Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Winter Quarters

Even the travelers of the circus have a home. They go there every December, and water the animals, relax and celebrate a little time spent standing still. Come February, they order up food and get the show on the road.

I've been very fortunate to call the same set of houses 'home' for as long as I remember. My parents still own the house I grew up in, until I was grown, we still owned my beloved grandmother's house, and even my closest friends' families live where they used to. It's like poor folk to tie their destiny to an 1100 square-foot box.

Growing up, I knew I was fortunate to have a 'home'. My parents were married - to each other - and we had a dog, and even the first version of a minivan (a 1986 Nissan Stanza wagon, look it up). Outside of my immediate family there were plenty of roots to cling to... my grandmother a pillar in her church community - the first humanitarian angel I would ever know, and my grandfather, representing a legacy of music that shaped my life growing up.

I had plenty of teachers, albeit unconventional ones.

Probably because I had so much help, home isn't one place for me. I don't visit it regularly. I may not even think of it regularly. In fact, I had so much 'home' that it's no longer a place but a feeling. I think of the tomatoes in grandpa's deep freeze, I'm home. I think of the fresh okra at Aunt Ann's house, I'm home. I remember our neighbor Tony, who had skinks (Imagine - real reptiles in his house!!!), I'm home. Pancakes, housecleaning on off days, Archer oatmeal cookies at my house, I'm home. Music. Laughter. Learning.

So these days, when I walk into my old house and look down the short hallway to my bedroom, I don't think of home, I think of the color green, and taping my poetry to every surface in the room so I could feel immersed in my own space. That people kept it quiet for me so I could sleep late, even when the door was right next to the only bathroom.

I've 'gone home' for a lot of things in my life, bad breakups, painful lessons, uncertain futures, migraine headaches. I'm always welcomed there. It strikes me now that I haven't needed to go home in a very long time. I look to my own house, or my hotel room, or a good book for the comfort that I need. And I don't seek it as often.

I don't go home for every holiday. I spent Easter in Dayton, OH this year. Part of thanksgiving in Philadelphia. I don't end my season and recharge with family and friends. At the end of a stressful run, I look for a comfortable bed, a quiet refrigerator (if I had a sledgehammer mine would be quiet now) and a strange window to peer out and enjoy the beauty of some alien car lot.

These days I find my home in places I feel strange. Yesterday, on my flight in, I had a long conversation with an American Airlines pilot next to me in Coach. I never talk to people on planes, it embarrasses me that we have to be so close to perfect strangers... but I think we recognized something in each other. You have to carry 'home' with you. If that trip takes you farther away from your winter quarters, then you find something familiar there and set down your stakes. Even if that means on a cramped airplane.

I can't possibly be the only introvert at 35,000 feet, and I know I'm not the only one in the classes I teach. We're uncomfortable all the time. When you talk to me unexpectedly in the grocery store and I forget the whole shopping list that I memorized two hours before because you startled me, or when I cut you off in traffic and end up next to you at a stoplight and I'm thinking so hard about apologizing that I miss the light and get honked at... I'm so worried about visiting a new restaurant that I blurt something embarrassing at the hostess... Or so nervous to meet you that I spill balsamic vinegar on your purse. We're acutely, painfully aware of how uncomfortable we are.

These days, I'd like to embrace the uncomfortable feeling. If it were normal to be clumsy, inconsiderate, twitchy and short with people, I'd fit right in, but because we're not at that level yet...

I don't call 3013 my home anymore, and the Glasgow house doesn't qualify either. My winter quarters travel with me in my purse. A book, an iPod, some lip gloss, sunglasses, just a few things to make my December and January seem a little more like 'home'. At least a place where I can stand still for a while, regain my composure and say something clever to make myself feel better. Home is where my wallet, phone and keys are.

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