"I Place Myself Among the Imports"

Editor’s Note: This column inaugurates a new feature in which contributor Jessa Crispin answers readers’ questions on life and love with her library as the ultimate arbiter.

I hate Seattle, but I also hate Ohio (where I grew up) and New York City (where I went to school) and Athens, Georgia (where my brother lives). Is it me? Also, how should I decide where to live next?


Oh, of course it’s you.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. But if at this point in your life you’re still looking for a place to call “home,” a place that makes you feel safe and snug, a place whose map is imprinted on the inside of your skull, well… Perhaps the more likely thing is that you’re one of us rootless types, one who feels she is just as connected to the hotel room she’ll occupy for 48 hours as the place of her birth.

The problem is that most books about drifters — your Beats, your bohemians, your nomads — don’t understand, or really get at, the longing that can come with someone without a permanent address. There are those who carry their homes along on their backs, and everything feels like a big adventure, but that’s not true for everyone. Rootless can sometimes feel homeless. Walking down the street in Berlin, eating pistachio gelato in the sunshine with a fellow expat friend and her new baby, we stopped at the street corner, she turned to me and said, “When you’re sitting at home, do you ever think to yourself, ‘I want to go home?’” “All the time,” I told her.

Elizabeth Hardwick moved from Lexington, Kentucky to New York City, and wrote one of the loveliest books about displacement there has ever been: Sleepless Nights. In it she writes:

“It is not true that it doesn’t matter where you live, that you are in Hartford or Dallas merely yourself. Also it’s not true that all are linked naturally to their regions. Many are flung down carelessly at birth and they experience the diminishment and sometimes the pleasant truculence of their random misplacement. Americans who are Germans, Germans who are Frenchmen… The stain of place hangs on not as a birthright but as a sort of artifice, a bit of cosmetic. I place myself among the imports, those jarring and jarred pieces that sit in the closet among the matching china sets.”

So wander freely, and see who you are and how that changes wherever you go. Maybe you’re secretly a Frenchman! Or a Swede or a Mongolian. Or parts of you are from different regions. When something resonates, even if it’s not in a perfect key, maybe set your bags down for a while, and see which part of yourself says, “Ah… here.”

If you’d like Jessa to ponder your question, write to “Kind Reader” at kindreaderbn@gmail.com.

Illustration by Thea Brine.