A week before I turned twenty-six a high school friend came to visit. It was a whirlwind, impromptu, just-here-for-a-few-hours type of visit. “I am passing through but I need to see you.” She texted, and it felt like a breeze on an August night: sweet at sad all at once. We crowded into a tiny restaurant, the kind with “vintage” orange light bulbs and one long table for everyone to sit at, and traded stories about work and travel and the people we were getting to know, when she asked me if Portland felt like home.
I don’t know if any place has ever felt like home to me, but Sitka came close. The dramatic shifts in light, the ambiguous line between night and day, the rhythm of the salmon life cycle and herring season, the community’s pulse in the coffee shops and contra dances… felt close to being home. But I am not sure Sitka needs another white face on its shores, which makes me hesitant to claim it as a home. It’s a privilege to have a connection to it, but a home? I’m not sure.
When I laid down for sleep on the eve of my birthday, I thought again about her question. Does this feel like home? The Willamette, Mt. Hood, Burnside Street, and my tiny house all feel like something, but I don’t know what yet. Remembering the blue of her eyes and the grip of her hugs, I wondered if I don’t feel at home in places so much as in people. Richard Siken tells us in Detail of the Woods that: “Everyone needs a place. It shouldn’t be inside of someone else.” and I wonder what the means for me.
Then like smooth stones sliding under a strong current, I felt a space slide open inside of my body. I felt room, like the kind of space yogi’s tell you to breathe into when you’re flopping all over the mat, tired and awkward after a long day of sitting and thinking. And it scared me to have this space all of a sudden. When I woke up, I was twenty-six and the space was still there. I walked up the hilly streets of the Fremont neighborhood in Seattle and tried to relish in the cold morning air, feast my eyes of green leaves and houses with big, clear windows. Trying not to feel the saccharine and sad edges of this very old and very new space inside of me when Kenneth Koch’s poem To My Twenties, came to mind. Specifically the lines:
You never, ever, were stingy.
What you gave me you gave whole
But as for telling
Me how best to use it
You weren’t a genius at that.
I’ve defined and redefined home five geographical times in the past six years and if we’re counting people as home, just double that number. It’s too difficult to actually count. I have tried to never, ever been stingy with my dreams or the people I love. I have tried to give whole without emptying completely. I have not always been successful and have redefined success just as much as home. I don’t feel lost so much as in media res which feels better if not slightly more difficult. I don’t know what to call all of these feelings or spaces or transitions, but I found someone who does, Ross Gay in his poem, Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude. There is so much here, but don’t be intimidated by a fourteen-minute long poem. Gay’s performance will hold you. He weaves an earth-based euphoria with pedestrian moments, existential sadness, hyper self-awareness, and the two-sided coin of gratitude in a way that undulates between excitement and palliative calm. It feels perfect for twenty-six.
What do you think
this singing and shuddering is,
what this screaming and reaching and dancing
and crying is, other than loving
what every second goes away?
Goodbye, I mean to say.
And thank you. Every day.
P.S. I just wrote the cover story interview featuring four Connecticut artists for a magazine called The Perpetual You!