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December 6, 2012 - David Alexander
From the best I can recall, I have changed residence, on average, once a year since I was five years old. Perhaps, having been born in 1982, it is my lack of membership to either Generations X or Y that leaves me searching for this notion of “home” and feeling as though it is some mythical idea that doesn’t exist.
Home. Everyone uses the word at least on a daily basis, usually in relativistic terms— home as opposed to the grocery store, café or work. But there is a more transcendent idea on the table, a capital “H” home. It’s where the heart is. It’s where you can’t go again.
I am at an age where attending college at a belated and, like the majority of American men, having a proclivity for younger women have left me in the company of those of who have been dubbed Generation Y. Consequently, I have noticed a few things about them, about Gen Xers and about myself.
To me it seems that members of Generation Y possess a certain affinity for paternalism—be it simply strong family roots to downright being coddled. They revel in the adoring nest created and cultivated by their parents, and, when they stray too far from it for too long, an irrational anxiety sets in and devastates their emotional well-being. Affectively, that affinity has created a silver cord between them and the place they call Home, that, if severed by time or distance, depletes their soul’s fortitude.
Many people I have met, people in their 20s, people most would consider adults, still refer to their parents houses as Home. They use it without so much as a second thought as to its context, e.g., “I am going Home for the summer.” I used to scold my wife for her interchangeable use of the word because of its ambiguity. “Home can’t both be our house and your parents’ house! Pick one and stick with it!” I would say.
I failed then, and still do fail in fact, to acknowledge or even grasp this idea of the Home that so many hold dear. It seems to be something so visceral that it defies explanation. It’s intuitive, instinctual. You either have it, and you understand its complexity. Or you don’t.
This idea of the invisible silver cord connecting a generation to their parents, to some idyllic space is almost counter intuitive when contrasted with the observation that their predecessors, Gen Xers, tend to be fiercely independent people.
Either way, generation aside, I still can’t help but notice that, whether a person is an independent Gen Xer or a pampered Gen Yer, they still hold in their hearts an idea of home that seems as foreign to me as the words “perfect” or “Truth.”
To be sure, this idea is a philosophy. It is a feeling. It’s a commitment to a time when they belonged to a loving family that nurtured them. The tangible Home is nothing more than an artifact of that nostalgia. It is simply an embodiment of memories: “Here’s where my height is marked on the wall … I fell down those stairs bringing mom and dad breakfast in bed … Remember when the dog peed on the Christmas tree!? The stain is still on the carpet.”
Circumstances in my life have kept me constantly moving, like a shark prowling the ocean. I can’t say this has been deliberate especially considering at the age when an idea of Home would solidify in the mind like Jell-O in the fridge, I was unable to decide where I would live. However, nor was this constant movement born, as many people have surmised, out of some familial tumult. Instead, it was a byproduct of sheer coincidence.
Nonetheless, when a person bounces around from place to place and continually rotates the lineup of family members with whom they live, it tends to, at least in my case, foster this sense of being disenfranchised with the idea of a Home. For instance, at various times during my childhood the people with whom I lived included me and at least one, but up to eight, of the following people:
My mother My father My sister Amy My brother Jasen My brother Robert My brother Adam My uncle Bill My mom’s ex-boyfriend Dell My aunt Pam My aunt Rhonda My “uncle” Scott My cousin Cody My uncle Curt My grandma My grandma’s ex-boyfriend Mark My mom’s ex-boyfriend Ed My aunt Judy My cousin Sabrina
This extensive list only includes people who actually lived in the same house or apartment as me. There are at least another dozen or so people who I lived with on weekends. Such a litany of characters and locations left me constantly redefining the parameters of home and family to the point where I began to feel that they are so malleable and subjective as to be arbitrary.
All this, I feel, has stifled in me an overarching sentimentality that is so prevalent among my peers. While I am far from a nihilist, I do not hold arbitrary allegiances predicated on some collective history or location.
I am all too aware that this rant seems like an existential longing for a place to belong. It isn’t. In fact, I contend that my loss of sentimentality amid a generational milieu that gives rise to it has given me a level of contentment I have never before experienced. I do not ache for an allegorical place or time that comforts me because I hold no such time or place. I do not put all my eggs in one basket so to speak.
Sentimentality is a byproduct of loyalty, not a symptom of it.
Nostalgia has become a disease. It has mutated into something that connotes a system of symbols used in place of actual sentiment, instead of the profound emotional resonance the word is actually meant to describe. We use these symbols as relics of the feeling they evoked at the time they were relevant to us, to view the things dear to us through rose-tinted glasses.
It's intended effect is to describe an experience that ripples throughout our life, one that we return to again and again because it has changed us as a person. However, instead of this, this newly morphed idea of nostalgia settles in and keeps us looking backward instead of forward, longing for a time we have idealized so much that nothing lives up to it. In fact, in typical post-modern fashion, it has evolved so much that we have even begun to use symbols for the symbols, thereby muting the idea further.
And it begins early with every group that reaches maturity. It stunts emotional maturity. One only need to look at the droves Gen Xers (your narrator included) draped in T-shirts bearing the visage of retro video games to convinced of this.
But this is not to dismiss the notion of sentimentality. Just because something has sentiment, doesn’t necessarily make it sentimental, at least not in the pejorative sense of the word. Earlier, I wrote that this essay is not an existential soapbox to lament the absence of a place I call Home, and it isn’t. However, what it is, perhaps more than anything, is an attempt to understand those I consider peers.
I make no judgment of people who are sentimental; it’s just that sentimentality is often irrational. And when that idea is divorced from anything I can relate to and is senselessly irrational, it tend to reject it. So, while being without a Home doesn’t bother me, it has alienated me from many people with whom I associate.
While I maintain my preference for the way I view things, I am not one of those people who readily condemn my generation and act as though they have all gone mad. Quite the contrary. I feel about this the way gay people must feel about straight sex—I acknowledge that it is the status quo, but simply do not have an appetite for it. I doubt gay people loathe straight people any more than they view their own behavior as aberrant.
A lifestyle where I take comfort in the rational and logical will inevitably leave me somewhere on the fringe, alone with only the comfort of that rationale. It will leave me isolated from those I care about.
I lament that far more than I will ever bemoan the loss of some mythical Neverland.