Posted by: scintillatingspeck | May 4, 2014

Turning for home.

I can tell by the way you’re standing
With your eyes filling with tears
That it’s habit alone keeps you turning for home
Even though your home is right here

“Jubilee,” Mary Chapin Carpenter

What is the shape of homesickness?

What does it even mean to “have a home” or “make a home”?  Is it a place?  A feeling?  A group of people?  Familiarity, habit?  Safety?  That sense of “being at home”—is it the freedom to be oneself?

I’m at Cup and Top Cafe in Florence.  Directly in front of me is a painting, “Just Outside Ouray,” by Hilary Emerson Lay, a local artist, part of an exhibition called “Imperfect Nostalgia: Homesickness for Places You’ve Never Been.”  It’s a road leading forward around a bend, with the double yellow line down the center, trees along the margins, a house, a bit of mountain, all layered on top of a decoupage of old dictionary pages and old newspapers and old handwritten and typewritten letters.  I have stopped marveling at these synchronicities of thought and experience.  I assume that it was Meant To Be, that I should lay eyes on Hilary’s work, that the road should lead me to her art, to other artists and musicians and writers, to landscapes that always seem familiar even though it’s certain I’ve never visited them before.

In about a month, Lily and I will get in our car (which Lily has dubbed “Silver,” which always makes me want to declare, “Hi, ho, Silver!” every time we drive anywhere) and leave our Florence home behind, on the road to our many other homes that we haven’t seen before, to experiences and people strewn about like dandelions, tumbleweeds, “invasive” species rolling across the magnificence of America.

We are radical homemakers, Lily and I.  I was starting to doubt my claim to this title, which I believe was originated by Shannon Hayes in her book Radical Homemakers (an excellent and inspiring read, by the way).  It seemed pretty clear that if I was going to be a radical homemaker, I was going to have to stay put, bloom where I was planted, stop my itinerant ways (physical, vocational, relational) and get with the program.  But so much of the point of being a radical homemaker is not getting with the program.  The moment it becomes a “program” is the moment it ceases to be radical.

What makes us radical homemakers?  In our case, we are creating our home wherever we go.  We carry the objects, the traditions, the stories that serve us, and the rest we put in the compost.  It turns out we have so many models for this.  Who can live up to the mythos of Home as Staying Put?  The reality is this: my family has never stayed put.  It is not what we Do.  My story, and Lily’s, cannot be separated from my mother’s story, her immigration from Italy.  It cannot be separated from my sister’s story, her status as a permanent expatriate and semi-nomad.  It cannot be separated from my migrating Jewish ancestors.  Maybe it’s not unusual that in response to that, I might crave a piece of ground to land on, to say that there’s a physical place where I belong, and I’ve certainly attempted that, here in Florence, Massachusetts.

What is it about Florence?  This village seems to collect radical homemakers.  It was a haven for freed slaves, a part of the Underground Railroad, home to Sojourner Truth (who continued her journey elsewhere, itinerant firebrand speaker/writer that she was).  It provided fertile ground for an abolitionist utopian community in the 19th century, in the form of the Northampton Association of Education and Industry.  It called my little family here, westward from Boston, to land in intentional community, at Rocky Hill Cohousing.  It still called us after we left Rocky Hill.  It called me through Grow Food Northampton, the non-profit organization of which I was a founding board member, through our efforts to create a community farm dedicated to food security through sustainable agriculture.  It all sounds like it should fit into some grand narrative of sustainable living and community involvement, of having finally Arrived.

It turns out there is no Arriving.  There is only the inexorable momentum of change.  Or, to put it another way, we’ve arrived in the present moment, and now we’ve left it and arrived at the next.  Here I am, in my Home, which right now is this cafe in Florence, with the pussy willows in a vase, and Hilary’s painting, and an empty tea cup.  In the painting, I’m the nomad just out of sight, around the bend in the road.

at Cup and Top Cafe, Florence, Mass.  Painting, "Just Outside Ouray," by Hilary Emerson Lay.  (

at Cup and Top Cafe, Florence, Mass. Painting, “Just Outside Ouray,” by Hilary Emerson Lay. (



  1. Hi Jen! I loved the homesick theme. My FB disappearance had to do partly because of the farm needing attention but also because of my son and some serious melt-down issues at college. This one made my heart warm as we have been immersed in lots of hugs and challenges.

    I look forward to hearing about your “Lone Ranger” adventures….. you and little Tonto in “silver” Hi Ho!

    Jon DeJong

    • Thanks, Jon. I am an FB-disappearance sympathizer. Sending you lots of love as you confront this moment and the next and the next.

      I’m such a Lone Ranger that I drive across continents to see people. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: