As I’m sitting in an airport for the fifth time in two weeks, I’m thinking about the idea of home and what it means to have a home. The flux of “home” as a college student has really caused me to adjust my personal definition of the word to better suit its current purpose in my life. College, at least for me, is funny for the concept of home because I live in a dorm but I also haven’t really moved out of my home in Florida. And my dorm feels like a home but I’m reminded of my own impermanence in its existence when I put everything I own in boxes at the end of every year and move into a new dorm. And I say, “I’m going home,” when I visit my family in Florida but I also say, “I’m going home,” when I return to Providence. My phone’s algorithm, coincidentally, is equally confused about where home is for me, and has called my Florida house, my dorm, several friends’ dorms, the library, and (most recently and perhaps most appropriately) the dance studio my home. So it’s a squirrelly definition.
I’ve known Florida wouldn’t be any kind of forever home for me since I was whereabouts ten years old and declared that I would be going to college out of state. Even before this, Florida felt notionally wrong, though I had no words for it at the time. I still can’t really explain to you why it feels wrong, other than the political climate and career options there tried to fit me into boxes that I couldn’t, and didn’t want to, fit in. The older I got, the more out of place I felt in a place supposed to be my “home” and by the time I was getting ready to graduate high school I was so ready to be literally anywhere else that the closest to home I applied to college was Maryland. But still, I call Florida home. I’ve been going home less and less frequently and for shorter periods of time, but I still say I’m going home. At what point do I stop living there? When does that not become a home anymore, especially when I’ve felt out of place there for as long as I can remember?
Partially, Florida as at least a makeshift home has to do with my various attachments to the place. My immediate family lives there, and though I hate Florida I love seeing them. I still have ties to my high school dance studio and my high school friends, and I have to go to my Florida home to see them. These attachments are very important to me and certainly aren’t going away anytime soon, but they also don’t make this environment a home. They don’t negate the feeling of being out of place. So while I will continue to go visit for the sake of these attachments, and I will still have ties to Florida, these ties will never be associated with a feeling of home in the ways other places have been and will continue to be.
The longer I spend in the northeast and the longer I’m away from Florida, the more cognizant I become of the fact that these attachments, while critically important to me, do not define a home. I feel as though I’ve been asymptotically approaching the idea of home for the past several years: when I first moved to Providence from Florida, I thought it was the best place ever (to be clear, I still love PVD) and I never wanted to leave. The longer I live here, the more I realize that while it’s a lovely place to be and it fits a lot of my needs, there are places that will suit my future better than this. And I’m sure that as I get older, I’ll continue to asymptotically approach the feeling of an ideal home. It seems like a rather unattainable standard, but I think the important thing is to continuously be somewhere that allows me to grow and lets me continue to feel like I have a place where I can take up space.
Recently, one of my professors asked my class to envision and state something that embodied home for us, and in true dance nerd fashion I responded, “Unsurprisingly, a dance studio.” There isn’t a traditional definition of the word “home” out there in which it makes sense for me to live in my dance studio. I don’t sleep there (though to be honest, I’ve contemplated), I don’t have a bed or food or a number of other basic amenities associated with a home in the dance studio. But, as corny as it sounds, this is a place where I take up space. I’ve made a lot of my most important friendships in college here, had a lot of important revelations here, and I feel at home here, even if it doesn’t have any of the traditional amenities associated with that notion. This obviously has a lot to do with the experiences I associate with the place, but I also think that for me it has a lot to do with the ways that I learn and grow. Embodied knowledge, and specifically knowledge through dancing, has lately become the best way that I know how to learn. And the dance studio is a place where this is super acceptable.
So maybe my faulty phone algorithm is onto something. The fact that I’m willing to spend enough of my time in a place that I don’t actually live in for my phone to classify it as my “home” speaks volumes. And it also shows that home isn’t as simple as the place that you return to at night. At the very least, my phone is a poetic technological failing that speaks to how much of a dance nerd I am. I happily ascribe to calling my studio my home, even if only in the most liberal sense of the definition, because I really do feel at home here. It’s been the place throughout my time at college where I have consistently felt like I belonged, and that is perhaps a more powerful thing than a bed and basic amenities in the way of defining a home.