I am moving. Again. Counting college, this will be my twelfth move in eight years. And the truth of the matter is, I hate moving. I’m also not alone in this, I expect. An informal survey of friends ages 18-35(ish) on Twitter and Facebook revealed that even in my own digital circles, my twelve moves since entering college weren’t exactly anomalous.
The majority have moved at least 5 times since college. For some, the experience has been one which has helped them to distill who they are and what they want. For many others, however, the experience has been like mine—one of anticipating an eventual rootedness. As one friend who has moved 10 times commented, “I can’t wait to be in one space for a long while.”
One space for a long while. Being rooted. It’s a beautiful idea, so there must be truth to it, though after enough moves, one begins to develop a certain cynicism towards the possibility of rootedness. In fact, I wonder at times if all of the emphasis on Instagram of #wanderlust and #vanlife aren’t in part because if we can’t be somewhere, we might as well be everywhere, which ultimately means we are nowhere in particular—an odd sort of specified, rather than existential, nihilism. I know that, for myself at least, the more places I am, the more I long for a place in which I can get into the habit of being—a place that would arise from the ashes of a thousand burned cardboard boxes. Somewhere that I can wear myself into through the living out of life in such a way that the scratches and cracks remain and are not simply painted over with the cheap repair-off-white paint so common in the pod-like rentals of young adulthood. A place where I care about the coffee I spill on the carpet not because it could fail to return me my deposit, but because if I don’t clean it, I will see it every day and know I should. My own home—a place I where I can get into the habit of being in.
Perhaps this is the childhood nostalgia of the nomad, but if it is nostalgia, it is of a common sort; a few years back in the London Review of Books, James Wood suggested in his essay On Not Going Home that “home swells as a sentiment because it has disappeared as an achievable reality.” It is not just a place to lay my head that I long for, but a place to build in and that can in return build me. I don’t just mean in terms of language and food and customs and manners and weather, though those things are important. After all, when you live somewhere long enough, those things take shape in you: you laugh when the Metro is late because the track froze, you listen to your friends in Boston alternate between complaining and bragging about their thirteen feet of snow, you know your friends in the Southwest would just die if they couldn’t eat good Mexican food. It’s those things, and art and music and literature and history and pacing and a thousand other little things like if you build houses out of brick or wood or stucco or concrete.
Yet with all of that, as Flannery O’Connor wrote in one of her many letters, “it’s not simply a matter of present-place, but a matter of the place’s continuity and the shared experience of the people who live there.” It’s the notion of being somewhere particular. It’s the place and people of life which and whom we impact through our living and yet which and who will extend beyond my own life there. It’s a longing for the lived reality of real presence in this existing place with and through the people I encounter in my time there.
I don’t just want to be somewhere, I want to be, and know I will be for a while, somewhere specific in community with others, engaged by my habit of being in the place in a project reaching beyond my own limits of being. I think, when we look at the rise of millennial nu-folk culture—beautiful, long lasting objects, artisanal goods, folk-influenced music, even vaguely boho trends—it reveals a deep-seated desire for permanence. A desire for place that extends beyond the mere where-you-are and bleeds into the what-you-are. Yet, the what-you-are is not simply local in the sense of geography, but local in the sense of people, in the sense of the community that built the place and is built by the place.