“What place do you call home?”
I heard this question a few days ago. It wasn’t addressed to me, but it’s been bouncing around my mind since then, and it’s a deceptively hard question.
In one sense, home is very different for my wife and I, so when someone asks where we’re from, there’s always a short pause, and we always look at each other, as if to ask, how are we going to answer this time?
In another sense, home is where she is—where my family is. Homes are where I’ve been, where I’ve spent time. I consider Novisibirsk one of those homes. Galway, Ireland? That one’s a stretch. I lived there, to be sure, but it never felt like home. I was there about five months, but it just doesn’t seem the same. In both places, I lived and worked. I stayed in one just a bit longer than the other. The difference, I think, is the quality of connections and relationships made during the stay.
That’s the qualification of home that sits with me this afternoon, as I sit in an old favorite spot, in an old home. I’ve come back to Carbondale, Illinois, home of my postgraduate alma mater, Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Tonight, I’ll read with a pair of my contemporaries, two writers with whom I studied during my time in the SIUC MFA program. I finished that degree nearly seven years ago, and I’m thrilled to return as a guest graduate reader at the English Graduate Department’s annual academic conference.
Appropriately enough, the conference is titled, “A Changing Landscape: Shifting Borders and Slippery States.” That title felt particularly appropriate this morning as I drove past block after block of plowed-over and recently gentrified memories.
It’s swank of Carbondale to have an Insomnia Cookies franchise now, to be fair, but I miss the old, gritty Carbondale, the one that gave birth to the ideas of many stories that populate the book from which I’ll read tonight.
This Carbondale is someone else’s home now, those there are smatterings of the one I remember peeking through the freshly painted version of town. But it was a home, and it feels good to remember it that way. It feels good to remember the other homes, too: Cookeville and Chattanooga, Siberia and Ohio Morehead and Huntington. There will, likely be more homes and more stops, more memories, and more iterations of that question: what is home to you?
The answer, likely, will be as vague then as it is now, and just as heart-tugging.