I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘home’ recently, and what it means. Back in April I began to explore a lifestyle based around the concept of location independence, and gave up my regular base and many of my possessions. This led me to house-sitting, and then to Berlin. Many fellow translators are familiar with the semi-nomadic lifestyle; it’s in our nature, as linguists, to move around and immerse ourselves in the cultures of the language(s) we work with. Today I watched this TED talk by writer Pico Iyer, entitled ‘What Is Home?’ He speaks of the difficulty of answering the question ‘where are you from?’, and of how mobile our sense of nationality has become, adding that 220 million people are now living in countries they weren’t born in. This ‘great floating tribe’, as Iyer calls it, has increased by 64 million in the last twelve years alone. He remarks on the liberation this offers: ”When my grandparents were born, they had their sense of home, their sense of community, even their sense of enmity, assigned to them at birth and didn’t have much chance of stepping outside of that. Nowadays, at least some of us can choose our sense of home, create our sense of community, fashion our sense of self, and in so doing, maybe step a little beyond some of the black and white divisions of our grandparents’ age.”
So is home the place we were born, the place we were raised, or is it perhaps the place we happen to be now, or the place where we long to be? Is it about people, not place, about those we love? These questions could be debated at length, but to me the most interesting part of his talk was how we can develop the ability to carry home around with us, for I’ve been struggling with this of late. As he says: ‘There is one problem with movement; that it’s really hard to get your bearings when you’re in mid air.”
Before ‘going nomadic’ earlier this year, I have officially lived in 15 places in 30 years, perhaps not an unusual number for someone of my generation and career. Since May of this year, however, I have packed up my little case or bag 15 times, an average of 3 times a month. Over a year ago now, I spoke to my Grandmother about her fears of leaving the home she had lived in for over 60 years. Despite not being able to fully comprehend the magnitude of how that would feel, I told her about how I had learnt to carry home with me despite moving frequently. It turns out, though, that my sense of home must have been more interlinked with my relatively modest amount of possessions than I believed. For after moving around so much recently, with just a suitcase of clothes and my Kindle, I began to feel lost at sea. I longed to wake up and see my familiar paintings on the wall, my photos by my bedside, all my books stacked on the shelves. And at the same time, I felt guilty for that longing, knowing that not everyone is in a position to wake up in new places so frequently — after all, my view over the last couple of months has shifted from London, to Berlin, to Catalunya.
I still believe the nomadic lifestyle could be right for me, but I think I need to grow into it a little, to change myself for the better in order to fit the life I want. So I’m climbing out of the deep end for a while and figuring out a new approach. Less frequent changes over short periods, for one, but I’m interested in how people actually succeed in carrying home with them. For some digital nomads, I know that travelling as a couple must help immeasurably with this. But there are other ways too. Some are probably quite obvious (this is a learning curve for me); taking more a few more sentimental possessions like photos, perhaps, could make a big difference. I’d also like to work on cultivating the sense of stillness that Pico Iyer talks about. For I feel like I’ve forgotten to stop and look around me over the last few months, instead always thinking of where I need to go next. Now I plan to stay still, at least in my mind, and figure things out. I’m thankful to have some interesting projects coming up, so my work schedule is ready and waiting.
Some of Iyer’s final words really struck a chord with me: ”Movement, ultimately, only has a meaning if you have a home to go back to. And home, in the end, is not just the place where you sleep, it’s the place where you stand. Home is the place where you become yourself.”