What is home? Is it where you can hang your hat? Is it where the heart is? Or is it where you can comfortably take a shit?
Why do we have a natural affinity towards some places, but an intense aversion towards others? I have been traveling for the past eight months. In all that time, I have visited twenty-three different cities and a few villages in between. Some of those places I fell in love with on the plane, train, or van into town, some I had to learn to love, and some I was never able to love.
The past two weeks Anya (my travel / heterosexual life partner) were in Lisbon Portugal. This was the first time where Anya and I had significantly different opinions about any city. Usually, we’re so synced up that you would no idea we weren’t the same person. Except for her being a Russian beauty and me being a 6’4”, penis-bearing, punk rock hippie with no hair we are IDENTICAL. But, this time was different. She was enamored, and I felt severely uncomfortable. I had such a hard time pinpointing the source of my discomfort because Lisbon is an objectively beautiful place.
In the past eight months, I have not felt homesick once. Of course, I miss my friends every single day, but I am dreading going back to the states. The thing that I really missed was a feeling of comfort, but I never felt comfortable in the city I grew up in, so why would I want to go back?
Prior to this adventure, I was someone who never felt a state of belonging to any one place. I thought I was going to be perpetually drifting from place to place searching for a city that called back to me. But, after seeing and experiencing so many different cities and cultures I am beginning to recognize the possibility of that not happening, and that some places are simply better suited for me.
First and foremost:
– Home is a feeling, not a place.
Like I mentioned, Lisbon was terrible for me at the beginning for a number of reasons. In the first few days I:
- Was called a “mariposa”, the Spanish equivalent of “faggot” (I know these were Spaniards and not Portuguese men, but It still made me feel on edge about Portugal)
- Saw countless displays of masculinity, including a man whose steroid-addled brain thought it was a good idea to use a balcony to do as many pull-ups as he could so he could then reap the reward of all the pussy in Portugal.
- Experienced numerous encounters of xenophobia and nationalism. Usually starting with: “The Portuguese are so nice and welcoming, so unlike ____”. Sort of like your racist relative who will start a story with “I’M NOT A RACIST, BUT…”
- Noticed how similar the climate was Southern California, which made me feel on edge because it reminded me of a time when I was a vastly different person and of my inevitable return.
- Was offered drugs by a man trying to shove his cocaine-covered key up my nostril. Sir, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I am not your Dodge Neon.
All of this happened in the first few days. I wanted to write off Lisbon as a wash. I’m also not trying to drag Lisbon, it’s just the worst and no one should ever go there.
But, over the course of the next week, I fell in love with the people staying at my hostel. I’m so happy I was able to find solace in someone else. Thank you, Anya, Elise, Landis, Guillermo, Chris, Max, and Curtis for giving me memories of Lisbon that I can look back on fondly. And although Lisbon will never be a permanent home for me, you made it feel like home while I was there. So thank you.
This made me realize that although there are certain cues that can imbue a new city with feelings of familiarity, the things that will always lead you back there are the people.
Certainly, there are environmental conditions that may give you a sense of comfort as well. They are usually brought to light by your olfactory senses.
I flew from Lisbon to Amsterdam to stay with my gorgeous friend Stephanie. Stephanie and I met in Seminyak, Bali (pronounced “seh-mihn-yeahk”, not “sea-man-yak” which sounds like a busy afternoon on Fire Island). Stephanie grew up in Holland and is half Indonesian, so I was curious to see if she felt at home when she was going to Bali. She said yes and no, while Bali was a drastic change for her from Amsterdam, the food reminded her of home and gave her a sense of comfort.
It makes sense that taste can induce feelings of nostalgia. But even more so than the actual taste, I have found smell to be a more intense instigator of memory. If you ask Anya what her favorite smell in the world is, she would say “the Moscow subway”. I’m not one to judge, so if someone feels at home by smells of stale piss and body odor then, by all means, move into the locker-room of your local gym. Apparently, this isn’t how the Moscow subway smells, apparently not all undergrounds smell like the one in New York, which is my olfactory memory of subways. But once in Prague and once in Lisbon, she grabbed onto my shirt and would smile and say, “this is it! This is the smell!” Which would give her a sense of warm nostalgia.
I have intense olfactory responses, but none really give me a sense of “home” because I never felt at home where I grew up. But…I do have a significant nose for people and specific memories. For instance, if a boy walks past me wearing Ralph Lauren Polo Black cologne, I immediately punch him in the throat. Or if I smell anything that is pumpkin spice scented, flavored, or adjacent I will actually gag, which is annoying because I’ve worked so hard to get rid of my gag reflex. My favorite smells are:
- A dentist’s office. There is something about the metallic cleanliness of a doctor or dentist’s office that makes me feel so comfortable. Or maybe it’s the nitrous, but who can be sure.
- Petrichor – which is the smell after it rains. It NEVER rained in southern California, so when it did it made me beyond happy. It made me feel like I was somewhere else.
- Sandalwood incense or Nag Champa incense because they are just fantastic and remind me of a time when I was really happy.
So if you know of an Airbnb listing that is a dentist’s office in a rainforest that stays about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, isn’t humid, and constantly smells like sandalwood, let me know.
If you are moving to a new place, try and bring as many familiarity cues as you can along with you. When you arrive in your new flat, start creating your home with your room. Make it a place that invigorates your spirit. Make a space that you’re excited to wake up in, not go to sleep in (although that is very important as well).
Even though Southern California was an incredible place to grow up and I had a wonderful childhood…for the most part, I still never felt a sense of home. The main reason being: I never felt like I fit in. Sure, I had wonderful friends, but I still felt like I was that one mysterious screw that was still leftover even after the desk from Ikea had been finished. So for me, the places that give me the biggest identification of a “home” are places where the people are completely free and encouraged to be themselves, places like: London, Amsterdam, Berlin, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York.
I blamed my location for my feelings of misplacement rather than looking inward. Even though I found a group that didn’t just welcome me, but embraced me, encouraged me, and celebrated me, I hadn’t yet learned how to fully embrace myself and placed those feelings of discontentment on my surroundings. Now that I’m almost a fully realized human being, I am excited to start a new chapter in Los Angeles. I’m finally excited to create a home.
Much love & many adventures,