Many of us are graduating into one of the worst job markets in history, at a time when lots of organizations are on a hiring freeze. Society as a whole is changing as a result of being in a COVID-19/post-COVID-19 era, and the generation coming out of college is stuck right in the middle of it. It seems to make sense that we will at least have our homes to unwind in, somewhere to go that will always be a place of safe haven. The places that feel like they are ours; that in some way they are integral to our stories as human beings. Yet what is home? Can it be defined as just a place where you sleep? Does it have to be?
Most people will tell you a house is a home. Yet this concept of home limits the very definition, as for some people a house is not a place where they can go to relax. Whether that be because of internal pressures, or exterior, where you sleep may not be where you relax. And what about the people for whom their house has changed throughout the years? In the last six years of my life I’ve lived in five different “houses” for varying amounts of time. From houses, to dorm rooms, to an apartment in an old warehouse, or an old duplex, all of these places have been places that I’ve laid my head to rest in, yet are all of them home? For many young people taking whatever jobs they can, their house may be too new to be considered a home.
What if we expand it? For many of us, our hometown is the place we grew up in, the place that formed our first memories. For me that was South Pasadena CA, a small town in the middle of Los Angeles. It is the kind of town Hollywood uses when they want something midwestern and small. It has got a wonderful little main street, with brick lined buildings only one or two stories tall. A Carnegie library sits just off mission, and the clang clang of the train rushes through the town on the regular. It is a peaceful escape from the insane world that is Los Angeles, a forgotten haven in a city of traffic, smog, and celebrities. I can name a number of places, some of which have changed over the years, where my attachments are more than solid. I consider them as much my home as my house. Yet something is still missing. In this case we need to look towards the oceans, and some adventures that lay along it.
At work, when we were asked where we were from, others said specific cities and towns. Yet for me, home is the west coast. I grew up in LA, spent a summer working in the bay, and for four years attended school in the Pacific Northwest before taking a job in New England. That is a huge span of space, far larger than a house, but with specific reasons, for which we have to go north, to a little town in Washington state.
As I mentioned I grew up in LA, but I spent four years in the Pacific Northwest, in a little town called Walla Walla. Unlike the town I grew up in, Walla Walla was best known for being near nothing at all. Surrounded by wheat, grape fields, and onions, it was a town rapidly changing. The downtown, which had once been all but abandoned, had been taken over by the rapidly growing wine industry. Some call it what Napa Valley looked like 50 years ago, still early in its development. I attended Whitman College, a small school located on the top of main street and three miles from the airport. I worked in the gallery and student center, lost many hours of sleep in the library, participated in a number of organizations and most importantly, came out as a transwoman. As a result of the support I received from so many wonderful people, I went from dreaming, to living in reality. Hallways became the places where I celebrated, and where I went to think. I studied the past, and realized that it would become my future. I joined a sorority, after years of considering it impossible. I curated, or helped to curate, two full exhibitions, one entirely mine, and the other as a part of a team. I even helped to run the tabletop games club, and played some club softball in the rain. These moments cemented Walla Walla and Whitman as a kind of home for me, even if I lived in three different places in my four years there.
Add in things like an In-And-Out burger, saying “The” in front of freeway names, laughing when people from the east coast talk about their “mountains”, or memories munching on some of the best Asian and Mexican food in the country, I am forever marked as being a west coaster through and through. Unfortunately, when we limit it to land and physical property, we leave out the number one thing that allows us to feel at home in the first place. And perhaps our memories can lead us to the answer, something that we are all searching for.
All of these are focused on land, but isn’t it as much about the people that made us who we are as the adventures we had on the way. Any of those coming of age movies will tell you that it isn’t as much about the space that you occupy, but about the people that you do it with. Saying that my soul resides in the west coast is true because I have left part of it with the people I love. The people who I will travel across the country for a week, taking 20 hours to do so, just to see their faces in person. I did just this in February, traveling further north into the bitter cold because I couldn’t handle going a year without spending time with my sisters, my friends, and my chosen family. I spent that week sleeping on a beanbag in a friends house, and visiting with old friends. Many times I’d be walking along and suddenly I’d get ambushed by someone, as if I was everyone’s queer aunt returning home. While I was here I got an acceptance letter to the University of Washington, and it was here that I cried tears of joy again, another memory at home.
Home is about the people who make our lives worth living everyday. It is about the smiles, the laughs, and the moments of joy, as it is about the sadness, the grief, and the scary moments. Home is emotionally tied, but in a way that ties the physical to the self. South Pasadena is great, but I miss Hotbox Vintage, the shop I’ve spent so many happy hours in. Not necessarily because of the shop, but because of the friends I have made through it. The owner with whom I’ve shared many laughs (and expanded my wardrobe extensively) and who made me feel comfortable in my identity as a transwoman before I came out at Whitman. She lets me hang out there, in exchange for helping to put things on high shelves that at 6ft 3in, I can reach. I love everything about it, and there is a reason that I included it here. It is a store that is the definition of a hidden gem, and one that I return to on every occasion back in LA. Despite never sleeping here, I consider it home because of the culture that she has crafted within, one that makes you not only feel safe, but also welcomed (and when she reads this, I promise you I’ve meant every word).
So when you think of home, don’t forget to think about the people that make it possible to come home to relax. The people who will welcome you with open arms, and with whom your memories will be shared with forever. The people you chose to be with, the ones who you’ll fight for on a minute to minute basis. These are the people that you think about when you think of home. It is not about the physical places that make up our homes, but in the memories and people that fill them. These moments are the ones that help us grow, and the ones that make us different from everyone else. In the end, a house may be a home, but a house without the people who helped to build it is a house without a home.