Something I’ve learned over the last decade is that I have a very different relationship to place than many - perhaps even most - people.
I come by it honestly. In my nuclear family growing up, each of us had a slightly different accent, shaped by our respective journeys. My dad’s is Dutch; my mother’s was American; my sister and I sit in different places along the British-to-American spectrum, and have fluctuated along that axis throughout our lives.
Parts of my family ancestry moved by force: concentration camps in Indonesia and pogroms in Ukraine. But even on the theoretically more stable sides of my family, my forebears typically decided to move around a bunch. Even within the bounds of my own history, my childhood was spent in the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Austria, and the United States.
When I came along, a tiny zygote interrupting a life among the political activists of 1970s Berkeley, my parents decided to move to Europe. I’m sure it wasn’t exactly a no-brainer for them, but they were clear on their decision: they would prefer to have a child in Europe than the United States. That pattern continued throughout my childhood: we traveled for educational opportunities, and for work. It was a privileged existence in the sense that experiencing different cultures and living in different places is privileged; we didn’t have much money, and scraped to get by.
I’ve inherited that wanderlust, and I guess a sense of willingness to be somewhere new. There’s nothing wrong with its opposite - a desire to stay and grow roots, to be deeply settled - but that understanding didn’t come easily to me. There’s something almost genetic about not wanting to be in one place forever. There’s so much world out there!
I’m not at all jealous of the folks whose families have been in the same spot for generations. Again, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it feels like so much more might be possible. And I have to acknowledge that it’s a ridiculous stance, because so much of the traveling in my family history comes from trauma: it’s not so much that people just wanted to roam. They were forced out; their homes burned; their communities tortured and murdered. Perhaps there’s a virtue to be found in the resilience that’s a required outcome of that, but not so much in the act itself. These were atrocities.
And yet. I like to move.
The book covers a lot of the reasons that staying put is more healthy physically and psychologically than constantly moving. It also has a number of commonsense recommendations for establishing connections to the place you’re living. Like: walk or bike more, so you see things up close. Volunteer. Meet people. Learn the history. Do what people who live there do.
To me, settling has always felt like settling: coming to a compromise agreement with the world. I feel like I need to erase that chip in my brain, and I haven’t quite found the way to do it.
I would love to settle in the sense of finding a comfortable place to rest, and in the sense of putting down real roots. I have not yet found a way to feel okay with it.