I have a weakness for air hockey.
When I notice a table, I have to find a way to play. Every time I'm in a conversation about whether a startup office should be outfitted with ping pong tables, pool tables, dartboards, or Xboxes, I campaign for the oft-ignored air hockey table. I'm not sure what the specific attraction is, but I seem to get a lot of joy out of the speeding puck, satisfying sounds, and odd angles.
The discovery of an air hockey table in the basement during a recent trip to Michigan was just such an opportunity. My young nephews jumped at the chance to defeat their surprisingly competitive uncle. They didn't. Only right before I won did I realize that VICTORY AT ANY COST may not have been the fairest approach. They did have the benefit of youthful reflexes and home ice peculiarities, though (such as which replacement puck to choose when the previous one lands behind a bookcase).
On the last night of the trip, we found ourselves in a living room full of family and friends between the ages of 10 and 54. Someone suggested we play Catch Phrase and moments later, teams were formed, last minute beverages were procured, and the game began. The next hour was belly laughs and adrenaline. The performers seized the moment as expected, but the quieter ones shined in the spotlight, too. There was a different kind of closeness as we reluctantly parted.
There's something magical about games. Somewhere within the dice and pieces, scoreboards and disputes, awkward moments prove revealing. We show a different part of ourselves.
When we returned home to our normal routines this week, there was a sense that something was missing. On Sunday night, we rummaged through the closet and found the worn Scrabble box from many years ago. There was music on the stereo, playful teasing, and room for more people at the table.
The latest dispatch asked, Where is home for you?
As an eternal student of languages and someone with a strong affinity for the european way of life and rich history and culture, I've often felt out of place and unsettled in all the way over here in flat, culturally universe Australia. I've long felt I belong over there, where everything happens, where my curiosity can be indulged and never satiated and where there is always something new to learn. At times, I've felt disconnected from my family, and from those around me, unsatisfied with their attitudes and the way things are done here. But the older I get, the more I realize that is an incredibly ridiculous way of thinking. More and more I find I'm craving the serenity and strange beauty of the Australian landscape, I'm beginning to identify with the history and wisdom of our indigenous people, I'm learning to appreciate the opportunity that comes with being such a new country, and to understand that isolation necessitates innovation. Perhaps I've finally grown out of my own stage of cultural cringe and started to build myself a home I can actually live in? Now I know I could never leave here for long.
Home is a tiny town in northern Indiana. Although Tulsa and Oklahoma are slowly competing for the distinction, home remains the places I know like the back of my hand. It's the local county library, where I used to sit for hours because it was the only place that had the internet. It's the taco shoppe, where a single taco is only one dollar, and the quality speaks for itself. It's the storefront that can never seem to hold on to a single store for very long. It's the two-screen cinema where you can still see a newly released flick for three dollars. It's the small, family amusement park where I spent my summers; first as a visitor, then as an employee. It's the people you see at the store who somehow know every detail of your current life, even though they haven't seen you in years. It's tractor day at the high school when all of the local farm kids fill the parking lot with combines, plows, and seeders. It's the idea that going out for a fancy dinner means driving forty-five minutes to eat at a Chili's. It's the fact that no matter how frustrating life got, the town and its people always were and always will be…..home.
Where is home for me? In the warm and long embraces of family and friends.
This may sound cliché, but home for me is my family. I grew up in a family that rarely lived in the same place for more than two years at a time. Instead of establishing deep connections to a location, we established deep connections to one another. That same mentality has served me well as my own family has grown. In the span of ten years, we've lived in three different cities. While we have fond memories of each city, they serve as a simple backdrop to the memories we make as a family of five. I adore our current city (Austin), and I would love to see my family call it "home" for quite some time. But, whether it's Austin or elsewhere, home is always with me.
Historically this has been a difficult question for me to answer. I grew up in Pennsylvania, in the same county my kin have lived in for 300 years & my parents still live, but in the subsequent 25 years I've lived in Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, California, Washington state, Victoria BC, and Washington DC. I never had an answer until 2 years ago, when the Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros song "Home" entered my life. Oh right, and the very best partner in the world did, too. "Home is wherever I'm with you." Happy to be sappy about this.
I think I have different concepts of home. My daily home is my apartment where my couch, bed and wife are. My childhood home also evokes strong emotions, but I don't think of it as home anymore. It's a place that I lived a long time ago and of which I have many good memories. I am now a stranger when I visit because I am not the same person I was as a child.
More broadly, I identify with Austin as my home because I feel safe, confident and enriched when I am here. The continuity of that identification relies upon my continued experience with its places and people, though. If Austin were to become an unsafe place or I no longer felt that it enriched my life I think it would cease to be my home. Austin-as-safe-and-enriching would still be a past home of mine, but the contemporary reality always defines my relationship with a place. I am not good at suspending disbelief or ignoring misery.
This may also explain why I never felt at home in San Francisco. My daily misery and annoyance made me feel like a perpetual visitor, despite the good times I did have there. For me, the little things matter a lot. This has interesting implications for my love of many places and things.
Home for me will always be a state, not a city. Texas. But, for this dispatch…. I've lived in four different Texas towns, the smallest being Jones Creek (Pop. 2,064). Though there was no snow and I had shoes on, I did walk a mile each way to Kindergarten. It was safe though — I walked with another 5-year-old. My sisters and I often road bikes to the Wag-a-Bag grocery, and without locking them, we'd wander around inside until we could find the right candy. I usually picked up a sugary fake cigarette or a Fun Dip, though my favorite part of the latter was the Lik-A-Stix. Mmm, thanks Willy Wonka. Growing up in that town, running in and out of houses without an invitation, was an incredible, peaceful, innocent decade. (We only broke into one house, but that's because their fridge had better food than ours.)
The notion of home is interesting to me, as I grew up in two different countries, went to an international school from the 5th to 12th grade (international school = no one comes from the same place), and went to 3 different universities in 3 different countries over the course of 6 years. I moved 9 times over those 6 years, and my friends are scattered all around the globe.
I've lived in the USA for almost 4 years now, and "Where are you from originally?" is a very common question to ask around here. Sadly, I never really have an answer I'm satisfied with.
I'm French, but nowadays I go back only once or twice a year to visit my family, and I'm feeling more and more disconnected from the country. When I tell people that I'm French, they always ask how often I go back home. I always reply "every night, when I get done with work". It almost feels like an offensive question at times (especially when you consider how much of a pain immigration is in the US, and how unwanted it makes you feel as an immigrant)– what, I've lived in the USA for years, pay taxes here, have friends, live with my girlfriend– and yet I'm not supposed to consider this my home? In my experience, Americans have a very different notion of "home" than Europeans.
I've also lived in California for almost 2 years now, but that hardly seems like it would qualify as "home". For a while, I entertained the romantic notion that I didn't have a home; that I was just a traveller, like Paul Erdös, moving to where the interesting problems were. It's not an entirely satisfying resolution though; sometimes, especially late at night, that feeling of not really belonging anywhere. It gets at you.
So, I'm not sure where my home is. But people have been very accommodating of my presence on the internet, so that'll do for now.
These Days is the new novel by Jack Cheng, a founding member of Uncommon and the author of A Preface for a Community, which was mailed to the first 100 members. I started reading These Days last week and it's been a wonderful companion every evening since. You'll love it. Here's a great interview about the book.
It’s modern-day love story about a guy who designs prop computer interfaces for furniture showrooms and a girl who doesn’t have a cellphone. It’s about creative work, startups, our relationship with these glowing rectangles in our pockets, and how they affect our relationships with each other.
What do you want to do more? by Roz Duffy:
We are forgetting to just be. It has been my experience when you focus a little more energy on just being, everything else begins to shift.
What Happens When You Really Disconnect by Tony Schwartz:
By the end of nine days, I felt empowered and enriched. With my brain quieter, I was able to take back control of my attention. In the process, I rediscovered some deeper part of myself.
What is one of your favorite games to play with friends?