel threatened, that I’m at home in my body. It looks like community and political organizing that ensures we all have access to healing and home.

When you are at home in your body, how does that feel? What is that like?

Being at home in my body feels like my face is relaxed and my muscles are just sort of hanging off my bones. There’s a sense of the neurological response of ‘rest and digest.’ I’m not in fight or flight, I’m not clenched or defending myself or pushing out into the world. It’s very much a settling in and relaxation and also an openness and vulnerability. I feel very at home in my body when I’m naked, by myself, in the bathtub, or with loved ones. I feel very at home in my body when I can see my whole body and hold myself. The different ways I’m able to connect to the wholeness of who I am makes me feel at home. Feeling the length between my feet and my head, the width between my shoulders, and just filling out the different dimensions of my body is really grounding and makes me feel at home.

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What does it feel like to be at home in the space around you?

Being at home in the space around me has a lot to do with building history with the space around me. Going back to the question of my home of origin, that’s why the Bay Area feels that way and why I feel at home there. I have history there, and I have that connection to being in the place around me. I know how to get around, I run into people, I have a sense of community. I think that’s something that can be inherited when people have long histories of land-based community that are really grounded in a particular place. I also think it can be built for those of us who don’t have histories of being land-based. That ties into the question, what does it mean to be a Jew living in diaspora, or any kind of diasporic identity? If we didn’t inherit a land-based home, then how do we create that in this lifetime? That feels like a really exciting challenge to build that history and build that community wherever I am. To find and create home that doesn’t perpetuate cycles of ethnic cleansing and colonization but instead is part of creating anti-oppressive, regenerative cultures that honor our relationships to each other and to the land. To know that I can build off of my own traditions and legacies that are connected to a piece of land, that help me feel that sense of place and belonging and home.

Tell me about your tangible goals and intentions around building that.

I’ve had a vision for a long time of co-creating a land-based community and having some sort of queer land project or farm or collective. I’ve used different words to describe it over the years. I’m getting to a point in my life where I’m really ready to make that happen. I’m looking into all of the different components that are important to me in making that happen. The people who are involved is obviously a huge component, like building and creating and sustaining family, including my family of origin, my chosen family, and my community. I want to bring those people into my visions in in an intentional way, and more importantly create a collective vision together. I have my own vision of queer sanctuary and a space for healing and fueling social justice movements, and also, so much of my vision will be shaped by whoever is involved in making that collective vision together. I don’t know. I’m feeling like it’s hard to get into tangible things from big ideas.

What are your next steps into turning big ideas into tangible things?

On this roadtrip, visiting different land projects and collectives was a powerful next step. I’ve been reflecting and seeing that a lot of the intentions I set and a lot of what I needed to do has happened on this trip and will continue to happen as I process and digest all of the information I’ve gathered from people and places I’ve visited. Following this trip, I’m looking forward to moving onto my friends’ farm that they just bought in Oroville, California. It’s already a working farm and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s potential for collectivizing. I feel a sense of hope and possibility. I’ll learn so much just from living there, and whatever form it might take, that feels like a good next step. The potential of that physical place being one that I could begin a collective process of visioning and strategizing and developing a structure is really exciting to me.

When I have a deep and intimate relationship to the people and plants and animals around me and am building history over time in that place, that’s when I’ll feel at home.

Tell me about how being on the road has impacted your sense of home — everything from moving around so much and not having a literal, physical space to call home, and also visiting different homes and talking to a lot of different people about the visions they’re in the process of creating?

Being on the road for three months definitely challenged my ideas of what being at home really means. It was hard in a lot of ways to not have a physical space that was mine, that was home. In some ways I do feel like the car became that. Collecting little trinkets and stones from places we went and having those things in the car and seeing that altar be built gave me a sense of home. And realizing, yeah, I really can make home in so many ways with pretty limited resources. Finding the things that make me feel comfortable and building those in more really supported me being able to sustain myself on this trip. Getting to places and having a door to close made a big difference.

On the flip side, constantly being in motion was challenging. Some years ago, I was traveling for the same amount of time but only stayed in two or three different places in the course of three months. I was able to make home in each place I was and have a little altar next to my bed and things like that. On this trip, moving on anywhere from every day to once a week at the most, was a lot of uprooting. It was really exhausting. I can’t imagine living a whole life like that. I always knew how important it was to me to have a stable home to come back to. Not having it on this trip was hard. There’s no ways for me to touch base with myself. It’s so much harder to settle in and just get into the rhythm of, ‘I’m in my space, I’m safe, no one’s coming in, no one needs anything from me right now, I’m not on my way somewhere or arriving from somewhere, I’m just here.’ That feeling of being in my room and being at home is so deeply restorative. It feels like not that much to ask. It feels really basic to want to be in a space, not be bothered, not have to go anywhere, and just be present with myself. That feels like a human need and a human right, to safe and secure housing and to care for ourselves and each other in that way. This trip has worn on me in not having that and I’m really looking forward to settling in and having more downtime.

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me and eliana’s last day at the farm in the sierra foothills

In what ways are you seeking home, and in what ways have you found home?

Even though home is tied to a physical space for me so much of the time, I do feel like the physicality of home has and will change. The seeking and finding home has less to do with seeking and finding a physical home and more about opening my eyes to all of the ways that I do have home, particularly in relationship to other people.

I have a deep knowing that I’ll never be without a home, and that there’s so many people who would hold me and host me and show up for me in that way. I mean, whatever, maybe not. Maybe I can’t say I’ll never be without a home. The apocalypse could happen, you know. things happen. (laughs) I just feel like I have such a loving family and community, and my relationship to you — my partner, Freddie — is a huge way that I’m both seeking home and feel like I’ve found home. That was also really clear on the road. There’s so much more work to be done in building this relationship that we have and making it be one that is a source of grounding and home. And in times where I was struggling or felt homesick or felt unsafe in any varying degrees, I could really call on that relationship and just feel held in it, and loved, and that made all the difference to feel at home in my heart and in my body.

“There’s something beautiful about places that are a lot of people’s home.”

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 friendscontent note: the following conversation discusses general trauma around fire / physical loss of home, and ancestral trauma. 

12654302_898571673146_9210887163455600702_nWho 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? img_1006

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.

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margot tending to the chickens at linke fligl. photo by zahara zahav.

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.

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photo from margot’s blog.

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.

 

“What even does it mean to try to survive in places where people are telling us we don’t belong?” Brawny on home.

the following is an interview with my friend brawny, as part of my home project. believe it or not, i met brawny on instagram after a friend found their #freddiemercorgi hashtag, and eli and i stayed with them in decatur, georgia. content note: the following conversation discusses general trauma around grief, loss, and queerness, as well as white supremacy and colonization.

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-8-50-23-amWho are you and where are we?

My name is Jillian, or Brawny, and we are in Decatur, Georgia.

Is there a place you consider a home of origin?

Probably Shorewood, Wisconsin.

What sights, sounds, smells jump to your visceral memory when you think of Shorewood?

I think of water. Big bodies of water. I lived about a block and a half away from Lake Michigan. Going to the lake was really my first process of working through my emotions on a tangible, physical level. Almost every single day after middle school or high school I’d just walk to the lake. I spent a lot of time crying and looking at Lake Michigan. It was so cold, just this sharp bitterness. Your senses are almost sharpened when it’s that cold. The sun hits the snow and colors seem brighter. It’s just like whenever I go somewhere that cold I feel a sense of home, and feel more alive in this way.

Since I’ve lived there I’ve lived predominantly in the southeast. The mugginess and all that is so distinct. The texture of the air really quantifies different types of home to me.

If I could get a little bit woo, which I know you’re down with…

Let’s go all the way.

IMG_0563.jpgWhat does home feel like in your body and soul?

I’ve been processing a lot with the feeling of emptiness and loss. Feeling like I’ve lost so much of who and what was home to me very recently. I feel it in a wholeness. Like if my body was a pitcher, how full am I with water? Is it up to my kneecaps, or up to my chin?

I’ve had a lot of experiences lately with myself about gain and loss at the same time. What I’ve found is what so many queer folks have found about coming into your identity as a queer person in the world, as a radical person in the world, the painful reality of losing so many people in your life. The ways in which people are still holding on to the “who” they thought you were instead of embrace the current you.

I’ve had a lot of understanding the imperfection of my upbringing, and trying to come to terms with the love that my parents were able to give me was incomplete and imperfect. It’s what they could give. It’s not that they were bad people or it was bad love. It was just realizing in myself I need and deserve more. I’m coming into that and realizing that my concept of whole-ness is shifting. Being a female-assigned-at-birth person and being perceived as predominantly female in the world, you’re taught how little space you’re allowed to take up. I’m in a process of reclaiming and the love and respect and all the good things in the world that I need. I got a long way to go. But I’ve learned a lot about giving that to myself, which I did not have when I thought I had wholeness.

It sounds like there’s a lot of grief and joy at the same time.

Yeah, and it’s also coming into politics. When I think of home, I think a lot about my political home. That’s really where I’ve found so much healing from my own trauma and found the words to explain what is going on in the world — being like, okay I’m not the only one seeing this. I’m not out of my mind to see the systematic oppression that exists for myself and my comrades. I’ve got my political home, and learned that, too, is imperfect. Right now, home, for me, is figuring out the healthy balance of conflict and struggle and love and respect.

1960905_377363125773455_52311822735008645_oWhen you talk about your political home, what are you talking about?

I’m mostly talking about specific groups and specific ‘who’s.’ The people that I’m closest to right now are people that I’ve done political work with. Girls Rock Charleston is definitely a political home where we all kinda came up together and created this organization off the ground. Just the like-minded people talking about like-minded goals, and just the feeling of coming home, where you get to come in and immediately take off your pants. It’s like, political home is where we get to come and don’t have to be sitting on the edge of your seat waiting to deconstruct someone’s racist comment, or be misgendered by your friend.

Can you describe the home and world that you and your comrades seek to create?

My political people are my home and we’re thinking about who we’re gonna be when we grow up, and how to actually decolonize our life. We think a lot about communally raising babies, and the dreamy stuff like that. You get some land and you get off the grid. We’ve always been thinking about the ways in which the nuclear heteronormative family has failed us, so what can we create to not fuck up our kids as much as we were fucked up? That’s on a small level.

In a grander scheme of things, decolonizing the world, and all that means. Breaking down white supremacy and the heteropatriarchy in every single space that we can while knowing that it’s probably not gonna be in our lifetime. What does it mean to continue working with that on an interpersonal level, at the very least? That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

I’m curious to hear about your thoughts and feelings about forging home in something tangible, like a land project off the grid, when we are talking about indigenous land, and trying to address colonization and de-colonoize our lives. Have you gotten anywhere on that? Because it’s something I feel pretty overwhelmed in thinking about.

Yeah, I think about that so much. A friend of mine in Charleston was really invested in making what he called a ‘cool space,’ but how to not gentrify by making this sort of space. Most of us are working class — people working in food/bev, or working in non-profit movement work which pays very little, so what would it mean to be able to have a piece of land? What does it even mean to own a piece of land? I don’t know how to completely decolonize, except for like, go back to the Czech Republic where my people are from, and create a habitable community outside of Prague. Maybe that is the answer. I really don’t know. As a white person,  I think a lot about trying to live as intentionally as possible and actively invest in what it means to leverage and give up my privilege, instead of just being like, “I have privilege, that sucks, but aren’t I a great guy to say I have privilege?”

And this concept of identifying and being a white person but also knowing white isn’t a race. What does it mean to reclaim where you’re from as a white person? The way in which whiteness and the privilege that we benefit from creates this vacuum of culture which then leads to appropriation. What does it mean to actually fill yourself up with where you’re from in this way that doesn’t center your white experience, to the people around you at least?

I think one answer is reparations, in any way. What does it mean to give back this land? Of course you can’t undo the terrors and the horrors that were enacted by our ancestors, but I just can’t subscribe to so many white people’s tendency to throwing up their hands and being like, ‘we didn’t do this, what do you expect us to do?’ Because it is our burden to bear. When white people think about being intentional people and giving back to people of color can get in this whole white savior complex as well. I like to focus on the more spiritual piece of decolonizing and understanding that in every system of power and oppression, the group in power is spiritually bankrupt in ‘having’ this in this way. So many white people, even in movement work, don’t understand the spiritual burden of white supremacy on them. I think a lot about breaking that down.

Thanks for getting into that, it’s a really layered question.

I basically just said a bunch of words that amount to, ‘I don’t know.’ But I’m interested in knowing and I’m interested in struggling. I think that’s an important piece. What I admire in people doing this work is the transparency and willingness to fail, and failing and showing up and knowing it’s not gonna be beautiful but it’s just trying the best you fucking can.

12087256_10204969369826315_8122654721586557946_oI’m gonna shift and ask about — obviously you have a special relationship with your dog, and I wanted to ask if your relationship with your dog has impacted or helped create or had any kind of interaction with your relationship with home?

Yeah, a lot. My dog Freddie Mercorgi is very much home, in all the definitions of home. Like the Hallmark card, sunset picture, talking about home, that’s me and Fred. But she also really helped me with taking back feeling good in my physical space of home. Growing up I had very chaotic parents. My home was always a mess and my parents were prone to outbursts so I never really felt good bringing people over. I didn’t spend a lot of time at home. I’d go to the library, I’d go cry at the lake. The fact that I have this dog at home waiting for me has really brought me back to the safety and comfort and being welcome and excited to come home. I got her when I was 24, and the 24 years before that I never had a reason to come home in that way.

Well, she’s a perfect angel baby.
You talked a little bit about the world you envision and the space you kind of stride toward in your political home. And I wonder if you could also talk about the home you’ve envisioned for yourself in a more physical sense. It seems like you’re in transition and I wonder what you see when you’re in a more — I don’t know if grounded’s the right word, but in a place where you’re like, yes this is where I wanna be.

I don’t have a lot of depth into that for myself. Lately I’ve just been fascinated with this concept of home ownership. A few hours ago when I was driving home, I was looking at these houses and thinking, wow, it would be amazing to feel rooted and feel investment in a particular space, both a specific home and a city. I also think about the exhaustion of capitalism and the money that I pay for rent just disappearing. It’s too hard to think about.

Most of my relationships are tremendously intimate and platonic. I don’t have a lot of partners. I spend most of my time being single and in that I’ve really been able to reconstruct romance and polyamory and the ways in which we can connect with one another that doesn’t involve prioritizing romantic and sexual partnerships. Whenever I envision myself being an actual grown up, I envision collective living.

Can you paint me a picture of dreamlife, or the thing you want to struggle for in making home, even if you don’t know where that would be, or how?

I don’t know what my dream home looks like. I’m in this process of completely deconstructing my life. It seems like I’ve lost so much. In this way that doesn’t take loss as an exclusively bad thing. I have let go of so many things to shift what I’m looking for. I was just thinking about how I have a lot of desire that’s just not directed. I’ve been struggling with deep depression and this feeling of desire is new and exciting in this way that I don’t wake up and just go through the day and go to sleep. It’s funny having this desire without any sort of direction. But definitely creating a home and knowing what that looks like is something that’s on the way. I desire to know what that is, even. I’m at square negative two.

In what ways do you seek and make home, and in what ways have you found home?

I’ve definitely found home in Freddie, and in a few pieces in my life. One of them is my groupchat that has been named in my iPhone as ‘Cry Club’ with Salter and Cole. Cole actually texted me and Salter. They were listening to an interview with Janet Mock and she said — her eloquence is beyond me, I can’t, so I’m gonna completely butcher the quote — she was talking about home being people you come to completely empty so they could fill you up. I felt that so much.

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one of brawny’s embroidery pieces.

I’ve found home in creation. I’ve found home in my weird fiber art things. I’ve realized I am very self conscious of calling myself an artist. I had drinks with this older butch the other day and she was going through my instagram and pointing out pictures and being like, ‘this makes you an artist.’ It kinda reminded me of the first time I was called femme. It was not by myself, it was by a butch who was like, hey, you’re a femme. Okay butches, you can tell me who I am, but give me a break, so I can be the one to say it.

Even though I hate working in food/bev, I like the process of making coffee and using my hands all day. That’s a way I’ve found home in my body.

I’m really seeking a home where I feel both useful and fulfilled. I’ve had a lot of trouble in my past with codependent relationships, and the way I’ve given so much of myself to situations and relationships where I’ve not sustained me or filled me. So I’m looking for about where can I come to be filled up, and where can I too fill other people, places, and things up, like the Janet Mock quote. Sustainability is a big word when it comes to home. I’ve been thinking of all the tag phrases of being a millennial, and doing political queer work, especially in the south. How can we be sustainable when we’re trying to chisel a life out of the bible belt for us? What even does it mean that we’re trying to survive in places where people are telling us we don’t belong? What does sustainable living look like? Even in doing collective liberatory work, what does sustainable living look like when you’re always in the battle?  I’ve been thinking a lot about that — what’s the answer to sustainability and anti-capitalist self-care and preventing burnout.

“I know where I can go to feel welcomed and wanted.” Alli on home.

the following is an interview with my friend alli as part of my home project. we became close friends as similarly closeted queerdos at our catholic high school in portland, where alli still lives today.

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alli & huckleberry

Who are you and where are we?

I’m Alli and we’re in Portland, Oregon.

Do you have a place you consider a home of origin?

Yeah, I guess so. The Bay Area in California.

What do you think of when you think of that home of origin?

You know how when you’re driving on the freeways of the suburbs around the bay, the retaining walls on the side have greenery that grows on them, but it’s usually always brown and dead? That always reminds me of home. I remember when I moved to Portland the first thing I noticed when we were driving up here was the freeways were different.

When I think of my home of origin, I think of my childhood, the way I grew up, and the way home was talked about as a child. But now when I think of home I think of it as more of an abstract feeling as opposed to a place.

Can you tell me about that transition of the idea of a childhood home and how that’s talked about, versus how you think of a home now?

Once you start being given the freedom to choose your own home, and create your own home, you realize — I should say, I realize, I’m in control of what home is to me. As opposed to being a child when you don’t pick your home, or decide what the definition of home is. When you’re a kid everything is so literal, right? Every word has a definition, and the definition of home is the place that you live.

So, what is home to you as you are choosing your own home?

It’s hard to put into words. I call where I live my home and I feel like that’s my home. I’m a nester so it’s important to me to have a place to retreat to. But when I’m with people or surrounded by things that put me at ease, I don’t feel like I’m away from home or missing home.

Tell me about the ways that you are building home now, either abstractly or literally.

I think I’m subconsciously always working to build and create spaces where I feel safe, whether that means physical spaces or just spaces in my heart. I correlate safety with home. But it’s hard to think about how and what I’m actually doing to build that because I’m doing it so subconsciously.

Because certain people were in my life, I was feeling I had to present myself in a certain way and be a certain type of person around them. I have recently weeded all those people out. That’s allowed me to sink in deeper into where I am, which makes me feel like my feeling of home has spread out further because I feel safer in more places.

What do you think makes you feel safe?

Being in a familiar place and being around people I know will keep me safe is important. I’ve lived here for so long, I take for granted how important the time that I’ve lived here plays into my perception of Portland being my home now. It’s familiar, and I know it, and I know the places where I can go and see people to feel welcomed and wanted. I feel home in Portland because I know where those places are and I have enough of them to feel comfortable and safe here.

Can you imagine yourself leaving and making home somewhere else?

I would like to believe I can pick up my life and go make roots somewhere else, but I really don’t have any interest in it. The only reason I would like to want that is because there’s a little bit of ‘what ifs’ — like what if that is gonna be better than here, and fear of missing out. But really, the thought of leaving terrifies me. That’s part of why I want to want to go too, because it’s terrifying, and I want to feel like that’s okay, and I’m stronger than this feeling of fear.

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eva and alli

So regardless of whether you live here always or go somewhere else, are there ways you envision any sort of future home?

Well I know that Eva, my wife, will be with me wherever I go. I feel like it’s so corny and I’m conforming to what we’re told about love in movies when we’re kids. As scared as I am to leave if we have to leave, if we go together, we’re gonna be fine. ‘Cos we have home in each other. We’ve moved to three different houses in this neighborhood and every time we move, we create the same feeling of coziness. People tell us that when they come into our home. I think the home feeling is about us and what and who we choose to surround ourselves with.

The one question I’m asking everyone is, in what ways are you seeking home, and in what ways have you found home?

I’m quite literally in the process of looking for a house. Not a home, but a house. The intent is so Eva and I can start a family, and in that we are hoping to grow our home.

I feel like I’ve found home. Sometimes you can meet somebody and you’ve never met them and you feel at home with them. I had an interaction with someone I met a couple months ago. We’ve only hung out twice but both times, it’s like we’ve been friends for so long. It’s interesting you can find home in people. But I’m not sure I’m looking for that. It’s so nice whenever you meet people and feel at home with them, but I feel like I’m so content with where I’m at that I prevent myself from looking. A friend told me they knew someone I’d get along with really well, and they asked if they could introduce us, and I said, no that’s alright, I’ve got enough people around, I don’t want to carve out space for anybody else, you know? In that way I’m rejecting something that could possibly be. I don’t know that I am seeking home because I feel like I’ve already found home.

So it feels like a complete journey to you in a way?

I mean, no, but complete enough for me to feel comfortable being here and calling where I’m at home. I’m plateauing. Maybe not staying forever. (laughs).

That’s one way to look at it.

I mean, I’m not afraid of the word plateauing. I think people think plateauing is a bad thing and I can see thats how it’s intended to be used, like being stuck. But I don’t see it that way. I see it as being comfortable where you’re at. I’ll push off again at some point. But I’m happy to plateau. I feel like I’ll go up again some more. Maybe I’ll go back down again, who knows. I’ve got so much more life to live. This is not going to be my home forever, this feeling or this place. But it’s super great to be here right now.

Is anything else coming up for you in this conversation?

I’m interested in this resistance I’m feeling in declaring that home is so engrained in the life I’m building with my partner. I’m so happy being where I’m at, and I wouldn’t change anything, but I feel like part of me that wants to pull away from saying what I know— the person who wrote, like, “A Walk to Remember” would be so happy to hear me saying. Just so conforming! But it’s true and I’m not gonna feel shamed for that. But it’s funny to want to feel like home is more just about me. It’s empowering to feel like I am my own home, it’s me and I’m creating it. But I’ve always been somebody who does better alongside somebody else. So I’m okay to admit that my home is paired with Eva’s.

I mean, you guys are also making your life your own. Just because it has these elements of the ‘white picket fence’ doesn’t mean it’s not yours.

It just all ties in to conformity. I’m conforming to the get married, buy a house, have a baby life path. But then in so many other ways I feel so non-conforming to what society wants us to see. But on this like path of how things are supposed to happen, I’m nailing it.

I think you’re nailing it.

I mean — every night when I go to bed, I smile, and every morning when I wake up, I smile. So I feel like that’s a pretty good way to live.

“I had her, and she was mine.” Susan on Home.

the following is an interview with my friend and honorary mom, susan, as part of my home project. it was a special and emotional conversation for both of us. my connection to susan is my close friendship with her daughter, lauren, who died in 2007 after battling a rare form of bone cancer.  content note: the following conversation discusses trauma around death and illness, as well as substance abuse.

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susan and rugby visiting the tree planted for lauren at camp caldera near sisters, oregon

Who are you and where are we?

My name is Susan and we’re in Portland, Oregon.

Do you have a place you consider a home of origin?

Los Angeles, California.

What kind of sensory memories come to mind when you think of that home?

The good memories involve growing up outside. My mom’s home cooking, and the smells of growing up in the San Fernando Valley: olive orchards, eucalyptus, horses.

Can you talk about how your relationship to home has shifted or changed from childhood to adolescence to adulthood?

As a young child I had a strong sense of home. I was number five of six. I was the youngest for seven years, so I had a good sense of closeness in the family, mostly due to my mother. My father was like one of the kids. I grew up loving my dad, but he drank, and he would act out periodically. I have some scary memories about that. As a teenager, home became someplace I wanted to avoid, mainly because of my dad’s drinking and never knowing what he was gonna be like. My home in southern California was someplace I wanted to leave but didn’t know how. I sought education to get out.

I have a strong connection with my family, even through my dad’s dysfunction. I’m still very close with my siblings. We don’t talk deep talks or call each other often, but when we’re together we have a lot of fun. As I got older, I got married and had kids, and that became my purpose. My children were my home. I loved being a mom. I just did. I didn’t understand the fact that my ex-husband chose to be gone all the time. He was driven by career. I wanted to have a good sense of home. I didn’t grow up with a lot of other relatives or knowing my grandparents, and I wanted to provide that for my kids. We bought this big ol’ house on the hill. I became the hub for my family gatherings and wanted to create that home for my kids.

I’ll back up for a minute. We lived in this tiny little house when I was growing up. It was 1200 square feet, and there were eight of us. That’s why we basically grew up outside. When I was 12, my oldest sister went off to college, my oldest brother went off to the navy, and we moved into a new house. It was just a tract home, nothing big or fancy, but it was bigger. My dad was a truck driver, and my mom worked as an office assistant, so we didn’t have a whole lot of money, and it was quite a big thing for us to move there. We had a pool in our backyard, which was like living in high hog heaven! Shortly after we moved there, my dad got into an argument with his boss at the refinery he worked at. He dealt with that by going to the bar, coming home drunk, and calling up his boss and lambasting him on the phone. Surprise surprise, the next day he didn’t have a job. We almost lost our home and that had a big impact on me. I hated my dad at the time. As a result I knew I needed to always be able to take care of myself.

Back to my life with my kids. My home got disrupted pretty significantly when my husband left me for another woman. Right around the time we got divorced, Lauren was 12. We had to move out of that house, so I moved into this house. My realtor who found me this house was a dear friend. She gave me a card I still have framed that says, a house is not the structure, it’s the people inside. This became our home.

When Lauren got sick, my home changed again. As close as I was to my family — we never talked about stuff. Frankly, they weren’t around much through Lauren’s cancer. You guys [me and other friends of ours] were, and that’s the reason you’re part of my home. So many of the kids Lauren was around became our home. It was the home that Lauren loved. It became much more of a home than being with my siblings. I struggle with some of that still, in terms of feeling let down. But I’ve forgiven them. I know how our family is. It was a big lesson to me, going through something like that. People you think are gonna step up for you don’t step up for you and people you wouldn’t think of at all are there. You learn that people who are there for you become part of your home. It’s not always through the good times you develop those relationships, it’s through the trenches.

Scott entered the picture, and he became my heart and was there for me and Lauren and that became my home. This home is our haven. I’d like to think of it as a safe place for people. Now, these last couple years have been really hard for me for a lot of reasons. I’ve retired. I’m trying to figure out my purpose. Missing my kids. Missing Jon and Sara, missing Lauren every moment of every day.

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susan & lauren, 2006

For the sake of wanting to share this interview with people who might not know you or Lauren, do you mind explaining as briefly as you feel like who Lauren is?

(Deep sigh). She’s my heart. She still is my heart. I love [my other kids] Jon and Sara to the death. That’s one thing as a mom. Each child is so different, and you learn to love them for who they are. Lauren was a surprise. She came along at a time in my life when I was very lonely and unhappy. I was not happy when I found I was pregnant and my husband was like – oh yeah, we’ll take care of this, we’ll deal with this, then he disappeared. I knew I was on my own on this one. When I saw the ultrasound, I looked at that little thing and thought, this one’s mine. She was mine. (Crying). There was nothing like her to me. She was there for me during the divorce. We became the best of friends. She was the person I could be real with. I knew I could screw up. I could be a bitch. I never had to fear rejection. Never. God, I miss her.

You guys really had a home together for a while.

Sara was here the first few years , but then it was just Lauren and me. It was just the two of us for those few blessed years. It was so easy with her. I mean, we fought, but we hated fighting.

She was sneaking boys into her bedroom—

Or having parties! But we couldn’t stay mad at each other.

It’s almost easier not to think of a higher being, because it’s like, how can you be so cruel? But I try to think, she was my gift for 20 years. I had her, and she was mine. She never was mine, but she was mine. She belonged to everybody. But it’s still hard. When it happens, you have the grief, and the newness, and this energy to be strong. After a few years that goes away and you realize the rawness there. The pain.  As a mom, I deal with Jon and Sara’s grief. When I’m with Jon and Sara — anything we do, like Sara’s wedding — it’s always bittersweet. There’s such a hole. We all feel it, we all know it. And we deal with it. She was such a light. I know I’m her mom, but I don’t think there’s many people like her.

A lot of times I still flounder about where I belong. I don’t know what I’d do without Scott. He’s my rock. That was where I found the true meaning of love and family.

Tell me about what home is for you today, having done some healing and rebuilding and obviously, still feeling lost in lots of ways.

I’m part of a blended family, which comes with its challenges. We have one grandchild on Scott’s side. It’s not what I dreamed of in terms of what my later years would consist of, other than finding a soulmate in Scott. We truly love each other a lot. We really enjoy each other.

I’m searching around right now about what I want to do. I’d like to maybe do some freelance writing or something to earn a little bit, since I retired fairly early. If I had my druthers, I’d have half a dozen grandkids, and I’d be having the kind of life my mom had. I’m not going to have that, and I’ve accepted that. You make your home with what you want. We want to do things. We want to travel. I’m trying to define that in my life right now.

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Susan, Scott, and Rugby at home

The one question I’m asking everyone is, in what ways are you seeking home and in what ways have you found home?

I’ve found home with Scott. From the day I met him, I thought, I could love this man a lot, and I do. We have our ups and downs, but he’s got such a good heart. He’s where I found home. I feel very good about my relationships with both Jon and Sara. I don’t have a good relationship with their dad, but I know they have relationships with him, and I’m glad about that. I also know they both care very much for Scott. That feels like home for me.

I’m seeking home in trying to find a place, a meaning. I have an ache. I need to feel better about myself. I need to find a purpose. I’ve thought a lot about it. I want to do something of value, in terms of an employment type of thing. Part of that is just because of the experience I had growing up and not feeling very important. I’ve dealt with a whole lot of my feelings around my dad the last several years, now that my mom’s gone too. The home I’m looking for is in myself, where I can find some peace. I’m still working on that one. I function, I’m not curled up in a ball, but I have episodes of significant grief. I’m figuring out what she would want me to be doing at this point in my life. That’s what I’m searching.

“It doesn’t matter where you are, the smoke’s still gonna rise.” Connie on home.

the following is an interview with my friend connie as part of my home project. i met connie through a friend when she moved to boston several years ago, though she has moved back to her home state of north carolina since giving this interview. connie is an amazing artist among other things, and you can view and purchase her work on etsy. content note: the following conversation discusses trauma around sexual abuse.

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What’s your name and where in the world are we?

My name is Connie and we’re at the pond in Jamaica Plain in Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you have a place you consider a home of origin?

I was born and raised in North Carolina.

What do you think and feel when you think about that home?

I’m from a really small town of 3,000 people. If you look at the census data for my town there’s only 50 Asian people there and I’m related to or know all of them. When I think of the place where I grew up I think of being in the woods and wandering around outside by myself and feeling uncomfortable and different everywhere I went. That can be a really othering feeling, especially when you’re young.

When I think of my home of origin I don’t really think about where I grew up. I think about where I went to college in Greensboro, because that’s where I felt comfortable for the first time in my life. It was where I first met other people who I could really connect with.

Can you describe what you found when you got to college, if that’s what you think of as your home of origin?

I think the biggest thing for me was being able to sleep and feel safe when I was sleeping which was completely different for me, and made it really hard for me to return back to where I grew up. I think everything about me feeling comfortable and at home and everything that made me like North Carolina stemmed from me being able to sleep at night.

Tell me about your search for home since then — what have you sought to create in the spaces you’ve been?

Finding places that I feel comfortable has been hard for me. Home for me is anywhere where I can just be authentically myself. A house or where I’m staying is isn’t the biggest part. The biggest part of what makes a home to me is a place where I can feel safe. Where I don’t feel scared or feel like I can’t be authentically myself.

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richard, vincent, & connie in boston

My partner Richard is one of the first people who I can be around and feel like I’m by myself (laughs). I’m an only child, I didn’t have a lot of friends growing up, I was and am a big geek, I played World of Warcraft and online roleplaying games, and I have always felt most comfortable when I’m completely by myself. It’s been interesting for me to find a partner who I can feel like I’m by myself when I’m around him. I don’t feel anxiety about being around another person, I feel fine. I feel okay still. I’m so grateful to have Vincent, my dog, in my life. There have been moments where I’m going through dark times or depression, and I wouldn’t even go outside if it hadn’t been for walking Vincent. That feeling of needing somebody who also needs me. A reason to go outside and walk and get out of my mind has been helpful for me in feeling at home wherever I am.

I’m hearing you talk a lot about safety, comfort, and being authentic. What does a space look like that makes you feel those ways?

I can tell you what it doesn’t look like. When I was growing up, I went through years of sexual abuse. Sleeping has been the biggest thing for me. The older I get the worse it is. You’d think I would be getting better, but I’m not. This past winter my partner and I were staying at my parents house, and their house is really small, so we were staying in the shed on a mattress. I couldn’t fucking sleep. I was shaking and crying and I couldn’t sleep. That’s the opposite of what a home is. It’s where I grew up, it’s where my family is, but it’s not a home for me because I don’t feel safe there.

Part of me feeling at home with Richard is is him not making me talk about what I’m feeling, but instead being like, hey do you want to go for a walk? I can know logically in my brain that I’m safe, I’m an adult now, I’m not an eight year old kid. I can know that but still feel scared and vulnerable. When I’m put back into a shitty situation, it makes me feel that same way again. Not being able to sleep was something I dealt with all through middle school and high school, every night. Crying and shaking, feeling scared, and feeling like I couldn’t tell anyone about it.

13062108_3110190079031_6905288917414313416_n.jpgWhen I’m somewhere I feel safe, it’s so easy for me to fall asleep. Anybody who hasn’t gone through that might not think about what a beautiful thing it is to be able to fall asleep and not feel like something horrible is going to happen to you. For me personally that’s like one of the biggest thing about what home looks like. I can fall asleep and be vulnerable and it’s gonna be okay.

Sounds like a lot of what you’re seeking in home is sanctuary and healing from trauma. I’m really glad you have Richard and Vincent wherever you go.

I mean Vincent’s basically useless as a protection dog (laughs) but the healing part is real.

I know you’re in a transition of moving back to your home state of North Carolina after several years in Boston. It sounds like the place is secondary to the other things that make up home for you. When you picture your life either in the near or distant future, what is your home like?

In some ways my home’s gonna stay the same because my home is wherever I am, and where I feel safe. Now it’s wherever my partner is and wherever Vincent is too. Richard and I want to buy a house in North Carolina. I’m gonna finally have a place where I don’t have to worry about stuff anymore. I don’t have to worry about strangers walking into my house because I don’t own it, I don’t have to worry about where I’m gonna live the next month or the next year, I’m not gonna have to worry about getting kicked out of where I’ve made my home. That’s the next level of feeling safe and having even less anxiety about being at home because it’ll be a place that I own.

The one question I’m asking everyone is, in what ways are you making and seeking home and in what ways have you found home?

I think you can live in a place without it necessarily being your home. Part of finding home is finding a space where you can be yourself, and finding people you can be yourself around. When we stayed at my parents’ house in North Carolina last winter, I remember thinking, I can’t wait to go home. Part of finding a home is finding other places where you can feel safe and supported and feel like you can be authentically yourself without having anxiety about it. When we first moved here, part of making this into a home was trying to find other people that we could really connect with.

One of the first ways I did that was going out by myself when you were playing at Queeraoke. You invited me to a party at your house, and so the first thing Richard and I did socially was go to that party. And there we met Rachel and Guillermo, another queer-woman/straight-guy couple who have a dog (laughs). It was through this series of coincidences we made this place a little more of a home.

I’m so touched to have just been a conduit in that. That’s really sweet. Thanks for sharing so much with me in this interview. Is there more you’d like to share?

When we first moved to Boston we moved to East Boston, which is mostly Latinx. The first day Richard, who is white, went to work, he came home and said, I was the only white person on the train and and it felt kind of weird. And I said, okay imagine having that feeling all the time, no matter where you are. That’s how I’ve felt as a mixed race person. I grew up in a a predominantly white area so I felt different because I’m not white and I didn’t look like everybody else. Then in college, I went to study in China and felt the exact same way.

My mom’s family were refugees in the late 40’s, so my mom was the first person in our family to be born in Taiwan instead of China. Before my mom was centuries of people who were all born in China and all had these cultural similarities in their lives. Then there’s this complete disconnect. I’m the first person in this long line of women whose first language is not Chinese. Culture wise, I’ve always felt like an outsider no matter where I am. It’s just something I’m hyper aware of. I’m not sure if other people experience this too — other children of immigrants born in the united states or who immigrated to the united states at a young age — a feeling like no matter where I go I’m never in my ancestral home because I don’t really have one that’s one isolated place.

Do you feel like your ancestry informs what you seek out in home?

It was recently Tomb Sweeping day, Qingming Jie ( 清明节 ), the day Chinese people go to pay respects to their ancestors and take care of graves and leave flowers and burn hell money. Taiwan celebrates that April 5th and I called my mom that day. It’s heavy thinking about how there are people in my family who are doing that for me, and I don’t have the means to go to their graves and talk to them. For me it’s been a constant search of where I fit in, of what things am I allowed to claim as my own, and what can I not claim?

Not very simple questions that have beginnings or ends, I imagine.

Yeah. Like when Richard and I get married, I want to wear a traditional Chinese dress and headdress, and then it’s like, is that okay? I didn’t grow up in China, my mother didn’t grow up in China, she grew up in Taiwan. But everyone before her and me in this long line of women would have had that. Does it just stop at me? It’s a lot of heavy questions that are hard to answer.

I hope you end up feeling you can do whatever feels right in your gut.

Yeah. That’s kind of where I’ve gotten recently. Like, whatever, I’m just gonna do what feels right for me. I was talking to my mom on Tomb Sweeping Day and I said, what should I do? She said, you could write a letter to your grandparents and burn it. It doesn’t matter where you are, the smoke’s still gonna rise. It doesn’t matter that I’m not there.

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connie & her mom, chi-ying

How do you feel like your relationship with your mom impacts the way you think of your ancestral home and your relationship to that kind of spiritual home?

I think my relationship with my mom has a huge impact on how I feel about my ancestors and the Chinese part of my heritage. When I was younger, I wasn’t very close with my mom, and I wasn’t very close with my Chinese heritage because I wanted to be like everybody else. Probably a lot of little kids sit in front of a mirror and cry, ‘why can’t I be like everybody else! Why do I have to look different? Why do I have to dress different? Why am I like this?’

My mom is someone who doesn’t talk about herself at all unless you ask her the right questions. There were a lot of things I never knew about my mom or my family until my twenties. I had no idea how my family came to the united states, I just knew that we’re here now. I didn’t know the stories of how my family ended up in Taiwan, how they had to take a boat from China because my grandfather was in the Nationalist Army and they lost the war. As I grew closer to my mom I grew closer to my roots. I started realizing that everything that has happened has led to me being here, and if anything had been different, I might not be here, or I might be a different person. I think of it like we carry all of our ancestors inside of us in a physical, literal way, and also in a way you can’t really see. All of these traditions have led up to me being the way that I am because the way that you’re raised as a child affects way you raise your kids. All of these different personalities and cultural traditions have culminated in my mother and then culminated in myself.

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a punny home-themed watercolor by connie