04 October 2007

Homeward bound

Even living a mere mile or so from where I grew up, it is still a journey to a place or a state of home. Along with the tree I planted when I was eight that is the only thing that has remained constant: that search for home, for belonging. Once our daughter said that: "I want to go home!" and all of our ears perked up. "Where's home?" and the answer has varied: from "Oh! I'm already home!" to "India."

I ride by regularly on my bike and check the property where we lived long ago: the tiny building is still there yet it is surrounded now by a heap of rubble and nothing else remains the same about the arrangement of buildings and spaces on that plot where we lived in that tiny little house next to the Gatelys' bigger house. That house has now been redone and moved up and over on the lot, closer to the street, the big old spruce out front gone now and the rest of the lot razed in preparation for a cluster of new housing units, much more densely packed in than anything that has ever been on that plot of land before.

I spoke one day with the builder of the new development, High Street Lofts, and was delighted to hear that they were not going to cut down my tree, now sixty feet tall. It is a locust tree, with its tiny leaves and long seed pods, one of which I found on my school playground and opened and sprouted seeds and grew with the earth and sun and water. Now it is getting ready to give shade to a bunch of condo dwellers in a year. The tiny house will be gone soon (it's so tempting to buy it and move it somewhere, but maybe not really what I would want -- too many awful scenes there; I'd rather let it go) . Our presence there will be just a memory, but at least one still marked by the tree's great and steady limbs reaching up for sun.

Even with that marker of where I come from, though, I search for what home means to me. Is it just knowing the date by the color of the air: that the early October leaves are just now goldening from green en masse, a good green this year so the air is permeated with green and yellow leaves, even a spray of red here and there? Is it picking up broken glass and trash and shit from other people's dogs and disposing of them properly? Is it speaking up when you hear bullying going on around you every time, not just sometimes?

Would I feel that way if I lived in Barcelona? I have no idea. I can't even imagine it. Probably, because I do have a tie to Barcelona. Huh. And I'd feel that way about Santa Cruz or San Francisco, Berkeley, even Dortmund. About any of the places I've lived at least once. I care deeply for my world, to the point that I'm convinced if I'd been there when Kitty Genovese had been attacked I would have done something, dammit.

It's even extending to my work, I think. I was describing to my neighbor this world I see developing in my novel, permeated with food safety and body image and corporate-sponsored bioterrorism and the standard conspiracies among the fat cats in all corners, and he looked at me and said, you mean this is some kind of social activism? and I said, sure, of course. why not? when you have the chance to say what you truly believe in? and he seemed really tickled by that. I am finding it fascinating to be building myself a platform from which I can launch these complex thought-sets in the form of stories, the campfire tales to which we've been drawn since the dawn of campfires. What could be more fun than this, I ask you? I can't think of many things.

And of course, I thought about that search for belonging and homeyness (like truthiness?) this past weekend when I saw my family. My grandfather is 90 and he's not going to be able to do this much longer, but he's doing it now, despite the pain in his body that won't let go. He and his girlfriend and his nurse just roll him everywhere and sometimes complain that he's hard to keep up with. His mind is sharp as ever, if slowed by strokes and pain.

But he was so delighted to gather all of his grandchildren at his table and see how everyone got along with everyone else. We were all happy to see each other for the most part. There were layers and layers of past and present but we were all comfortable with one another. My father wondered if I was going to chill him out, I think, and I did to some degree. Tough cookies. But it was worth every bit of angst and discomfort to see my grandfather light up. He's always happy to see us, I think, with the kind of pride an admiral feels in his fleet. And he is still proud of me, no matter what, which is always a kind of gift to me, something unasked for yet always given. Not many people in this family can say that about him either, so that is another bequest especially to me it seems.

I felt like my walls were up a bit over the weekend, but I also felt that that was perfectly appropriate for me. I'm busy right now, and I am unwilling to pull away from this work to engage in a painful dance with some people who I am related to but not very connected with these days. There's something too broken there and I just want to turn from it and say, thanks, but I am over here. I have more to offer doing what I am doing than trying to fix someone else's broken lives. I am here but I don't have a lot more to offer right now and I don't feel like spending the time to find out if things would be different now.

So I'm back in my world, over here, the one I've chosen for myself. Living well and all of that. End of story? That's the thing: I don't think it is. Not by far.

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