“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.