“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.

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“Come as you are, and if it’s in a shitstorm, still show up.” Mana on Home.

the following is an interview with my friend mana as part of my home project. i met mana through my partner eli. eli and mana used to live in community at earthaven, which mana calls home today.

IMG_0650What’s your name and where are we today?

My name is Mana and we are in an eco-village called Earthaven in the United States of America on a lovely spring day.

Is there a place you consider you home of origin?

My home of origin is Holland, the Netherlands. That’s where I was born and where I lived the first 27 years of my life, in a small farming town about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam. I feel like I had a rural and a city upbringing.When I went to high school in Amsterdam, the kids there thought I was a farm girl, but back in my town, I was more like a town girl.

When you think of that home, what are sights, sounds, smells that come to mind?

The sights and smells and sounds are very much of the fields around my house. My parents moved in to a new neighborhood of row houses when I was a baby. It was all very straight, but right outside my neighborhood was still fields of green where they farmed. Now that I’m 40, they’re also neighborhoods, unfortunately. Back then it was still fields that birds inhabited. There are smells of manure — there’s actually a Dutch verb for it, but it’s misting cow poop on the field, which is just a delicious smell to me. One of my mom’s friends said she wanted perfume of that because she liked it so much. The sounds are definitely birds. Me and my friends used to go field tripping in all those fields and go on big adventures and try to find bird eggs and we were full of amazement about all those sounds. The spring in Holland is explosive. It goes from nasty gray to sudden full life like a Disney movie. Everything just starts to come alive, like tiny little baby ducks and baby geese and baby fish and baby lambs and cows. It’s the best season of the year in Holland. Those sounds and smells of everything coming alive is home. 

What ways have homes that you’ve visited, made, or been a part of — how has that resembled your home of origin in feeling or physical quality?

Looking at my life, being a grown up, traveling, and visiting lots of different places, there’s always a similar thread to how I was raised — there needed to be strong connection to nature.

I traveled to New Zealand and Australia and Spain and other European countries and the United States and there was always this feeling: I want to hear and smell nature as much as possible. I love visiting cities — the honks and cracks and sirens — but it doesn’t make me feel at home at all. The home part is always like, let me hear the birds, let me wake up with the sun in my face. The things I remember from living in Australia for a couple years are the sound of the kookaburra, the jungle, the roar of the ocean, and the smells of the trees. That’s always been the link to feeling really at ease in my soul, and feeling at home in places.

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Mana (right) with husband Johnny, their kids Max and Luka (aka Bubba), and other Earthaven kids at Max’s last birthday party.

You said when you’re in a city that it doesn’t feel like being at home. So when you do feel at home, how does that feel in your mind, body, soul?

There’s the feeling and connection to nature, but there’s also the people. I feel like I could create a home on this planet wherever but I have to have a group of people with me that I can depend on and work with and share support with and have a life together. I have a family now, two kids and a husband, and the four of us couldn’t do it on a lonely street. I feel incredibly that my home is my neighbors and my friends and my community. I can also see that those people can be interchanged with a different group of other people. Not my family though. I don’t want any other kids or a different husband necessarily (laughs).

Home is intertwined with a combination of feelings inside me, like, I wanna feel free to explore nature right outside my door, and I wanna feel super connected to my people on a daily basis. When I walk outside my door and I sit and have a cup of coffee with my next door neighbor, that’s home to me. Just immediate and approachable and really… there.

Can you tell me a little bit about Earthaven, your current geographical home?

I’ve lived here for nine years, and I think I’ll live here another nine years. This is an eco-village in the mountains in the Blue Ridge mountains of the Appalachia of the East Coast of the United States. It’s a rural village of many homes, about 70 people or so — we all live pretty close together on a plot of 325 acres. We believe in dense population, and leave a bunch of untouched nature. We farm some, but only on the flatlands, and we leave the steep hills for birds and foxes and whatever else roams here. Actually we don’t like foxes too much cos they steal our chickens… (laughs) 

I see a lot of my neighbors’ buildings, and I usually can hear their conversations, and I can hear their kids. I can hear the dinner bell of a community co-op kitchen close by, where about five members always eat together. My kids run into my neighbors’ house all the time and vice versa. There’s a constant mix of people. Right now it’s very quiet and I can hear the birds. It’s morning where the sun’s really warm and there’s trees everywhere. We live in the forest. There’s a big mountain behind me where my house is burrowed into the mountain, so that feels very cozy. 

I feel like when some people choose to live rurally, they’re intentionally seeking isolation. It seems like that’s very much not the point of being here in this community. 

For sure. The importance of being together out in the woods is that element of, we’re all together, way the F out there. (laughs) If it was just one family way out in the boonies, we’d be incredibly isolated. We’re doing this together. Together we make a life. There’s cookouts, and dances, and morning market, and scrabble night, and singing night, if you want to, or you can be totally by yourself if you’re not into all that.

What I really appreciate about living together is being supportive when something goes wrong in a crisis or health situation. I’ve had two babies born in my house here on the land, and then the support that comes through that is just such wealth, and that makes me feel so at home. I didn’t have to cook a single meal for three weeks straight after I had a baby. Everybody took care of everything.

My best friend in Holland was in the process of dying so I had to fly back and forth between here and there. Usually you can’t just up and leave your kids and your husband behind and go travel to Holland that many times. But I could because we had such a strong support network of friends and neighbors who jumped in and took care of my kids and some financial issues, not just once, but three times. So the wealth is very spread out. 

That’s amazing. You touched on a couple things I was interested in asking you about, in terms of how they impact your relationship to home. One was coming from Holland to the US. I am also curious about having the boys. 

It’s definitely been very hard to say goodbye to my homeland. It’s funny how I became so much more nationalistic. I appreciated Holland when I lived there, but then I moved away and I was like maaaan, I miss it! And Holland is so awesome and where’s my licorice and where’s my liberal views! That got amplified. Missing home has definitely been an element that I’ve lived with more and more. When I first moved away, if I would talk about going home, that would mean going back to the Netherlands. Over time, when I now say I’m going home, I mean this house and this place. So that’s shifted. It comes with some grief. I still feel I have two homes, and that my homeland will never change.

My home, though, is where my heart is now. I’ve invested for nine years in this place, and I’ve created a home here. I wouldn’t feel too comfortable moving away from here back to the Netherlands; I don’t know what my life would look like. I think that ties in a lot with having kids. To see them experience this place as home amplifies my sense of home. I love for them to run out of the house and run to the creek, and go find crawdads, and throw rocks at a bird, or be interested in bugs. Nature is so direct for them and they’re so safe here. They can run and be gone for eight hours a day and I feel safe and that they’re not in any peril. I know not a lot of people in the entire world have this special way to raise their kids and that this is an incredibly special privilege for us.

13394072_793902984043228_688754334330054535_n.jpgI get the picture from some of your stories that you used to be more nomadic. I’m wondering how that has changed as you’ve put roots down here, and if having a family has impacted that. 

I was a convicted traveler. I wasn’t gonna settle down or have a family at all. That was not part of the plan. For a good 15 years it was my philosophy to be a nomad and have no children and support the planet in its growth of whatever kind. I was more of an activist. I made my home where I was, in my truck, or in a tent. For the first four years in the united states, me and my husband were living out of a truck. We had our routine down. It was very satisfying and I didn’t want anything else.

I lost my dad at 30, and that started rattling the cage a little bit, and then at 32 I was starting to feel something. I’m like, what is this feeling? Is it a wanting-to-settle feeling? It was pretty scary. I remember having a recurring dream of a front door I wanted to close. I needed more privacy, because I was couch surfing, and always on somebody else’s turf, and always enjoying other people’s hospitality. I would volunteer for years on somebody’s farm through this organization called WWOOF — willing workers on organic farms. I was always on other people’s land and I was wanting to be on the other side. What would it be like to have people come visit me and have coffee at my table? I couldn’t really talk about it. I was way too scared; I was never gonna settle.

I couldn’t change very radically at first. Baby steps. I’m a carpenter, so I built a yurt for us that had a really pretty, very small front door. It was 21 foot across, which was a huge space for us. We knew we wanted to live with other people and so we had this plan of visiting five northeastern communities. We went to go investigate and we never left the first one we visited, which is this one — I’m still here, at Earthaven! We just stopped looking, ‘cos it was such a good fit.

Sounds like you went with your gut.

Yeah. We put up our yurt at a spot here at Earthaven, where we lived for a good three seasons, then we got chased out by mold. We eventually bought this house that was for sale and had no running water at the time. Then the thought of kiddos came up. We thought, if we do home births, we better get some running water. We might even want hot running water, whoa! So we renovated. Two weeks before I gave birth in my own home, we had the first hot running water coming out of our kitchen. That was exactly on time.

I was forced into settling for sure. Having a child creates a whole new experience of what it means to choose to settle down. It’s challenging for me because I’m a nomad still, but I’m dealing with it gracefully. Still learning. We always have the dream to bring the boys on the road with us and do some service work. We’re homeschooling them, so we don’t have to take them out of school. That would be my dream.

I’d love to hear more about what it was like to give birth in your home.

Home birthing is nuts, don’t try this at home. (laughs) Sounds incredibly romantic with candles and homemade soup and stuff, but it is crazy. I didn’t do it once, I did it twice. The thought behind it was hey, women have been doing this for thousands of years, so why the heck do I need a hospital? I got this. So I got a midwife. In North Carolina, it’s slightly illegal to do home births, so we had to lie to the authorities and say we were doing an unassisted birth. It felt nicely radical, trying something slightly under the radar. The first birth was a regular 12 hours, but the last two hours my babe got stuck. In the hospital they would have cut the baby out, no doubt about it, but in this case, I got a lot of praying and support from my midwife. Everybody was like: you got this, you can do this. My midwife said that for two hours straight and I believed her, and I pushed him out, and I thought I was dying and my baby was dying. It’s crazy to think we did it again, knowing full well that was a slightly dangerous situation, and realizing also, we’re willing to take a risk. We’re 45 minutes away form a hospital so that’s too far away for irregulaations. But also we were trusting that there’s been slightly dangerous situations for thousands of years and women can do this. It is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but you just need to have a coach who coaches you through it.

The second one took an hour and a half and he fell out of me, so that was great. I barely got dinner in my mouth when I had a baby. I was like ohhh, whoa, this is how you can have a baby also? It doesn’t have to be just horrible! It can just be excruciating and hard, which of course giving birth always is. That first experience of giving birth and being so humbled by the experience of being close to dying… I’ve never ever ever been this close to another realm. That experience put a definite twist on life. Like a change from one day to the next into somebody completely different who then needed to be settled. It helped me become more humble.

Wow, thank you for sharing. I’m gonna ask you the one question I’m asking everyone: in what ways are you seeking and making home, and in what ways have you found home?

How I’m seeking home is strengthening my relationships — being available to my friends and seeking help when I need it. Understanding that my social network is the most important part of a home. That’s what I strive for, to feed those relationships as much as I can.

It’s the same answer in how have I found home — in relationships. I’m so blessed to be in all these really intimate relationships. We have a good friend who comes over for Sunday morning breakfast — she’s my chosen sister, aunt to my kids, and part of the family. She introduced this rule — she said, please don’t ever host me when I come into your home, don’t ever think you have to put on a smile for me. Come as you are, and if it’s in a shitstorm, then still show up. You never have to entertain me or be anybody else than you are. I’m there, you’re there, and together we’ll just eat some bacon. You do not have to be in a good mood to be in relationship. That was so strengthening and that’s been my motto for a lot of relationships here and that’s been different from the friendship I used to create — which was like, I go see my friend over dinner with a bottle of wine, and we talk about each other’s lives and have a good time, and then it ends, and then I go home. That’s been different for nine years here. It’s absolutely not able even, to be like that with my neighbors. They see me in absolute misery, they see me in absolute joy, they see me in mediocre, they see me when I’m grumpy, and vice versa. I see them in all their moods ,and that’s what I want. That’s what I feel is the most precious about being at home.

I’m definitely aware of wanting to also have special private space, so I chose not to create a home in a co-op where you’re surrounded be a lot of other families or people at all times. I’ve lived like that before. That was great for the time I was in it, but raising children, I need some breaks. I need some times to be totally alone. I still have enough co-parents out there that are the parents of my boys’ friends. We do raise each others’ kids, but not to the point that we wake up together in the same house. I think that’s where I drew the line, that’s where I want my privacy, so I get to be in my nuclear family within a community, which is about as ideal as it gets for me. I get as much social touching and interaction as I want and then I can retreat in my own home. There’s so many co-decisions in a consensus-based ecovillage, where you’re making decisions all the time together, which I’m very passionate about. But I want to also say, and now I’m done, and this is my rule, and this is the only thing that goes, and I’m gonna go to bed now.

And you’re the mom.

Yes. (laughs)

I love that— you don’t have to be in a good mood to be in relationship. That’s such a succinct way of putting it. Is anything else coming up for you in the course of this conversation?

Since I’m a carpenter, I can forever build on my house. That’s the dream come true. to actually have this building to fiddle with, and it being, I’m not in debt to a bank, and it’s all just an incredible blessing. I’ve never wanted to rent a house ‘cos I wanna take walls out and that doesn’t really fly. The actual building of the home is within this building is really important to me. I don’t know what I’ll do with myself when I’m actually done building this building. I’ll start over.

You think you’ll be done?

Never. Because probably by the time I’m done with the addition, it all needs maintenance, cos owning a home also comes with having to constantly having to maintain it all. Refresh the beams, and the rafters, and put new gutters on. No, we’ll never be done. That’s definitely this yummy aspect of living off the grid on your own turf. I can do whatever I want with my house!