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where are you from?

October 9, 2011

For philosophical reasons, I never know how to answer this question. I could give you a laundry list of places I’ve lived, but am I “from” any of them? All of them? Some, but not others?

I have visited a lot of places that I felt a special affinity for. If I told you I was “from” one of those places, it might tell you more about me than places I’ve actually lived. But then again, maybe it wouldn’t tell you much of anything useful.

When I think of the first place I remember living (where I spent ages 2 through 10), what I remember best and most fondly is an empty lot adjacent to our yard, where I spent most of my free time, playing by myself amid bushes and wildflowers and rocks. The neighborhood my parents lived in was unincorporated, but we had the mailing address of a nearby town. But if I told you the name of the town, how is that related to that empty lot? What more would you know about that empty lot that you don’t know now?

If I told you the name of the town I live in now, unless you live nearby, it wouldn’t mean anything to you. So you might look it up on Google maps, which would tell you that it is at the edge of development in a largely rural area, which is also part of a metropolitan statistical area. I love living here partly because of the wildlife, partly because of the topography (rolling hills, huge rock formations, lots of water bodies, lots of forested areas), and partly for reasons I don’t know how to explain.

But if you asked me where I’m from, or even where I live now, and I told you this area, what would you think you know about me? If anything. Because I think humans often default to thinking humans choose places to live partly because of other humans living there. But searching for like-minded people has nothing to do with why I live here. As far as we can tell, most of our human neighbors are conservative Republicans; we just try to avoid political topics with them.

I often find human beings interesting, but they routinely puzzle me. And I feel allegiances to a much wider net than just human habitations. If there was some way to say, “I’m from X neighborhood of humans and nonhumans, situated in Y habitat type, in Z watershed, Q region, …”, I feel like that would really tell you something useful, meaningful, and important about me.

But I haven’t figured that out yet.

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