How To Keep Yourself Grounded When Writing Away From Home

Editor’s note: this post was originally featured on this blog in 2011. New posts on the C2C will return on January 6th, 2014.

When I left home for college at the age of seventeen—having never lived away from home longer than maybe a week or two—I remember feeling strange. (I had moved six hours north of my home, Southern California, to Northen California.)

On my first day at my college dining hall, I remember laughing nervously and telling my roommate (whom I had just met a few minutes prior) that for the first time in my life I was in a room where I knew absolutely no one.

And I wasn’t exaggerating, either.

On my first day of Middle School I remember seeing people who I had known since Elementary School. On my first day of High School I remember seeing people who I had known since Middle School.

But, on my first day of college life in that dining hall, I saw no one I’d ever met before. No one. Seventeen years of nourishing friendships and creating a place that felt like home had been lost—and I had to start all over again from scratch.

Why A House Is Not Really A Home

My first year away from home was so… disorienting. Even though I lived in the dorms on campus, and had made some new friends, I still didn’t feel at home. I was in a physical place—a “house”—but I still did not inhabit that abstract place that we all fondly refer to as “home.”

I thought that a house was what made a home, and that no house could ever feel as much like home as the house I grew up in.

But, by the end of my second year in college, to my great surprise, my college campus became my new home. After two years of living there, I felt very comfortable. I had a group of close friends who had become like a second family to me. The routines, the rituals, the sights, the smells, and the sounds of the place now came together to create a home I could call my own. Even the cooler, crisp weather of Northern California was inviting to me.

New locations now anchored a sense of home for me. A windy afternoon at Half-Moon Moon Bay. The seals issuing their whining protests at Fisherman’s Warf. The melodious groan of the bells coming from Hoover Tower. The Christmas lights shining on the trees that lined the small city of Palo Alto.

My new house had finally become my new home.

Then time passed.

When I graduated, I moved back to the region I grew up in, and was surprised to find that my old “house” of Southern California no longer felt like home.

It was as if I had moved back to a strange, alien planet. My old “house,” Southern California, was smoggier than I remembered it. It was harder to breathe. The traffic was worse, too. The weather was much more dry and hot. Less windy. And it took more than thirty minutes to visit the nearest friend or family member.

I hated it. I longed for the home I had worked four years to create in Northern California.

Then time passed again.

Today, four years later, Southern California has become my home again.

There are new locations that anchor a sense of home for me here. A cool evening staring at the ghostly silhouette of the Queen Mary. The cars honking as I make my way to Downtown. The fireworks that sparkle and fly over Disneyland Park at night. The rich, delicious taste of a hamburger patty in between two waffles at a hole-in-the-wall in Orange, CA.

I found that my old home, having lost its “home essence” once, could be made my home again.

That’s when I learned that “home” is not a physical place, but an abstract, hard-to-explain feeling that is always with me, and that comes alive whenever I fan its flames.

Through the entire, strange process of finding what “home” means to me, I’ve learned that a house is not really a home and that a home is really only what we make of it.

How to Keep Yourself Grounded When Writing Away From Home

Sometimes writers must write away from home, and so I think it’s reassuring to remember that the “home” we create is not really a physical space. A home is something that is anchored in routines and rituals. A home is also the people we love and interact with on a daily basis. Finally, a home is the sounds, smells, tastes, and sights that give us comfort.

If you’re writing away from home and you’re feeling homesick, I recommend doing the following:

  • Have a framed picture of your family and friends in your room. Use this to represent the fact that you are carrying these loved ones with you. (Your loved ones, not a physical place, are really what make a house a home.)
  • Make sure to call friends and family regularly so you can hear their voice and be reminded of home. If you can, try to visit your family and friends often to reconnect with them and so that you can feel that sense of home. Then take that sense of home back with you to your new location, so you can keep that feeling alive.
  • Recreate the rituals or routines that you used to engage in while you were at home. These rituals could be the food you prepared and ate at home, or the certain smells of home, or the objects that were laid out at your home. (For example: maybe your parents, or your partner, always had incense burning in the house and you always found the smell to be very pleasant. Recreate that fragrant ritual at your new location.) Engage in these rituals often and reconnect with objects that remind you of home on a regular basis so that you never feel like you’re uprooted.
  • Create new rituals and routines at your new location. As soon as you make new friends, or create a new family, create new rituals and routines with them. (For example: you can go visit a local coffee shop every weekend. Or you can go to the beach every other weekend.) These routines and rituals start to establish a new feeling of home for you and help keep you grounded at your new location.
  • Anchor yourself in the sights, smells, and sounds of your new location. Start to familiarize yourself with your new location and see if you can’t find sights, smells, and sounds that appeal to you. Look for popular local hangouts in your area that you might enjoy visiting on a regular basis. Every place in the world has its own magical pockets that can offer up a sense of home to visitors and strangers. Go searching for these magical pockets so that you can anchor yourself in new places, sights, sounds, and smells that give you great comfort. Who knows? Your new house could soon become your new home.

much “home is where the love is,”

Ollin

Today’s Courage Exercise

Realize that a house is not a home, and start the hard work of making a proper home out of your house.

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2 comments on “How To Keep Yourself Grounded When Writing Away From Home

  1. Rae says:

    Well, finding this a few days late, but ah well.

    I’m currently in the position of getting ready to move to a college out of town. I’ve been attending a local college for a year and a half, living at home with my family. Like you, I too have never lived away from them for more than a couple of weeks at this stage. I’m currently debating the pros and cons of dorm life vs. my own apartment, and whether or not I want a roommate.

    I keep a brave face, but to be honest, I’m terrified. Not so much about the leaving, but about the being in a strange place where I know absolutely no one.

    Still, reading about others who have gone through the same thing is calming, so I’m glad I stumbled over here. Cheers!

    -Rae

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