it’s -not- what I did on my summer vacation

(We had to contribute a writing sample as part of today’s orientation activities. I figured I might as well share it with you, since heaven knows when I’ll have breathing room again today-!)

In the course of one’s life, there are times of great joy and abundance, and times of great loss. Describe how one such time changed your way of looking at the world.

I have an abundance of “from.”

Though I’ve lived in Austin for nearly 30 years, before that I moved frequently. To Houston from suburban Pittsburgh, from Louisville KY, from greater Washington, D.C., from Athens GA — Bloomington IN — Tallahassee FL. I moved so frequently that remaining at one home for three years always came as a surprise. Doesn’t everyone shrug off lost items with an, “Oh well, we’ll find it when we pack next” ?

Yet my parents — particularly my mother — framed each move as an adventure. If we were shifting across town: here’s a new bedroom, freshly decorated! If we were changing cities: here’s a wealth of new things to see, new experiences to try, and new local foods to eat! Each location unfolded idiosyncratic treasures, to be cherished because we had not encountered them before, and because experience had shown we likely would not again.

I might have been born with itchy feet; travel-love may have been imprinted in me from birth. But this upbringing of delight and exploration has, in my adult life, flowered into a joy in hearing others’ experiences of place as well as myself encountering as many and varied places as my husband and I can manage to visit. I prefer to spend at least a week anywhere, and to go about on foot or public transit, so I can squeeze as much “local-ness” as possible before circumstances pull me away.

The adventures of place have shaped me profoundly. I am accustomed to, as I now see it, hold the new in an open hand. When one has recently moved to a new community, one knows nothing: not where to get groceries, not who can fix a car well, not who is friendly or unfriendly. And no amount of studying, questioning, or tooth-gritting “I’ve got this!” can hasten the day when the new community feels comfortable. It takes two years to know a city, my mother has always said. So I rest in my in-between feelings, knowing them to be neither good nor bad, but merely true. In the in-between one can still discover the special qualities surrounding one, and come to learn the particularities of this place. Each place has its goodness, and offers its own blessings, if one lets the place unfold them.

I am “from” a lot of places. I am shaped b y the classic Deep South, the borderlands of the Civil War, the industrial North, and the cultural hybrid that is the huge state of Texas. Each place has molded my persona even as it’s given me a taste for its cuisine. I miss all the places I’m from. And despite that — and because of it — I cherish this place I’ve called home since 1990. In my abundance of places, I’m always home.

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