What does it mean to be un-moored from any specific place?
Today, I’m writing from a hillside house in Santa Barbara. The scarlet bougainvillea —attended by hummingbirds—competes for sunlight with lavender blooms of jacaranda trees and spikey purple agapanthas in the garden. I walked outside in my robe this morning to have coffee by the pool overlooking dun-colored hills.
The Pacific is an indigo wedge on the horizon. I’ll swim a few lengths of the pool—no suit needed—before showering in a spa-like master bath with heated floors. For these two months, I’m driving a vintage white Mercedes dubbed “The Sugar Cube.”
In a way, house-sitting is an idyllic life. But I know the ultimate goal of my year of living restlessly is to find a place that feels permanent. Actually, I’ve come to realize that’s been a goal of mine my entire life. I’m also getting inklings that what I’m looking for is less a place than a sense–a sense of belonging. So far, I have only vague ideas–maybe daydreams, maybe delusions–of what that sense of belonging would look or feel like.
I started musing along these lines after coming across a couple of essays by San Francisco blogger Cheri Lucas Rowlands. She and her husband, another writer, have sold most of their stuff, rented their loft and are in the process of completing a tiny house–20 feet long, 8 feet wide, 131 square feet–on wheels. (They bought a partially completed model from the Tumbleweed Tiny House Co.)
Like me, Rowlands and her husband decided that finding their place in life required stripping down to the core.
“We want a physical home we can call our own — one we really do own, with no mortgage, excessive bills, or superfluous possessions to weigh us down. Escaping a mortgage and living more simply will free up money, which will free up time,” Rowlands wrote, describing the birth of her Tiny House Travelers journey.
“As travelers…trying out different locations for size; as a couple exploring our relationship to our shared space and to each other; and as writers deeply interested in the evolution of space, place and home, and in people’s ties to physical objects and locations in a world where the boundaries between the ideas of the digital and the physical are becoming increasingly blurred.”
I’ve embarked on a similar adventure, through serial house-sitting. I hadn’t really articulated what I hoped to discover, other than a permanent place to live. My thoughts started to gel along the lines of “a sense of belonging” after reading Rowlands’ essay.
A few weeks back, I wrote about my friend Doreen Carvajal unraveling mysteries about her family’s history that had been quietly churning in the back of her mind for decades. I started the post by asking, “What is the burning question in your life?”
“I’m asking” I wrote, “because I think the search for an answer–whatever the question–creates a sense of passion and purpose in life. I’m envious of those who not only have such a question (and recognize it) but summon the will, the energy and the resources to pursue the answer. In the process, those people experience a deep sense of satisfaction and, I think, come to know some fundamental truths about themselves.”
I haven’t been able to fully shape my burning question yet. But I think it’s related to finding that sense of belonging. And, as I wrote that last sentence, it occurred to me that instead of using the word “finding,” I should have written “creating.” As in creating that sense of belonging.
In a New York Times article about her quest to uncover family secrets, Doreen wrote: “We can change the story we tell about ourselves and, by doing that, change our future.”
Coincidentally, I had been thinking that the subtext of my year of living restlessly is, “Change my story, change my brain, change my life.” I’m a believer in the science that says we can “rewire” our brains by over-riding the stories about ourselves that we grew up believing.
That’s why I said I should have written “creating” a sense of belonging rather than “finding” a sense of belonging. Apparently, I have control over whether I belong or not. Now that’s a scary realization!
I’ll finish with one more thought from another of Rowlands’ essays, “What it means to write about travel.”
“Traveling can simply mean exploring–whatever your world, whatever your reality–and is often less about place and more about time, change and one’s relationship to a moment.”
In that sense, I’m traveling…aren’t we all?