It’s an elusive term, isn’t it? It’s why we have so many aphorisms about it:
“Home is where the heart is.”
“A man [sic] travels to figure out what he’s looking for and returns home to find it.”
“Home is where I can look and feel ugly and enjoy it.”
Okay, maybe not that last one. But think about how important home is in our everyday lives: it’s polite to tell someone to make herself at home when visiting; it’s a great compliment to say that a hotel, a new house, or even a close friend feels like home. How many times have you been out at a party, it’s late and your friend is like “Yo, just crash here” but you’re all, “Nah, I just want to wake up at home in my own bed” ? (Or is that just me? Explains so much)
Anyways. I’ve mused about home quite a bit on this blog. I consulted other travellers on dealing with homesickness. I reflected on what it was like coming back to Toronto after living abroad for the first time and the third time because, Toronto—the place where I was born, had my first kiss, protested in the streets, had my heart broken, and achieved one of those ‘life milestones’—hasn’t felt like home since.
Wait, here I am, going on about this word, this feeling, this quality, this place… and I can’t even decide what it means. A book I read for one of my courses outlined all of the theories and iterations of home: it’s a story we tell about where we belong; it has no fixed space; it’s a microcosm of the wider society in which we live; it’s a place where we feel secure. None of those resonated until I read this:
The person is at home when he is at ease in the rhetoric of the people with whom he shares life. The sign of being at home is the ability to make oneself understood without too much difficulty, and to the follow the reasoning of others, without any need for long explanations. The rhetorical country of a person ends where his interlocutors no longer understand the reasons he gives for his actions, the criticisms he makes, or the enthusiasms he displays. — Vincent Descombes
Once you move around enough, you realize that home isn’t just one place. Home, for me, is people.
Until then, I had actively chosen not to reflect on why Toronto and the events, people, and places I associate with it haven’t felt like home. I decided not to ask myself why the things that used to give me a rush—being impressed by people with enviable jobs and nice apartments, knowing “somebodies”, fancy drinks and fancy parties—no longer gave me the same wide smile and swelling of pride in my chest. Deep down I knew the answer: it was profoundly superficial.
Why doesn’t it feel like home anymore?
Well, because I feel like my life needs footnotes.
I was out at a restaurant/bar with some friends and their friends. I chatted with people I didn’t know. They were, what I like to call, ‘Toronto people’—though of the friendly variety. People who I totally would have wanted to be friends with 5 years ago. They talked about their jobs, saving for a house, engagements, weddings, and the like. It inspired discussion, mutual understanding.
When they asked me about my things: travel, doing a masters, living in the Caribbean, they looked at me like they just couldn’t place me. You know the look: slight head tilt, furrow of the brow, and a “What are you going to do with that?” It’s the look that says ‘You don’t fit into my schema of what mid-to-late twenty-somethings should be doing.’
So I add footnotes: “I’m studying social anthropology because I enjoy reading and researching” (Footnote 1: But it can totally get me a career!). I lived in the UK for two years because of a guy and travelled a lot (Footnote 2: But I started my own business and made a shit ton of money per hour!). It doesn’t make me feel comfortable, understood, or accepted. It makes me feel quite bored, really.
What does this have to do with home?
I’ve always valued close relationships and insightful conversations and I wasn’t being true to myself in my ‘Toronto person’ days. That’s why Toronto isn’t home. Some people here take themselves far too seriously. Other people make you feel like you have to prove yourself as someone ‘worth knowing’ before taking an interest in you. Being in Toronto with ‘Toronto people’ reminds me why I always felt so insecure, why I always felt like I had to lead with my achievements and big dreams. Toronto is one big Instagram profile.
Today what I care about is: Do you take an interest in people regardless of what they can do for you? Are you open-minded? Can we laugh about the same things? Will you see more than a tactless (wannabe) hippie who doesn’t see her life as directionless but open to multiple possibilities and who overcompensates to hide her shyness? Can we have an insightful conversation about life, the world, and existential crises?
Home is where I don’t have to explain who I am and my interests; where being a part of the community doesn’t take effort or performance.
So where am I at home?
The majority of my twenties have been spent on the move, peripatetic. Then, last week, someone said to me: “The more you go looking for home, the less time you spend building home”. It was like taking a bullet. Her words left an ache because that’s what I thought I was doing when I moved to London. Every country, every city, felt like home because for that same majority of my twenties, there was a person who didn’t make me feel like my life story needs a Chicago Style Manual.