On Saturday it will be that time of year: my birthday. Specifically: the twenty-sixth one. (Please mail bulk uncut diamonds and wheels of hard cheese to Cambridge, Massachusetts.)
I don’t primarily like my birthday because of presents, although some people give me excellent gifts. I like it because, like New Year’s Eve, it is a built-in benchmark that prompts reflection on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.
Reflections on my twenty-fifth revolution around the sun all concern the concept of “home.”
I no longer have (the operative word) a home. I consider “home” to be a feeling of belonging and membership in a family, history, or community, and an expectation that these things will remain stable past the short term; often these things are also rooted in a place. Although I have an affinity for the Boston area, which has hosted the majority of my adult maturation, it’s not my home—it’s just where I live for now.
I grew up on a farm in Dublin, Wayne County, Indiana, and I currently reside a short walk from Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since leaving Wayne County for college I’ve lived and worked in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain; Bloomington, Indiana; Heidelberg, Baden-Württemberg, Germany; Dayton, Ohio; Cambridge, Winthrop, Somerville, and Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts; Cincinnati, Ohio; and finally Cambridge again.
All of this moving around is an effect; the cause is my search for happiness and fulfillment. The constants in this search have been a constellation of a few individuals scattered around the US and the deliberate products of my own creative work. These give me a feeling of belonging (to myself) and membership in a history (the one I share with those individuals); so, I do experience the emotion attached to the word “home,” but mine, unlike a traditional understanding of the concept, is no longer a place.
One would no more ask me “Where is home?” than the question “When long is a foot?” to an engineer. The selected interrogative produces a category error. Regarding my home, the interrogative should be what. Home isn’t a place I can go to, it’s the knowledge and contemplation of certain things that I have: my people, and myself (in the form of my mind, learning, and creative output). I don’t have a home, and I am my home.
I know other people feel this way; if your parents hopped around military bases during your childhood, or you had or have any reason to just keep moving, you might be in my boat. But science fiction and fantasy, genres that I build my life around, have introduced me to an interesting group of others who feel the same way: immortals. In Blue Mars, humanity has lived on Mars for over one hundred years, and a native Martian visits Earth for the first time. The novel’s expository prose, voiced by a man well into his second century, says that:
“…for Nirgal no place endured. His hometown was crushed under a polar cap…and every place since then had been just a place, and everything everywhere always changing. Mutability was his home” (from Spectra’s 1997 mass market paperback, p. 186).
It continues to say that:
“…to some people home was home, a complex of feeling far beyond rationality, a sort of grid or gravitational field in which the personality itself took its geometrical shape. While for others, a place was just a place, and the self free of all that, the same no matter where it was. One kind lived in the Einsteinian curved space of home, the other in the Newtonian absolute space of the free self” (p. 242).
I’m not an Earth émigré, not for a few decades at least, but my spatial concept of home is the same as one. It is internal and self-contained, fed by phone calls and texts from my people and long nights reading and writing by myself. In Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, one centuries-old vampire says the words below to a second, who will soon learn of the fiery death of his only longtime companion:
“She’s an era for you, an era of your life. If and when you break with her, you break with the only one alive who has shared that time with you. You fear that, the isolation of it, the burden, the scope of eternal life” (Ballantine Books’ 1991 reissued mass market paperback, p. 282).
Without the people who know and share my history, it isn’t home; it’s only a memory at the mercy of my own mind.
THREE closing items:
(1) The first two songs in the playlist below connote the nostalgia I feel for the time when my home was tied to a place. Currently, my home (more specifically: myself) can be connoted with last one.
(2) No birthday reflection would complete without thinking of my mother, the one and only Susan Golliher; she is one principal constituent of my home. Appropriately, Mother’s Day always falls near my birthday (this year it is May 14).
(3) I will be going into my twenty-sixth year having written four books and two screenplays, with two other books on the way. Two hours after the exact anniversary of my birth, I will board a flight to attend the wedding of my oldest friend. When I turn twenty-six, I will be home.