What Makes Home?

The other day, I was settling down for an afternoon nap. My dog Quagmire was curled up beside me, and I could hear my husband doing something or other on the opposite side of the house. The sounds of home. How lucky am I?

I do feel at home in my home, thank goodness, and with my husband and my dogs, and at work… but to be honest, I still don’t feel at home in the Pacific Northwest, even though I’ve been here nearly 5 years. People confuse me out here. I don’t understand them. And the weather is strange. And I still don’t know my way around. When people talk about small towns in another part of the state, I don’t know where they are. All these things make me feel like an outcast.

So the question is, what makes home? What follows are my stream of consciousness thoughts on the subject. (Special thanks to Cris, Ray, and Martin for ideas.) It’s a dense topic. And, spoiler alert, I don’t think I’ve managed to fully define it, but here goes…

Home is familiarity. It’s knowing where everything is, and also knowing alternate routes to that place. I think GPS has punked me in this regard. I no longer have a full map in my head. I don’t know where places are in relationship to other places anymore.

To help me with this, my husband has hung a local map in the garage for me. It has made a difference. But I really need to stop being lazy by relying on a mechanical voice to get me to my destination. I need to get some sense of context.

Home is also being able to make your way around in the dark without stubbing your toe.

But it’s not just familiarity, because I knew my way around Jacksonville, Florida, and there was a sense of relief there, a sense of predictability, but I don’t miss it, and if I never go back again it wouldn’t upset me overmuch. I miss my friends, I miss the fried chicken, I miss bodies of water that are warm enough to swim in, and I miss a few other places, but I don’t miss the city at all.

Home is what you’re used to. I’m used to flat land and straight roads that are on a grid pattern. If that’s what I need to feel at home, I’ll never feel that way in the curvy, hilly, mountainous state of Washington.

Home is knowing what neighborhoods you can walk through after dark. Back to familiarity again. But maybe there’s a feeling of safety wrapped up in it.

It’s recognizing the priorities, the politics, and the culture of the place where you are. Is it where everyone shares your politics? If so, we’re all screwed these days. But I must say I feel a lot more politically at ease in Seattle than I ever did in Florida.

Home is knowing the history of your location. I’m working on that.

Home is what makes you feel normal. It’s what you expect. I’m definitely not there yet. But I’m not sure that I’ve ever felt completely normal.

What is so un-homelike about where one is living that so many people are willing to leave everything they’ve ever known and relocate to another part of the planet? What’s missing? Why do they think they’ll find it elsewhere?

Do nomads ever feel at home? Is home where your yurt is? Does home reside in the people you love? I’m loved out here. And I’m at home in my house. But then I drive away from it, and I’m back to feeling like I’m in a foreign country again.

Is it a sense of belonging? Is it being made to feel welcome? Is it having a restaurant where you can say, “I’ll have the regular,” and they know what you mean? Is it being worthy of the gossip of your neighbors? (God, I hope not.)

I always felt at home in Western North Carolina. Even the very first time I stepped foot in the area when I was 17. Whenever I am there, it feels like I can exhale. Like I can breathe. The mountains embrace me. I can sleep, knowing the crickets and fire flies mean me no harm. But why? Why that place?

If all you ever knew was prison, would you consider that home? Is home where you’re resigned to your fate?

How can one person’s home be someone else’s hell?

Home is a feeling, more than a place. Because you can feel at home in more than one place.

Is it an emotion? It’s not happiness. Because you can be sad at home. Is it contentment? Contentment is fleeting for me, albeit highly appreciated when it comes around.

And I think home takes time. I never feel at home at first. I can’t even sleep the first night in a hotel room. But jeez, how much time does it take?

The craziest thing about home is that everyone will have a different definition of what that is.

I know it’s more than the house you live in. It’s your community, your region, your environment, your loved ones. It’s the place where you’re accepted as you are. It the place you can find your way back to.

Home is your comfort zone. But what causes you to feel like you’re in that zone?

I love to travel, but I can never 100 percent relax while I’m doing it, and after a few weeks, I want to go home. Home is where you can rest. I can’t completely rest here. And I want to be able to. So I need to figure out what makes home for me.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject, dear reader.

Home

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People Have to Live Somewhere

Every single day, I commute past tent encampments for the homeless here in Seattle. When I first came out here, I found this shocking. I came from Jacksonville, Florida, and I had never seen anything quite like this. You’d think the Florida climate would be more amenable to homelessness, but no. The West Coast experiences much more of it than the East Coast does, according to most homeless counts. It disturbs me greatly that I’m getting used to the sight of these encampments. The shock is gone. The sadness remains.

I’ve got a few theories, now, as to why there’s such a difference from one coast to the other. First, of course, is that living out here is about 3 times more expensive than it is in Jacksonville. A lot more of us, here, teeter on the brink of financial ruin. Second, there are fewer places to hide such encampments. While Seattle has a much lower population than Jacksonville, it’s much more densely packed. There are not huge swaths of woods in which one can disappear. Third, I suspect we’re a good deal more tolerant out here. I know for a fact that the Jacksonville police tend to drive people out to the county line and dump them, making them continually walk the 20 or 30 odd miles back to civilization in the oppressive heat, without food or water.

That county line solution is just cruel. People have to live somewhere. Every creature on this planet does. It’s not a homeless problem. It’s a home problem. And it isn’t new.

A friend of mine shared with me this photo of Seattle’s Hooverville from the 1930’s. After reading about it on historylink.org, the amazing free online encyclopedia of Washington state history (specifically here and here), I discovered that this photo only captures about half the shantytown that existed there at the time, and there were others scattered about as well. The conditions were appalling. People built shacks out of whatever they could find. The city burned them down twice before they recognized the futility of it all. People have to live somewhere.

Incidentally, that Hooverville is not far from where Starbucks corporate headquarters now stands. Irony, anyone? And as long as REITS (Real Estate Investment Trusts) are allowed to exist, giving the richest among us the ability to make huge profits from housing, thus artificially inflating rents, this problem will only get worse.

When I get off work at 11pm, on my way home, I often see an old man with a walker standing by the stop sign at the end of my highway exit ramp. He holds a sign that says, “Homeless veteran. Please help.” The cynical side of me thinks about all the stories one hears about people making very good money through panhandling, and the stories about how some people want to be homeless. But this guy… I’ve seen him out there at midnight, in the pouring rain, in 35 degree temperatures. No financial return or lust for a freewheeling life can explain that.

The man needs help. And I feel very inadequate to the task. I couldn’t even help one person for more than a few days. And there are just so many out there. I don’t know what to do.

Sometimes I resent this man. He doesn’t let me forget. He doesn’t give me the peace to drive home to my nice house at the end of my shift and climb into my hot tub and forget.

But then I realize that he probably would like to forget, too.

Seattle Hooverville

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Welcome to Elsewhere

For much of my life, in times of strife, my default response was, “I wish I were somewhere else.” Abuse, loneliness, danger, poverty, extreme heat or cold, even just a general feeling of being a misfit would cause me to feel this way. If only I were elsewhere, things would be so much better.

Dorothy may have decided that there was no place like home, but I always thought that Oz looked like a lot more fun than that dreary farm in Kansas.

But it’s a dangerous thing, assuming there is a geographical solution to all your problems. It often gives you an excuse to avoid solving them. Because Elsewhere is an elusive place. If your solution lies elsewhere, and elsewhere is just out of reach, well, then you’re just out of luck, aren’t you? You may as well hunker down and be miserable.

Wishing you were somewhere else also means that where you are right now is never going to feel quite good enough. How can anyplace compete with this fantasy world that lies just on the other side of the rainbow?

But on the other hand, I do honestly think that life is what you make it, and part of choosing your path in life is deciding what destination you want to strive for. If I hadn’t opted to pack all my stuff and move 3100 miles across the country, I’d probably still be miserable in Florida, dreaming about elsewhere.

Instead, I live in the Seattle area, with a job that pays well, an amazing man who loves me, and a home for which there is no place like.

Lucky me. I finally found elsewhere. May you find your perfect place, too, dear reader, and may it be a little closer than 3100 miles from where you are right now.

somewhere else

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Developmental Greed

I’m very grateful that most cities now have rules in place that require developers to have archeologists examine their land, especially in historically sensitive areas, before they’re allowed to build upon it. Most builders, of course, consider this a massive nuisance, and a waste of their time and money. But if these requirements didn’t exist, a lot of history would be lost to us, and we would miss out on opportunities to discover more about who we are and where we came from.

Those of you who think government already meddles too much in our business need to think again in this instance. Laws, rules, regulations, none of these things would be necessary if we could all be counted upon to do the right thing. Unfortunately, greed seems to be the primary motivator for most people.

Here’s a prime example: The Miami Circle. Once upon a time, a developer planned to put a high rise on some very well-placed real estate in downtown Miami, which he had purchased for 8.5 million dollars. Unfortunately for him, some archeologists discovered what Wikipedia describes as “the only known evidence of a prehistoric permanent structure cut into the bedrock in the Eastern United States”

Much time and political wrangling occurred while everyone tried to figure out what to do about this situation. Needless to say, the developer was not pleased. And he was no doubt losing quite a bit of money while everyone was spinning their wheels.

Finally, the State of Florida decided to buy the land back from him. I agree that he deserved to be made whole. No doubt about it. And that would probably mean giving him more than 8.5 million, considering all the wasted time. But the guy asked the state for 50 million. Because he could.

I have no respect for this guy. I mean, yeah. I could see where he might want 15 million. But 50? Come on, dude. You’re holding the Florida taxpayers for ransom.

The state finally gave him 26.7 million for the site. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places. We are still learning more about the Tequesta Indians, who were the original developers of this site. The wood found there may be 2000 years old. You can watch an interesting documentary about the site on Youtube here.

We would never had the chance to learn all the fascinating things we’ve learned from this discovery if one greedy developer had been allowed to have his selfish way.

miami-circle
The Miami Circle

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Civilians vs. Law Enforcement

Recently I set off a heated debate in my world. I mentioned that I was glad to see that felons who have served their time in Florida have finally had their voting rights restored (unless they were convicted of murder or felony sex crimes).

Florida has always been the most restrictive state in terms of felony disenfranchisement. According to this article, in Florida, before Amendment 4 was passed, “one in 10 voting-age adults, and almost one in four African American adults were barred from voting for life because of a previous felony conviction.”

It’s clear to me why this has been the case. Florida is a red state, and it was feared that most people who have been in prison would vote blue. Also, with the disproportionate number of African Americans convicted of crimes, this was a handy way of depriving that minority of the vote, which, let’s face it, is the deep South’s wildest dream. (Now they’ll just have to rely on gerrymandering to get their desired results, and they’re quite good at that.)

I really believe that if we think that prisoners who have done their time have paid their debt to society, then we have no right to prevent them from participating therein. Now, do I expect that most of them will? No. Most of the rest of us don’t vote, unfortunately. Why should they be any different? But they should have the option.

The more roadblocks we place in their paths, the less likely they will be to reenter society with even a modicum of success. We set them up for failure. We make it nearly impossible for them to find decent jobs. We don’t want them as our next door neighbors. We don’t want them voting. Is it any wonder they remain on the fringe of civilization?

When I expressed this opinion, I got a lot of pushback from the people I know who formerly worked in the law enforcement field. The general consensus seemed to be, once a felon, always a felon. They have no inclination to participate in society.

When other friends, civilians like me, said that this might give them some incentive to do so, the law enforcement people opined that they know better. They won’t change.

We civilians piped up that even if only a tiny percentage wanted to change, that’s worth it. That’s when things got hostile. Apparently we shouldn’t form an opinion because we’d never experienced what the law enforcement types have experienced.

Then we pointed out that the law enforcement types wouldn’t, by definition, come into contact with the felons who were trying to change their lives, so their stats are biased.

More anger. Have we personally seen people attempt to change?

Yes. Examples were given.

That response, of course, was ignored. One person from the law enforcement camp  said they used to laugh at all the “do-gooders” who were attempting to change felons.

But we never said we were attempting to change them. We were just glad that they had their rights restored, so that they could make their own choices.

We civilians pointed out that we were sorry that the experience of law enforcement had left them so jaded. The law enforcements fired back that they were realists and that we had no right to weigh in since we didn’t have their experiences. (I half expected them to start calling us Muggles.)

We were then told that we can’t change anyone. They had to change themselves. Again, we pointed out we are trying to give these people the opportunity to change themselves. Again, this went unheard. They just said that they speak facts.

(Actually, no. These are opinions based on experiences, but clearly these opinions are so strongly held that they see them as facts.)

I can understand why one would become bitter and cynical when dealing day in and day out with the very dregs of society. It actually happened to me, too, for a time, in a job where I dealt with a lot of liars and people prone to fraud. That’s why I quit. I didn’t like how it was causing me to view society in general.

I think there’s a reason why law enforcement types often socialize only with one another. The rest of us don’t get it. We Muggles have a completely different worldview.

But we don’t get it because we have the luxury of hanging out with the majority of society, which is either law abiding or has paid its debt and is attempting to move on. How lucky we are. How grateful we should be.

Law enforcement is necessary, and I’m very glad that it exists. But unfortunately I believe that it’s a career path that warps one’s view of society. People in law enforcement have to live in a dark world, and therefore they have a tendency to forget how to see the sun. And it’s a little scary to think that people with warped views of society are in charge of keeping the peace.

I honestly don’t know what the solution is for this. But I’ll still maintain that if even one Florida felon enters the voting booth, I will consider Amendment 4 a smashing success. Congratulations Florida, for finally getting something right. (In my opinion, of course.)

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The Cinema and Brew

Sometimes nostalgia hits me like a freight train. I hadn’t thought of this place in decades, but suddenly today this little chestnut popped into my head: The Cinema and Brew in Apopka, Florida.

It was a dingy little place, tucked into the corner of a strip mall. Nothing to shout about, really. One screen. Chairs with ragged upholstery surrounding sticky tables. A counter where you could order pizza, beer, popcorn, candy, and soda.

Not the best neighborhood. Someone I distantly knew was stabbed on the sidewalk out front once. God, though, I loved that place.

The minute I turned 16 and could drive at night, I was there every single week. If I remember correctly, it only cost a dollar to get in. The manager would get really irritated with those of us who couldn’t afford to buy food. That was his only chance for profit. But since I was quiet and never caused trouble, I never got kicked out, as many of my male friends did.

The movies were often really bad. Cheech and Chong. The Porky’s franchise. Most of the time I didn’t even bother to see what was playing until I got there. Because the whole point was being there.

It was a place to run into friends. It was also the place to hope for romance. I got my first kiss there. I also got my first unwanted kiss there. He had pizza breath and really awful body odor, and he took me by surprise. I made it quite clear that it would be a really bad idea to ever try that again. Hopefully he’s not aiming for a future in the Supreme Court.

It was also a place to go to get away from my dysfunctional home life and fantasize about being rescued. One time I was there by myself, and a really good looking guy came up to me and said, “Is this seat taken?” My heart was pounding. I said no. So he took it. Away. To another table.

Another time, a friend was supposed to meet me there, and she was running late. Finally I gave up on her entirely. So I’m sitting in the pitch black, watching the movie, and during a quiet scene, she screeches my name. It made everyone jump.

“Jeez. Over here,” I said. Everyone laughed. We all sort of felt like we were hanging out in a big living room in a low rent neighborhood.

I had forgotten how desperate I was back then. Desperate for love and friendship and acceptance. Desperate to get out of my circumstances. Desperately poor.

Still, a tiny part of me wishes I were going to the Cinema and Brew tonight, for old time’s sake. But like so many other things from my past, for better or for worse, it’s long gone.

Preview

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Spider! Kill It! Kill It!

The house my fiancé lives in abuts a city park of well over 100 acres. Much of it is allowed to grow wild. So we see a lot more nature than the average homeowner. Rabbits. Mice. Eagles. Hawks. Falcons. Woodpeckers. Moles. We are often serenaded by Coyotes at night.

And then there are the spiders. Fortunately, this is the Seattle area, and therefore we are not visited by the huge, poisonous, aggressive hissing spiders that I experienced in Florida. (I often chuckle when I see a Seattelite freak out over a little tiny thing the size of a pinky fingernail. I mean, seriously?)

But I have to admit, this little lady got my attention.

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She was about ¾ inch in length, with really interesting markings on her back. I tend to equate interesting markings with poison. She has chosen to lay her eggs on the back fence gate, so… shudder.

But I’m lucky in that I have a friend who is my go-to person for all things spider. I sent her this picture and asked her what it was. She said not to worry. It’s a jumping spider, phidippus audax, and while they can bite, they generally don’t bother humans if the humans don’t bother them. (That’s been my experience so far. She could have jumped 10 to 50 times her body length, but instead she sat there patiently while I took this photo. I think I may have even heard a long-suffering sigh.)

So, in this instance, I’m all about live and let live. That’s extremely adult of me, because spiders freak me out. It’s hard to anthropomorphize a creature that has 8 legs and more eyes than any creature has a right to have. They’re not cuddly. But I’m going to do my best to give this little mama the benefit of the doubt.

(Incidentally, if you see a spider inside and think you’re taking the high road by catching it and putting it outside, think again. An entomologist once told me that that’s the equivalent of throwing a land mammal in the center of the ocean. Indoor spiders are meant to be indoors. But hey, at least your heart is in the right place. Surely that counts in terms of karma.)

And there is good news for all phidippus audaxes (Audices? Audi?) everywhere. There is a cartoon series on Youtube called Lucas the Spider, and it’s based on this type of spider. It’s making a lot of people look at them with fresh eyes. Lucas is a cutie. Maybe fewer of us will freak out and squash these little guys because of him. I hope so.

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