I moved around as a kid — Kansas, Kentucky, California, New York. In my two decades of nomadism, I learned two important things about myself.
First and foremost, I am a book person. A reader. While it was suspected from the moment I pulled my father’s Shakespeare volume off the shelf at an age when the volume weighed more than I did, this aspect of my being was crystalized between school years, after I moved and before I made friends. Books were a solace from loneliness, but they also became a bridge from one home to another.
Like many readers, the characters on the page became my friends, my allies, my enemies, my confidantes. But they also acted as my ambassadors. I may not have had shared personal memories with my new classmates, but I did have shared book memories. We could talk about books we had read for class, books we had read for fun, books we hadn’t read yet but wanted to. My ever-present novel (first Baby-Sitter’s Club books, later Anne Rice and any one of the Brontes) signaled to the other readers in the class I was a kindred spirit. (Many of those readers are still friends today.)
The second thing I learned is that having a place that is yours is essential to belonging. It doesn’t have to belong to you, but you need to feel at home there, safe.
As a child, my place was almost always outside, not far from the house, in nature. A crook of a tree by a creek, a clear patch behind some bushes in the side yard, the park near my house. A place I could still see the world but be alone with my thoughts. Sometimes I would journal there, but more often it was simply a place to think.
As an adult, my places have moved indoors. They’re less about thinking (that’s what the car and the gym and mass transit are for) and more about places I can read and write by myself without being physically alone.
So now that I am in Chicago (a journey of eight years and a million false starts I’ll talk about some other time), I’m looking for that place.
Today, I checked out Uncommon Ground at the corner of Clark and Grace. It’s warm and bright. It serves food, coffee and booze. It’s a five-minute walk from my apartment. They didn’t balk at my wanting to take a table even though I was sitting alone. I’ll admit the longer the new waitress ignores me (this is what I get for staying through shift changes), the faster this place is sliding down the list of places to call mine.
But there’s more to see and more to try, so while I’ll be blogging about the books I’m reading, I can’t help but also talk about the places I go and the people I meet along the way. I hope you enjoy coming with me on the journey.