Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Finding Home: Found

In March 2015, I began a memoir exercise, one I learned from Robert Ray and Jack Remick, one I've used myself in numerous memoir writing and ESL classrooms. Here's the exercise:
  • Make a list of every place you've ever lived.
  • For each place on your list, set a timer and write, pen to paper, non-stop for 30-45 minutes.
  • Don't try to write about all the places on the same day unless of course you still live in the home you came to direct from the hospital.
  • Dig deep. Tell your story. Include memories - good and bad - of the people, images, events, fragrances, sounds that made this place unique.
  • Type each writing session.
That's it. That's the exercise.

Because I'd been thinking and writing about the concept of home, and because the characters in The Alki Trilogy are all on a quest to find their own places to call home, and because the third novel in the trilogy, Walking Home, was scheduled for a spring release, I decided to turn the exercise into a blog series. In hopes of building interest and conversation around the topic, I invited other writers to share their thoughts on what defines home for them. For five months I've posted my own story most Tuesdays and Finding Home: Other Voices every Thursday.

Home not only means something a little different for each of us, but it carries dissimilar weight as well. For me it was heftier than I realized until I wrote this series. I've given inordinate importance to my years as an ex-pat in Mexico. I've claimed again and again that I might have stayed, that my life was there, but that tragedy brought me back to Seattle, brought me home. But maybe the truth is that home brought me home. That culture and language, roots and blood brought me home. Home is all those things for me. And there's more.

People make a place home. Blood, family, yes. Also those I choose to be my family: friends and neighbors, colleagues and community members. The people I see daily or weekly. The tall, thin librarian who bikes to work, the postal worker with long, painted nails, the waitress who wouldn't serve my daughter a margarita because she knew she wasn't 21 regardless what her false ID stated. Community is home. It's where I can breathe and thrive.

Home is the physical environment. I am a Washingtonian. My roots are planted deep in the forests of the Cascade foothills. The vibrant greens of the hills, the varied grays of winter, the brilliant blues of summer sky and water are home to me. Home too is the fragrant salt air off Puget Sound, gentle and breezy in the summer, harsh and cold in the winter, always laced with the scent of the sea.

Love makes home. Love of self: self-concept, self-confidence, self-awareness that make me feel at peace, wherever I find myself. Love of others. Love I give and love I receive. Always. Unconditional. Love that allows me to kick back and be myself with the self-knowledge to understand who that self is, what makes it tick, what gives it joy.

I've spent my adult life teaching the English language, the past thirty years working with immigrants and refugees in Seattle. My students have lost all they once knew. Most will never return to their homelands, their roots. Can roots be replanted? Is multi-culturalism possible? Could my roots have grown deep enough for me to find home in Mexico City? I believe so. I believe my students can build new homes, set new roots here in Seattle, or anywhere in the world, provided their other needs (sense of self; love of family, friends and community; physical environment; first language and cultural values) are met while they are also learning and accepting the language and culture of their new home. This is one of the lessons I learned from Finding Home: Other Voices, and it is the lesson my characters learn in The Alki Trilogy.

I am grateful to the wonderful writers who, by sharing their stories, helped me understand my own more deeply. Here's a complete list of contributors. Just click on a name to link to the author's essay.
                Pamela Hobart Carter
                Kit Bakke
                Tiffani Burnett-Velez
                Mary Rowen
                Tess Thompson
                Eleanor Parker
                Mindy Halleck
                Esther Helfgott
                Jan Wissmar
                Ina Zajac
                Claudia Long
                Tamsen Schultz
                Bonnie Dodge
                Brandy Jellum
                Patricia Mann
                Anesa Miller
                Judith Works
                Dave O'Leary

And here's my completed exercise for the teachers in the room. Sixteen essays for fourteen residences, most of which were never homes at all.
                Finding Home: Prologue
                The Shorewood Shack
                Walnut Avenue
                Issaquah Homestead
                No Bedroom
                College Dorms
                First Apartment to Homeless Wandering
                The Boardwalk
                Caracas, Venezuela
                Santa Cruz Cottage
                Three Months on the North Shore
                Six Years in Mexico City
                Beacon Hill via Issaquah
                53rd Avenue Cottage
                47th Avenue War Box
                Finding Home: Found

So with this, the Finding Home mini-memoir series comes to an end. I thank you for your readership.


historywriter said...

Very thoughtful post. Bob and Jack always have good ideas. Think I'll try this. I have felt home in the NW for many years. Think I was coming home here all my life. Now I've been here more than half my life.

Jack said...

I've read the whole series. Didn't always leave comments. Very sincere work there. Probably should come together in a book. Buckminster Fuller wrote that America moves every five (or was it three?) years.That's a lot of homes to get back to so this series touches some nerves.

arleen said...

Thank you for your comments historywriter and Jack. It was an adventure that's for sure! A book? Maybe. The process has certainly helped clarify some ideas before my new project can progress into a book.