Another kind of home

The following piece was written and read during Camp Grounded, in May of 2017. Attendees of Camp Grounded make several agreements during their time in the woods: no digital technology; don’t talk about work; don’t discuss age; and forgo your real name for the weekend. In the piece, I reference Joybubbles, the nickname of a fellow camper I met in the summer of 2016.

One of my most vivid memories of camp last year is of Joybubbles, who, during the talent show after-party in the tea yurt, got up to deliver an impassioned, impromptu speech about bravery. During an hour of relative calm, sandwiched by folk tunes and comedy and poetry, he brought an energy both unexpected and inspiring. In that moment, Joybubbles hardened a still-forming resolve that I too should get up and share some part of myself. I didn’t, last year; I didn’t know how to. But here I am, one year later, and one of the most important things I’ve learned in the intervening period is that… I still don’t know how to do this. And I won’t. And that’s fine.

In March I moved out of my apartment in San Francisco. In the months leading up to my departure, I ruthlessly pruned my physical possessions. I tried following the philosophy set forth in the hugely popular The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and found it to be… inadequate. Finding sentimental value in something doesn’t necessitate its continued presence in your life. Sometimes you need to cut loose from the things you hold dear in order to make room for whatever follows, and I think this holds true for physical possessions as much as it does for memories. Sometimes sentimentality slowly bleeds into the type of nostalgia that leads to inhibitions, and unconsciously prevents us from having the type of new experiences that open the door for sentimentality and personal growth in the first place. If there’s one commonality amongst those of us who are struggling to see the path down which our lives are meandering, maybe it’s that we’re unwilling to let go of things we know so well because we’re afraid we’ll never find the things we don’t, but so desperately want to.

I’ve been three months without a permanent home—housesitting for friends, admiring the hospitality of Airbnb hosts, spending more time with my parents in Vermont—and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that very idea: home. I can think of very few words that are felt so keenly and yet defy definition. If I were to ask any one of you “Do you feel at home here, or there?”, you would have a fairly easy time answering, and it would tend to be binary. “Yes, I do”, or “No, I don’t.” But if I asked you for a definition of the word? It’s not as straightforward.

Of the popular cliches about home, “home is where the heart is” might be the most common. But if you put any amount of thought into the idea, you quickly realize how massively simplified this is. “Heart”—and defining that is a wholly separate endeavor—is a prerequisite to home. Heart is what allows you to even consider the idea of home.

So I sat, writing this morning, thinking, as ever, about the importance of people you know well, and love, in a home place, and thinking also about what, on the surface, appears to be an anomaly: here. At camp, surrounded by relative strangers. And yes, I love you all in the like, “You are all my soul people and I want to cuddle you all just so hard” kind of way, but… I think you probably understand what I mean.

And then I thought of Joybubbles, and everybody else who performed that night last summer, and will perform tonight, who will stand before a bunch of stranger-friends and do something scary and brave and admirable. And through this thinking I was able to acknowledge another kind of home, the kind where you are unconditionally supported in your exploration of new ideas, new hobbies, new parts of your personality that you know exist but which must be coaxed out of hiding like those tiny sea turtles that are born buried in sand and must, in order to survive, fight their way to the surface and crawl to the ocean, even though everything feels unfamiliar and awkward. When you have that kind of support, it doesn’t matter how well you know the people, and it certainly doesn’t matter where you are. When you have that, you feel at home.

I feel at home here.

If two weekends in this microcosm of a utopia has taught me anything, it’s that the best way we can support anybody in our lives is by listening intently to their aspirations, and helping them in any way we can to achieve those things. That’s what I choose to bring back to the outside world. I hope that’s what we all bring back.