(5/10/2008) Recently I toured the Anderson House, a historic home in Washington DC. The tour guide asked each of us where we were from, and I did not know what to say. The answer I chose was “Arlington.” After 6 months in Arlington, Virginia, I can say this is home, although that still sounds strange. And even after 6 more months or 6 more years, it may still sound foreign because I am not from here. Yes, it is home, but I am far from home. Originally, I am from Central Illinois. At least that is where I grew up, so that is home. After ten years living in Texas, that, too, was home. And there have been others. In this age of travel, mobile lives, far flung friends, we have reached a point where there is no singular definition of home.
I worked at a hotel where employees’ hometowns were listed on their nametags. I didn’t know what to put on my nametag, because home is how we identify ourselves. Did I want to identify with my current city or the sleepy small town where I grew up? Many employees faced the same decision. If they were born in Canada or Costa Rica but emigrated to Ohio as a child, which is home? Is it where people went to high school, or where they spent the majority of their lives? Or could it be that anywhere you hang your hat is home?
I am left with a conundrum. Is it possibly to say “I am from here” and “I am not from here” and both statements be equally correct? One day I will leave Virginia for another city. There I will move my belongings. There I will accept my mail. And there will be home. But I will still miss all of the other cities, for they will be home also.
I did not intend to make this essay so personal, but defining home is the essence of the exhibit. Without defining home, how can one be far from home? Since each of our concepts of home is self-defined, I could not define home without my own experiences.
After visiting the exhibition, I re-read the words of Pico Iyer and Andre Aciman, two essayists who explore the intricacies of exile, belonging, world travel, and the global soul, and I pondered the best definition of this elastic concept of home. I found it on a vodka ad I tore out of a magazine more than a dozen years ago and stuck to the bulletin board of my dorm room: Home is where you find it.
Originally written in 2008 for the North Carolina Museum of Art‘s Far From Home blog.