Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rooted in Unrootedness

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of “home” lately. Probably because it’s a theme in my current work-in-progress, exploring the question of how “home” shapes us, and what ties it binds upon us. One of my characters is making a trip to visit her parents after a long absence. What she finds, and what she discovers about herself (and her parents) isn’t really what she expected. But no matter what, “home is where the heart is,” right?

Actually that concept of home is a bit thorny. While Dorothy Gale says “There’s no place like home,” Thomas Wolfe says “You can’t go home again.” Who’s right?

Recently I was listening to a cd by the acclaimed singer-songwriter Mac McAnally, eight-time CMA Musician of the Year and an integral part of Jimmy Buffet’s band. Mac has a song about "home"--about growing up in Belmont, Mississippi, titled “Back Where I Come From.” It's a song that really resonates with me. For all the wrong reasons.

That's because I don’t have a place where I “come from”. Before I hit sixth grade I’d been in about eleven different schools in four different states (Georgia, Alabama, Florida, a short stint in Idaho). My step-dad liked to move around a lot, always looking for that greener pasture (which, by the way, I don’t think he ever really found). But all that relocating made it difficult to make friends—I was always the new kid, and always knew I wasn’t going to be there very long anyway. Not much basis for being able to say “that’s where I come from.”

I ended up living with my grandparents in a small town in Georgia from sixth grade until I graduated from high school. It was as close as anything I had to “where I come from.” But I really didn’t—and still don’t—consider it that way. It just seemed like one more way-station on the road of life—a bit more long-term, perhaps, but it still didn’t have that sense of rootedness that Mac sings about. I wasn’t born and raised there, so I was an outsider. Accepted, tolerated, but not really an integral part of things like so many of the other kids were. For most of them, their families had been there for generations.

So you’d think I’d have been drawn to someone who had lived in the same house all her life, had a close-knit family and cousins galore up and down the block. Wrong! I went away to college, met and fell in love with a wonderful girl, and ended up marrying her. And her father liked to move every three years. She had no real roots either.

Since we’ve been together (now these thirty-six years) we’ve moved a total of eight or nine times (I’ve rather lost count over the years). We’ve been kind of like human tumbleweeds, gathering no rocks. (Ok, if a rolling stone gathers no moss, than it stands to reason that a rolling moss gathers no stones…)

Our current home has set a record—we’ve now been in the same place for over seventeen years. Absolutely amazing. But even  though this is where I am at the moment, there’s still no sense of long-term rootedness, no anchor to the past. No connection to the nostalgia of family and friends and Sunday dinners at Grandma’s.

That’s not to say unrootedness has necessarily worked against me. I’ve seen a lot of places, met a lot of people, and generally had a good time. I can’t honestly say I’m any worse off than some of the people I went to school with back in Georgia, many of whom still live within five miles of the place they were born. There’s something to be said both ways—for having those rock-solid connections, and for being free to go wherever the wind takes you.

All in all, I guess for me “where I come from” is more an internal locale than any real sense of external roots. I come from wherever I am at the moment, living securely in the here and now, and looking not towards the past but towards what the future may hold. For while where you come from can be an anchor, sometimes an anchor can weigh you down and keep you from moving forward. 
Now, to work that into my next book...