Belonging and other complications

Writers are supposed to be communicators, and while I do not claim that title like those who have been published and have a following and have influenced and changed people's lives can, I do not think I achieved that goal in my last post.

I attempted to sort out the many mixed feelings going 'home' for the holidays brings, and the nebulous nature of that word itself. Home is so many things, and so many people, and for the most part, that is a very good thing. But I don't think I made clear enough how grateful I am for the original meanings, their faces and their places. I tried to write about how a place can make one feel both welcomed and suffocated. I didn't mean to imply that, by association, all the inhabitants of said place do the same - though they certainly at times have the potential to do so, if I allow my thinking about them to become clouded, or overly simplified.

I am grateful for where I come from, and what has bothered me most in the ensuing weeks is that I sounded like an ungrateful snob. I greatly appreciate the mother who taught me to love to read, who made it possible for a Shel Silverstein poem to pull me out of a dark place a few days ago. I am thankful for a daddy who never made me question what love looks or feels like. I am nourished daily in ways I don't even realize by friends who have known me for 25 years and who are still interested in whatever form my life has taken these days.

I'm reading "Joseph Anton," Salman Rushdie's excellently introspective and thought-provoking memoir. (And I'm reading a signed copy, thanks to a husband I am luckier than words can describe to have, who pushes me to go places and think about things I likely would not if left to my own devices). Rushdie talks about this belonging, about his separate and often disparate homes, about how feeling so torn with love and longing and other less easily named emotions for different places can leave one both confused and blessed - though he probably does not use that word, and I do not mean, in any way, to equate any of my musings to the ordeal that he not only survived but turned into something miraculous.

But it's making me think. 

At the house where I spent the majority of my life, the farmhouse that was once my great-grandmother's that we bought and renovated and moved into when I was 16, there is a beautiful winding creek at the bottom of the hill the house sits on. The house is across the street from what was my Granny and Pop's house, and the houses share the creek, which I think is even named after the Waldrop family at some point in its meandering journey. I played in that creek all my life, catching crawdaddies and spring lizards (learning to hold tight to their magically regenerating tails), splashing about with my brother and cousins, starting brightly colored leaves on an odyssey upstream and carefully monitoring their route (freeing them, if need be, from rocks and clumps of mud with a stick), racing after the basketball before an errant shot rolled all the way down the grassy bank and plunked into the water.

At what became our house, there's a path, past the springhouse where a brim I named Bentley when I was 7 used to live, down to a particular rock, especially well-suited for bare feet to find a firm foothold. When I came home, from college or from the places I lived, one of the first orders of business was to go stand on that rock, whether the creek was running smoothly with spring rains or languid in the summer heat or ferrying fall leaves like pointy-tipped sailboats or rushing with melting snow and ice. I had this one pair of sandals I wore until they fell apart, and sometimes I wouldn't take them off. I'd stand watching the water trickle over the straps, taking enormous comfort in the fact that these sandals touched both the sand from the beaches of my present and the freshwater of my past.

I would not like to think that I in any way denigrated that. I was trying to write away some confusion about where and who I am now, as I start down a completely new and somewhat terrifying path, unsure if it's a new career direction or just a fork in the road that comes with a regular paycheck. I was trying to punch my way through self-doubt and insecurity and the unsettling fact that I'm now 40 and there are so many things I still just don't know. I didn't mean to land glancing blows in the process.

Writing has no power if it's not real. My fingers often hesitate over the keys, weighing degrees of honesty, wondering how sentiments will be received. You can't do that, I know, and be effective. But perhaps effectiveness is not always the measure of success.

I know I love books. I know I love football, and ACC basketball, and the Dodgers. I know I love to laugh and have wide-ranging, sometimes-rambling conversations, often fueled by varying quantities of wine of sometimes dubious quality. These things that I know are true were born in the fertile soil and soothing water of my childhood, and in searching for other truths, I did not, would never, intend to slight them.

Change is disquieting, and yet, if we don't seek it out, it will find us. We are not supposed to stay the same. Like those spring lizards who could shed their tails to escape my grasping fingers, sometimes the structure of what we once knew must change in order for us to survive, to keep swimming.

I have developed the habit of showing my stepdaughter movies from my childhood. Some also resonate with her. Some she takes in with a slightly raised eyebrow. Today we watched Say Anything, and I think she found Lloyd Dobler as impossibly dorkily endearing as I did, and do. The iconic scene of him holding up the boom box, his arms slowly sagging under the weight of his frustrated feelings, acquired some context, and while I felt old realizing that I had the same stereo as the one in Lloyd's bedroom, I also felt solid, substantial. I don't know if she believed in the happy ending, where Lloyd and Diane fly off to England in a rush of youthful love and optimism. I don't know if I do. But the sign dinged.

I often think of what my life would have been like if I had stayed in the same place long enough to grow the roots that some people I've known for decades have. Putting aside the fact of my family, which I would not trade for anything nor alter any circumstances if it meant its non-existence, I think about living in my mother's house, or having stayed at one paper (assuming I was not laid off, or that said paper still existed) long enough to have an article written about me when I died. I think about if home had one definition, one memory and one place that springs immediately to mind. 

There would be security in that, wrapped in warm layers of love and strength and certainty. It would be - I'm sure it is - wonderful.

But, whatever questions I'm still trying to formulate - much less answer - I don't think it would have been wonderful for me. And that's all I was trying to say.