Home Is Not

by Megan Eaves

May 01 2015

Home. Home? I begin this thought and struggle to decide what it means, typing from a bohemian pub in a city that marks my—pause to count on two hands—seventh home in a decade. Ten years pass quickly when you jump from place to place often, and so does your conception of home. When people ask me where I’m from, I am never sure how to answer. The United States or New Mexico would be truthful, for those are two places I spent most of my younger years.

But what if I’m checking into a hotel in Manchester? My answer generally changes to London in that case. And on a recent press trip to South Korea, I was most often introduced as the journalist from the United Kingdom, which made me feel somewhat uncomfortable and pushed the boundaries of my identity as eyebrows raised when I opened my mouth for the first time and a decidedly un-British accent came out. Identity becomes fluid the more you travel.

Sometimes you find yourself somewhere that doesn’t really fit. A few years ago, my husband got a job offer in Prague, so away we went to a place I’d never even visited. I was up for the challenge but not prepared to actively dislike a place, especially a European city, and especially one as outwardly stunning as Prague. It wasn’t that there was anything actively wrong with the place. It’s a fascinating city! But I found it troublesome to connect with the local people, I found the food uninspiring after a certain point, and even the constant presence of delicious beer and speedy public transport was not enough to overcome the overwhelming sense of misfit I encountered there. Sometimes, it’s just not home.

I was recently struck by a photo exhibition put on by the Nobel Peace Center, featuring images of families around the world with their weekly groceries. What stuck out to me most was not the wide range of foodstuffs or the vast differences in amounts of food, but the fact that the pictures almost all centered around a shared family space—usually a table or lounge area. A simple place where people come together to enjoy a basic human need.

When I began to ponder the topic of home, the first thing I did was create a music playlist. I need atmosphere to write, and music helps with that, but as I began adding songs, I realized I wasn’t choosing them based on whether they described the theme of home, but rather based on whether they evoked home for me. This evolved into a series of songs that I was listening to at one point or another, in one place or another. An Eliza Gilkyson song I was blasting from my car’s CD changer driving around Albuquerque over the summer of 2007. A Gabe Dixon Band ballad that I listened to on a tiny pink mp3 player cycling around a small town in China that autumn. A Doves tune my husband introduced me to when we met in Dublin in 2008. “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, which I first heard on my dad’s record player just after he and my mom split up when I was 14.

When I move to a new place, I throw things away. I am emphatically not a hoarder. In fact, I compulsively trash stuff. If it’s too heavy to carry, it becomes collateral that I can’t afford and it gets recycled or binned. But there is a small collection of things that have survived these purges. A framed picture of my dad, sister and I on a camping trip. A collection of cheap jewellery parsed together from markets in various places. A blue guitar my grandmother gave me not long before she passed away. None of any value in and of themselves, but small objects rich in memories.

What makes home, in the end? I am inclined to say nothing. There is no one aspect of life in London that is any way more home than anywhere else I’ve lived. Home comes with me in friendships I carry along—thanks largely to virtual contact—and habits I’ve picked up, like drinking black tea with milk (thanks, Ireland) or eating Vietnamese pho for a hangover (amazingly, picked up in Prague, which has a surprisingly large Vietnamese community).

Maybe, at the end of the day, home is not where the heart is, but wherever you happen to find yourself.