“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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“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.