Home from the Sea

This be the verse you grave for me;
“Here he lies where he longed to be,
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.”

No, I’m not dying — of course not, even though the verse I started with comes from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem he wrote as his own epitaph. It’s on his gravestone in Samoa. But that was the verse that came to me the other day, when I realized that I had been on ten airplanes this summer, and that I was now home for a while. Well, until the end of the month, but I won’t be going too far again until next summer. All my travel will be up and down the east coast.

In May, I flew to Budapest for two weeks, then I went to London to do research for the novel I’m working on, then by train to Penzance and Marazion, then by plane again from Newquay to Dublin, then train and bus across Ireland to Dingle, where I taught for a week. Then I flew from Shannon to Budapest, passing once again through the banal horrors of Heathrow. London was interesting and overwhelming as usual, Cornwall was a beautiful adventure, I loved Dublin, which reminded me of Budapest, and Dingle was work but also fun. And then Budapest again, city of my heart, where I belong probably more than anywhere else on this earth.

But do I actually belong anywhere? I feel as though I don’t know the answer to that question yet.

From Budapest I flew back to Boston, but went almost immediately by train to Portland, Maine, and across the bay to Peaks Island for a week, and once I got home from the island, I flew across the country to San José for WorldCon. As of Thursday, I’m back in Boston again — for a while.

Perhaps it’s because I spent my entire childhood moving around that I often feel more at home living out of a suitcase than in my own apartment, with my books and music and art. Here are the places I lived as a child: Budapest where I was born, Debrecen (I’m not sure how long, but not longer than a couple of years), Budapest again until we left the country, then Milan for six months, Brussels for a year and a half where I went to first grade, Philadelphia where I repeated first grade in English, Maryland where I skipped forward to third grade. We moved between fifth and sixth grades, then moved again for seventh grade, and then for eight grade in Virginia (so I went to three different schools in three years). Ninth grade was in California, tenth through twelfth back in Virginia, so the longest I went to any school, the longest I lived in any one place continuously, was three years. Honestly, it was a relief going to college for four whole years in a row. That was in Charlottesville, and then I moved to Boston for another three years, to attend law school. Then a year in New York, and then back to Boston, where I stayed for graduate school . . . and here I am. Except that I keep going away as often as possible.

When does the sailor come home from the sea? What is home, anyway?

I know what the sea is . . . I saw it from both sides this summer. I walked in the Atlantic near the town of Marazion, crossing the causeway to St. Michael’s Mount before the tide had entirely gone down. And I knelt beside it on Peaks Island, picking up snail shells and small stones from the tidal pools. It’s a gentler ocean near Cornwall. In Maine, it’s notorious for its temper tantrums, its storms.

I feel like the sailor, always setting out for a new horizon. I feel like the hunter, although I’m not entirely sure what I’m hunting or what lies beyond the next hill. I’m searching for something, and I know neither what it is nor whether I’ll find it. And so I keep departing, with a suitcase and a laptop bag, and a purse that I bought in an airport, which has pockets for a passport and the different tickets and passes I need to use public transportation in five different cities. Maybe eventually, when I die, the right epitaph for my tombstone will be something like “She’s not here either.”

Someday, I will probably have to settle down somewhere. I just don’t know where that place is yet. I’m still searching for something to tell me where home is . . .

In many ways, it has been a miracle of a summer. I’ve been to the most wonderful places, met the most fascinating people. I’ve sat on top of a cliff on Great Blasket Island watching the seagulls and butterflies, writing (not very good) poetry. I’ve written two fairy tales (both on airplanes), which will be published in a collection next year. I’ve had my second novel come out, and revised the third. I’ve talked to professors and writers and critics, old friends and new ones.

Now that I’m back, I feel a terrible sense of restlessness, of longing. I don’t yet lie where I long to be . . . If it were up to me, I’d be off again. But there are duties and responsibilities here, at least for a while. I don’t think it’s going to be like this always. I think I will eventually find the place I’m looking for. I just don’t know where, or when, or with whom — not yet.

I’m home from the sea. Just not permanently.

(Sitting on a wall in Marazion, looking across to St. Michael’s Mount.)

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6 Responses to Home from the Sea

  1. Fran says:

    I love this post so much. I hear you so very much.

  2. Patrick Murphy says:

    A picture fit for your good life. Hope you have a long life, and lots of adventures, and great pictures.

  3. Such an interesting article and maybe you will never quite know what you are searching for. Maybe it is just the adventure of it all. I loved the small piece by Robert L. Stevensen Some years ago my son, who was quite young visited Western Somoa, and climbed up the mountain where Robert was buried. We sat there high up amongst the clouds and read what he had said upon his final resting place. It was quite an experience and I felt an honour to have been able to have found his grave. His house was huge and painted white. It was two story and had lots of verandas. I could have, if I had been prepared, stayed and taught there for a couple of years but, alas I was unprepared. The island was full of waterfalls, was extremely hot and sticky and subject to monsoons. An entirely different climate to New Zealand. Again, I enjoyed your article.

  4. emily says:

    That’s a beautiful sight!

    Slight bed bug PTSD has left me more wary of bed hopping . . .

    What is it about traveling that makes us crave it? Is it because it is by definition not home? And is that what defines home, the place we want to leave even though it is comfortable? Home is where I don’t have to worry about bed bugs.

  5. PV says:

    The recent coverage and retrospectives of the late US Senator John McCain reminds me that until his involuntary stay at the Hanoi Hilton (during the Vietnam war) that when he was young he moved around a lot due to his father’s assignments by the Navy and then his own Navy career. This is something that I can easily relate to since my dad was in the State Department when I was young and we rarely stayed at any duty post for more than two years. Though I have lived in Spokane, WA for over 45 years (with nine months in Los Angeles in my attempt at grad school at USC in 1983), it is far from a settled answer about where home is and how connected you are to it. It would seem that the late Senator McCain, Theodora and I have moved a lot when young (though Senator McCain eventually considered Arizona home) while for me the question is does where I am become home by default and how connected in order for someplace to feel like home? (Even after careful reading of Theodora’s blog post, I am not going to try send guess if Boston is her home or not.)

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