June 16, 2011, Washington, DC: Okay, so maybe it seems an odd choice to begin a year-long study into the concept of home with nearly three weeks of travel. But here’s why it makes sense to me: In 32 years, I have lived in 27 houses or apartments in a dozen cities or towns. There is no one place I call home. I grew up with parents who spent weekends visiting open houses. I love to rearrange furniture. Movement has always been part of the home equation.
And so I begin this project with travel. For the next 365 days, I will study the sociology of our homes, our neighborhoods, and the power of physical place in a virtual world. I will visit each of my past hometowns and learn about the pulse of the neighborhoods in which I have lived, from Montreal to San Francisco, Chicago to New York.
I will explore what makes these places tick for the people who live there, and why they choose these hometowns despite high price tags, families who live elsewhere, and the headaches of crowded cities. I will explore the power of place and examine why, when and how people make decisions to stay put – and whether nomads like me ever can. I will consider the ingredients of hometown happiness, and draw conclusions about what people anywhere and everywhere need to make a place feel like home.
I will embark on this project for three overarching reasons:
For one, I’ve lived in some really great neighborhoods. So many that I consider myself a bit of an expert on the matter. And while I love to travel, I don’t like being a tourist. What I love most about traveling is taking time to get to know a place. I love to settle into a new place and pretend like I live there.
Another reason I’m compelled to do this is because of the increasingly ‘virtual’ nature of my daily life. I spend eight hours of my day at work in a virtual world. As a professional working in social media, I am consumed by digital space — and yet I find the power of physical places instead of virtual ones 1,000 times more interesting. Today we’re told thanks to technology, it doesn’t matter where you live. You can work remotely. You can work in the cloud. And yet despite the freedom technology provides, my physical surroundings continue to play a huge role in my overall happiness. Despite my involvement in the virtual world, the power of my physical one is stronger than ever.
The third reason I’ll embark on this project today is that I am getting married this weekend. It’s a milestone I always thought came with the clarity of ‘being settled.’ I once imagined that by the time people were married, they were settled into a career, a place, a home, a way of life. They were then a certified grownup. But consider the career unsettled. Consider the decision about where we want to spend the rest of our life unsettled. Consider questions of if and how and when and where to raise children, pay a mortgage, buy a house (but where?), massively unsettled. And consider this big question: Does settling down with someone mean staying still?
So I begin my year-long study into the sociology of home with nearly three weeks of movement. As fate would have it, our travels begin in two places (one in the U.S., one abroad) where people first put down roots. We begin with two thumbtacks on the map where settling in and making a place home, historically speaking, made a mark.
We begin with a wedding in the great state of Virginia and a honeymoon in Greece.