“I want to drive into the sunrise.”

Years ago, when I was living in Seattle, commuting every day to a comfortable desk job in the eastside, I used to mutter this half-jokingly to my carpool companion. This must have seemed to her not just wistful and slightly pathetic, but incredibly dramatic, as we were usually staring directly into a glorious sunrise, a brilliant blaze that lit up the ubiquitous Seattle clouds vibrant hues of grapefruit and pink lemonade. My coworker would coo as if to soothe a cranky baby and gently whisper, “It will be okay.”

But it wasn’t. I just wasn’t satisfied there. So, one day I did go into that sunrise. I went further and further east until I reached Europe.

I never regretted it.

About every three or four years, I feel a strong desire to uproot myself, not just move to a different part of the city, but a different part of the country or the world. Those glorious sunrises and sunsets beckon to me. I change homes nearly every four years, not counting my travels, I have resided in eight cities and three different countries.

alightcirclepromenadetreesandcirclesmpbaeckerBut moving is not something I’ve always loved, it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. When my parents emigrated from the Philippines to the US, they believed they had found a better, safer, more economically stable new homeland for us. With their life savings they bought an old brick house with a large garden in a then idyllic Chicago neighborhood and planned to live there for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, this dream shattered within a few years, it seemed to fragment and dissolve before our very eyes. The aftermath was a life of financial instability and continual relocation.

I spent my childhood in different communities all over Chicago. In the eighties, the city was more like a patchwork quilt of distinct cultures rather than a “melting pot”. We lived in an African American-Hispanic community in the South Side, then a predominantly Polish area, then a Middle Eastern district. Afterwards, we drove across the country to the Pacific Northwest where I spent my teens in several low-income Seattle neighborhoods. We moved until my mother was finally able to afford a house, she settled down in the countryside near a small Scandinavian village. But on my own, as an adult, I continued to wander the world.

To many people, this kind of nomadic lifestyle seems terribly unstable and they’re not wrong. I was always the outsider, the “new kid”, a (permanent) tourist, a foreigner. There are negative aspects to it: never feeling like you truly belong, always standing out (not in a fashionable way!), having to adapt to a new environment, culture, language. You often learn things the hard way by making constant unwitting errors, especially because you don’t have any insider knowledge or connections, things you will never take for granted ever again. Understandably, people often buckle under this kind of stress, they isolate themselves or only socialize within a small exclusive community, they stop trying altogether. I have done this too. I sometimes fall back on it, a soft familiar pattern, at times when I have a particularly hostile encounter and I don’t feel strong.

But positive aspects always seem to resurface or new ones appear out of thin air and they grow, they grow wildly until they become undeniable. Some of the biggest ones are freedom and self-knowledge. In a new environment with new friends, you become all too aware of your own baggage. People don’t know you at all, the best ones want to know you as you truly are, your most authentic self. When the page is blank, a new story can begin. You realize you don’t have to repeat or continue the stories you have outgrown or don’t particularly enjoy anymore.

I don’t mean you can become a chameleon-like con-artist, lying drags everyone down, the liar as well as those they affect. I mean that you can become more aware of yourself: What you really want in your life as well as your own patterns of thought and behavior—most of which you were unconscious of before they became blazingly obvious in a new environment. Most often, they seem quite ridiculous or superfluous in a different context. It is an incredible opportunity to grow in profound ways.

alightcircleabstractforestmoonmpbaeckerIn all the talk concerning migration, culture clashes, national and personal identities, so many positive aspects are never brought up and explored. It often occurs to me when someone looks at a foreign culture and reacts with perplexity, amusement, criticism or even disgust, that they are being given a great opportunity to see themselves through the very same insightful lens. When you look at your own habits, traditions and beliefs through an outsider’s perspective, most of it does seem ridiculous, funny, or even stupid.

A famous person in one country could be a complete unknown in another, a particular trait could be highly valued in one culture and be disparaged in another, and a very well-integrated person in one place could stick-out like a sore thumb in another. These are all testament to the power of the human mind, our ability to create “fictions” (as Harari so aptly describes) and our relentless ability to create and enforce all kinds of delineations, demarcations and borders, both mental and physical, where there were actually very few or none to begin with.

This may be a raw truth most people can’t handle.

Now that I have children of my own, I find myself for the first time extremely reluctant to follow that sunrise. I am well-aware that a nomadic life may not be great for everyone. What I may have enjoyed as a learning opportunity, might be a terribly unstable life for my children. For the past year, my husband and I have been looking at homes to buy. Places where we might put down roots. We’ve been walking through construction sites and touring other people’s homes. What could be our home?

Everyone tries to sell us something with lovely descriptions and glossy brochures depicting optimal conditions: designer furniture, perfect lighting, clean living. But I know, even the most beautiful place could be turned into a shithole. And even a shithole could be transformed into a haven (admittedly, this direction would be much harder).

What I really want is a place where my children may grow up with a stable sense of belonging, where peace and love presides, where they may feel free to reach their highest potential. Yet, I can’t help thinking, all of this could never exist if it doesn’t already, first and foremost, in our hearts, in our minds.

Do we really want to go home? A place where we truly belong, undeniably, without question? If that had ever been, if that had ever been enough, there would be no reason to chase that never-ending horizon.

alightcirclecirclehorizonsmpbaecker

Text and images by M.P. Baecker.

23 thoughts on “Home in the Ether

  1. very thought provoking. I have done so little traveling in my life. I’m a homebody and don’t like change very much. I want to travel the country in a RV with a dog but eventually come back home.

    Children need a stable place as they grow roots. When their tree grows branches, they may spread out.
    Excellent despription of human tendencies btw. Great post

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! I don’t know how I missed this great comment! RV traveling sounds awesome, some close friends of mine do this every summer, I think it is a great way to have a deeper appreciation for nature and enjoy the vastness of the country! I agree with you about the stability that kids need, it took me many years to appreciate what I learned moving around so much! I actually didn’t enjoy it as a kid, but came into appreciating as an adult.

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  2. I spent so many years searching for Tom while trying to maintain a “secure” environment that when the time came to take my quest seriously, I changed everything. I let go of all the things that I was before, and even cut ties with the folks that knew who I was before. Those folks always tried to chain me. “That’s not the Tom I know,” I heard so many times. “Give it up, you’ll just end up back here anyway,” I heard a lot, too. Everyone thought they knew Tom, and I didn’t even know him yet.

    An old 90s band called Blind Melon had this song that started “What do you think they would say if I stood up … and I walked away.” I would play that song, that line, over and over until I did. I walked away. Everyone freaked. 😂

    I didn’t find what I was looking for right away, but I never would have found it at all standing still. And I’m not one to move around (or visit foreign places). I like home base. When I have a good home base, a sense of security, I’m free to be me entirely.

    I’m the happiest I have ever been, and it’s not the fleeting kind. It’s the kind of “settled in” that starts from the inside and builds everything else around it. If I lost everything? I’d still have me and there’s only one way to take that away. Hopefully that way is a long time distant.

    You are a gem in the world, MP. Your words and pictures move me and encourage me every time. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely Beautiful comment Tom! I must say your generosity of spirit, your kindness and intellect make me shine much, much brighter! That’s a massive understatement! Thank you!

      I know those back-handed comments too well, “Stay as you are.” or “Don’t change and don’t let it get to your head.” They’re basically saying, “Don’t waver from the idea I have of you that has nothing to do with the reality of who you really are because I’m scared of people who don’t fit my assumptions and expectations.” But we’re not under anyone’s control, we are more than other people’s limitations, we don’t have to be anything we don’t want to be.

      And you know what you just made me realize Tom? Moving is just a physical manifestation, a “boost” of that idea. You can “start over” anytime, anywhere, the page is always blank. It takes major depth, insight and strength not only to realize that but to implement it, all of those you exemplify! 💚👍👏

      Liked by 1 person

    • I had a similar experience, not exactly the same but similar. My family did move around a lot. Still, I felt trapped in what others, both family and friends, expected of me. The last place we lived was where I graduated high school and briefly attended college. It was the Deep South and it definitely wasn’t my home, despite my grandmother coming from the region and other family lines from the Upper South.

      I felt unrooted. It was easy for me to cut ties and I didn’t intend to ever look back. I decided I wanted to be a different person and so I left, eventually going to an entirely different part of the country, the Southwest. But being isolated, severe depression hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I wanted to be in a place where people knew me. So, following my older brothers, I moved back to Iowa where my closest friend lived, a friend I had known since elementary school. The Midwest felt like home to me, felt safe and familiar, a place where I could set down roots.

      Oddly, a familiar environment made it easier for me to rediscover myself and to explore who I wanted to be. But maybe it was important that I left South Carolina that didn’t match my sense of self. And maybe that was a good thing for another reason, as now my entire family is back in Iowa. My relationship with my parents now is better than before. I needed to find myself first.

      Liked by 2 people

    • There is one important difference. Freely choosing to move as an adult is a far different experience than being forced to move as a child. I’m familiar with both.

      As adult, when I decided to move far away, I could simply change my mind and easily move back again or move somewhere else. I got to choose which place felt most like home to me, which in my case meant eventually returning to one of my childhood communities. But back in childhood, when my parents were in charge, I was helpless and my opinion irrelevant. The last move particularly hit me hard because I left behind that close friendship that I still have.

      It was something else entirely when in adulthood I left some place, as it gave me a sense of freedom or potential freedom. And that can be a good thing for many people, such as for you, who need that sense of self-determination to be expressed in such an overt way, in controlling not only how they wish to define themselves but what and who to surround themselves with. I fully understand that.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That is what my parents didn’t appreciate at the time.

        Both my parents spent their entire childhood’s in the exact same place, going to the same schools and churches, surrounded by the same people they knew from early childhood. My mother was even surrounded by a large kin group with a grandmother and uncle living in the neighboring house and other extended family in town and in the surrounding communities. And my father had a special sense of connection to the community by way of being the son of the minister in a small town.

        Then they both went to the nearby state college, which in my mother’s case was in the same city she grew up in. In fact, her mother worked at that college, as a secretary for professors in the agricultural school. For my father, college was a short distance from his home that was easily hitchhiked in an afternoon. So, it wasn’t until well into their twenties that my parents finally moved any distance from their childhood homes.

        My parents knew continuous stability and security for the first part of their lives. But when they moved my brothers and I, they were choosing to do so as adults while not giving us their kids the advantage that they had benefited from. It did cause serious damage to us, their kids, as none of us have grown up feeling fully secure and grounded psychologically. But interestingly, all of us chose to move around a bit as adults before settling down in the same place.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks so much for sharing your story! I totally agree with what you wrote that there is a big distinction between being forced to move around as a kid “when my parents were in charge, I was helpless and my opinion irrelevant.” and freely choosing to do so as an adult, “It was something else entirely when in adulthood I left some place, as it gave me a sense of freedom or potential freedom.” Making the choice yourself makes a huge difference.

        I am grateful to have that choice now as an adult, and even more grateful that I do not to have to force a move or anything else on my kids. There are so many people who are not so fortunate, who have to move because of financial problems, natural disasters, war or famine, change can be incredibly stressful and isolation extremely depressing, but we can also be resilient, find out what we really want (like you did, in choosing to move back to the Midwest) and cultivate a better sense of self through and despite this pain.

        Liked by 1 person

        • A refugee crisis would be a whole other issue. Sometimes even adults are forced to move because of circumstances. And so moving, even when under duress, can be better than the alternative. That might be true in some less extreme cases as well, such as choosing a better job elsewhere as opposed to remaining unemployed or poor by not moving.

          My own parents did have reasons for moving. It’s not as if they did it merely for the fun of uprooting the family. It was work-related. But it wasn’t for reasons of desperation in having no other choices. Rather, my father was following his career path, even though he could’ve found high paid work in any of the places we lived. It wasn’t so much a conscious choice in trade-offs. Since my parents never experienced a move as children, it didn’t occur to them that there was any issue involved. They are typical Americans in prioritizing career.

          That is partly what interests me. It’s largely a cultural thing. Going back centuries, Americans were famous for constantly moving, even when there was no particular reason to move. Just the possibility of better land or a better job elsewhere, even if only a rumor, was justification enough for moving on to where the grass was greener. Many Europeans who visited early America found this attitude to be odd, similar to their surprise with the violent gun culture that was so widespread, both of which Americans took as normal.

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  3. I grew up moving around.

    By the time I graduated from high school, my family had lived in 4 different states. Each city we lived in was entirely different from the others: a factory town outside of Appalachia in Ohio, a wealthy Jewish suburb outside of Chicago IL, a New England-style liberal college town surrounded by rural farmland, and the conservative and cosmopolitian capital of South Carolina with its large military base.

    Besides, none of those states were where any of my extended family lived. This created a profound sense of nostalgia for home by the time of the last move. And it immensely contributed to the development of severe depression. Research has shown that, at least for introverts, moving regularly can be traumatic.

    There are few things more important to a child than stability.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/06/100603172213.htm

    “The researchers found that the more times people moved as children, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and psychological well-being at the time they were surveyed, even when controlling for age, gender and education level. The research also showed that those who moved frequently as children had fewer quality social relationships as adults.

    “The researchers also looked to see if different personality types — extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism — affected frequent movers’ well-being. Among introverts, the more moves participants reported as children, the worse off they were as adults. This was in direct contrast to the findings among extraverts. “Moving a lot makes it difficult for people to maintain long-term close relationships,” said Oishi. “This might not be a serious problem for outgoing people who can make friends quickly and easily. Less outgoing people have a harder time making new friends.”

    “The findings showed neurotic people who moved frequently reported less life satisfaction and poorer psychological well-being than people who did not move as much and people who were not neurotic. Neuroticism was defined for this study as being moody, nervous and high strung. However, the number and quality of neurotic people’s relationships had no effect on their well-being, no matter how often they had moved as children. In the article, Oishi speculates this may be because neurotic people have more negative reactions to stressful life events in general.

    “The researchers also looked at mortality rates among the participants and found that people who moved often as children were more likely to die before the second wave of the study. They controlled for age, gender and race. “We can speculate that moving often creates more stress and stress has been shown to have an ill effect on people’s health,” Oishi said. “But we need more research on this link before we can conclude that moving often in childhood can, in fact, be dangerous to your health in the long-term.””

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/homelessness-and-civilization/

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/sense-of-place-of-home-of-community-or-lack-thereof/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the information and also the link to your blog! You make an important and valid point, moving can be awfully stressful, jarring and traumatic. I know it was for me as a kid many times, even when I look back at it positively now as an adult. This is useful research and data to ponder, especially when making big decisions with kids.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thought-provoking post. Home is a word (concept?) that I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand, or unpack. I think home is wrapped up with identity and belonging, and we (many of us) search all over trying to find a place that feels comfortable, or satisfying, to all three parts. (Is that even possible?) I used to feel alone in this quest, but I think it’s a common theme with writers. Good luck on your house hunting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Home” to me has never seemed that of concern. Mostly it never felt home it was closely like a stopover: you know that when you heart is broken and your mind wanders what exactly old normal new level of insanity would happen each day, in that one place called home. If there is anything I feel or you feel you need to do differently with home don’t hold back. Home is where our sanity begins. I would be as you are to make it amazing for my kids. To give them a beginning and make it to see they will at no given day have a casual relationship with their self esteem. Yes that stability of their light in this social darkness we to each other instill to exploit each others weakness.

      Liked by 1 person

      • “Home is where our sanity begins.” Beautiful! When you don’t feel at home, inside, in your own mind, home cannot exist anywhere else, no matter how hard you search or yearn for it. In order for that light to remain strong and stable in the darkness, it must be fed with love, self-esteem and a reverence for truth.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I love what you wrote! “we (many of us) search all over trying to find a place that feels comfortable, or satisfying, to all three parts” resonates with me so deeply! I don’t know if it is possible at all. When I look at my own family, I have relatives that had everything I could only dream of in my life of constant moving: lots of land all for themselves, lots of money, lots of power, yet they were miserable, they squandered most of it pursuing other interests or gambling for more. I’ve come to the conclusion that’s its not just about the place…at any case, it plays a marginal role to all the interesting stuff going on inside! Rich stuff to mine in our literary quarry!

      Liked by 1 person

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