Open House: A Life in 32 Moves

I fan-emailed the author Jane Christmas yesterday. Upon reflection, I realized rather unbelievably that I’d never done that before—sent fan mail…I had not even written an author a letter. Imagine the thrill when I woke up this morning to the joy and delight that she had written back! In addition to a longer thoughtful commentary on what I’d sent, she asked very simply if I would consider writing a review of her book to help promote it. Many of her regular outlets for such publicity have vanished with the advent of the stay-at-home orders in place around the globe.

The best review I can offer is to say why it is that I wrote to her in the first place.

I found Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves by Jane Christmas, on the display just across from the register at Bookmark, my local independent book seller and one of my favourite places. The title alone prompted me to pick it up. I too have moved quite frequently over my life and the characteristic invites questions—Why so many moves? Where? With whom? How did they go? Flipping the book and reading the back, I was confident that these questions would get answered. Ten pages in, I knew they’d be answered with a dose of humour and good storytelling.

There was another question, though—one that was more of quiet wonder born of a deeper personal knowing—Will this go further? Will she reflect on how moving so often has shaped her? I was curious how someone else would write about that piece of lived truth…because I know that it has certainly shaped me…and left me with both grace and challenge. Jane Christmas does indeed reflect on that, especially toward the end of Open House. I was grateful for the larger tour through the geography and architecture of her thirty-two moves and especially glad to conclude with time spent in what felt like the most comfortable room of all…where one might muse with depth and ease and shared, thoughtful, quiet. The succinct clarity of her expression brought a strange relief to this nomadic soul and led to my own reflection, which I shared in the email I sent and which I share here below.

P. 279, Open House. “Moving a lot and having people enter and exit my life have muted sentimentality. On another level, however, I work very hard to resist that attitude. I do want to feel rooted, I do want to belong. To feel otherwise does not sit well with me. Still, at this stage, I feel stuck somewhere in the middle, and I wonder what it would take for me to topple fully into one camp or another.”

Well, thank you, Jane Christmas, for putting so clearly and succinctly what I have walked with for years. It is a strange relief to see this in print and say OH! Someone who understands! I also find myself wondering about the distinction—if indeed there is one—between belonging and pertaining. I somehow think that yes, there is a difference…one that relates to why I have leaned toward ‘pertain’ for years rather than ‘belong.’ To whom do I pertain? Who are my people? The question of place is trickier. I think of it in terms of the geography outside meshing—or not—with the landscape of my inside. What external geography—with all of its influences on culture, social norms, etc—allows me, with my own internal geography that has been shaped by time, circumstance, personality, experience, etc., to most fully Be me? What allows for bloom and flourish? There something here too about transparency… when the mesh happens, in some sense it’s as though windows open to let air pass through rather than living with the outside air pushing against the glass. Opening the windows, barriers are lowered, not removed. One becomes a part of the external, a constructive, distinctive part that gives it shape and flavour. I think removing all barriers, distinctions, feels somehow like becoming absorbed by a geography…it’s perhaps a giving over of one’s role or responsibility…responsibility to the integrity of the self and the enrichment of the whole. And that giving over…at this point, I am pretty sure I am incapable of doing, even if that means never knowing what it means ‘to belong’ in the traditional sense.

Which somehow connects back to an earlier OH paragraph (p. 278)… “As is has turned out, home for my family is a moral construct that requires rigid internal scaffolding to support something achingly familiar and desired but entirely intangible.”

Thank you, Jane Christmas…Thank you for pairing understanding with expression. This nomadic soul is deeply grateful.

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