Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

One Can Never Build Too Many Homes


I’m fortunate.

I have a home in San Francisco in the heart of what’s left of the Mission with 15 eccentric, good-hearted folks-as-family in a 10-year-old anarchist collective space, even if it’s facing imminent eviction at some uncertain point.

I have a home in my childhood town in what’s left of mid-Michigan with old family friends who are now chosen family in a wonderfully chaotic, warm house filled with kids, dogs, and fireflies let free from jars in the kids’ rooms as well as a quirky, sweetly social assisted living community, even though I’m watching my 85-year-old second mom begin her precarious hobble toward death at some unclear time.

I have a home that’s about people who perpetually have my back in this life, and me theirs, with the tenderest, truest of support in the persons of my bio-sister in Wisconsin and cousin-sisters in Cleveland, Atlanta, and sometimes a secluded retreat in the woods of northern Michigan, even though I’ve lost other family members, most particularly both of my bio-parents last year.

I have home in the empathetic words and actions of women friends of all ages, many of them genderqueer, anarchist, and/or feminist, many of the people in the homes mentioned above, and many others spread in numerous cities across this continent, who all know what it means to be strong and smart and vulnerable, to be themselves against all the odds, to find joy and purpose, to care so deeply it hurts yet it also gives life qualitative meaning, even though they’ve nearly all experienced too much pain, trauma, abuse, and violence, too often at the hands of men, who too often disappointed, ill treated, or disappeared on me when least expected.

I have a home in my wordsmithing, because it most lets me be me, even though high-technological changes mean that people increasingly don’t linger with words of any length or depth, so those missives may only be messages in bottles washing up on abandoned shores.

Then, too, I spy home in the silences, sounds, sights, and smells of the nonhuman world, or what we call nature. In noticing the little things. In the awe and wonder of it, in the magic and mystery.

I have homes in social struggles and movements, neighborhood organizing, autonomous projects, good fights and lost causes, large and small, all aimed at striving to make us misfits feel at home in a world that doesn’t want to house (or anything else) most of us, especially anymore, even though we do indeed lose too much ground, too frequently, with a sorrow that feels heavier with each defeat.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve lost nearly everything that one uses to define oneself, or what’s supposed to make life worth living — partner, houses, cat, community, other chosen families and more friends than I care to tally, money, bikes and eyeglasses, possessions and keepsakes, security, projects, political faith, inner compass, hope, and trust, to supply a list that could be even longer, especially adding in death and grief, not to mention my mind. I seem to be able to carry all I need and want in a backpack, and be at home — and equally, not at home — anywhere and everywhere, without needing to know what’s ahead. I’d like many of the elements above in my life again — or so I think — but I’m also not the same person. Loss and, most palpably, the many tables that the grim reaper knocks over while taking some of your loved ones away, changes everything, with a pronounced permanence. I’m a far better person for the multiple paring-downs that have occurred, in which all is laid bare, stripped and taken away from you, and you have to rebuild from near scratch. Or so I thought. But while I still can’t find my compass, I’ve discovered that when all is said and done, when all is gone and dead, one discovers the core of who one is, the goodness below all the busyness and artifice and “things” we label ourselves with and grasp on to for dear life. No one may see that goodness except for you, yet it becomes crystal-clear beautiful, an enveloping hug of self-love that holds tight and won’t let go of you, even when one reaches abysses and feels all alone, or scared, depressed, or anxious.

We carry our hearts with us, but also our homes, whether we move around or not, whether we’re the only ones inhabiting those gorgeous spaces, reveling in the pleasure of our own company and curiosity and care, or whether others choose to walk toward and with us on this journey that’s about building homes for all, always — as process, not as some finished product or fortress.

This evening, after a short flight from Michigan and caretaking that took care of me too, I took a luxuriously long stroll through familiar, tree-lined city streets that feel like Europe yet are in a place called Canada and, before that, many indigenous peoples’ lands. Tonight, with a big and bright moon rising above the small balcony off the rear of a borrowed big and quiet apartment, surrounded by tiny and well-tended urban gardens overflowing with flowers, including healing ones, with sounds of soft French-speaking voices wafting through the perfect summer-cool air, I have a home in Montreal again, even though the ubiquitous red squares of the 6-month Quebec student strike of my summer 2 years ago here are gone from the visual landscape, even though I may not be up to my own aspiration of making this month a creative, prolific writer’s retreat for myself, a gift, with the mutual aid of kind friends and acquaintances who are opening up their homes to me while they are away.

I’ve no idea where I will land, or if I ever will. Capitalism makes that harder and harder these days. It steals at an astonishing rate. It displaces. It destroys ecosystems that, in turn, take lives through new extreme weather disasters and new debilitating as well as deadly diseases. But I’m pretty sure I’m headed in the right direction for whatever future is left to me and others. I’m following what my intuition and body are telling me, meaning I’m following my heart, which always leads to all sorts of home ports, even though storms appear here and there, and with more good winds, to caring people and communities. Or more to the point, we should aspire to make everyone fortunate.

To quote myself from Paths toward Utopia (a collaborative book project with artist Erik Ruin, on PM Press):

“We hold hands, desiring to traverse anew. When darkness descends, we build campfires from the embers of possibility, & see other flames in the distance.”

*  *  *

Addendum from yesterday evening, in East Lansing, Michigan, another brief musing on home:

This is what I’d forgotten and remembered.

That tending to care with dignity for someone in the final chapter of their life only expands what you thought love feels like. Which also means it expands the ache your heart will be capable of at some later, or sooner, date.

And that such love means listening to the many nonchalant truths that are handed back to you from women whose bodies are failing them, without letting on how much such words tighten the anxiety in your jaw or tear along the grain of your already-frayed fabric, without contradicting, because they know what’s ahead and can face it with head held high. Dignity is you, too, holding on to courage, yours and theirs.

Like when you’ve just finished moving your 85-year-old second mom into her safer new space, all set up as cozy as can be, but leanly, with the best mementoes of her lifetime — something you did for your first mom barely 10 months ago in the same building, before she died soon after — and she says to you, looking squarely in your eye with not a hint of self-pity, yet an abundance of affection: “This room is so wonderful, so perfect. I’m so grateful. It’s my last home.”

*  *  *

I’d love for you to continue to read my wordsmithing. Sign up to receive notices when I post to my blog, Outside the Circle, cbmilstein.wordpress.com. Enjoy, share, reprint, post, tweet . . . as long as it’s free as in “free beer” and “freedom.”

(Photo by Cindy Milstein, medicinal flowers that also heal by their mere presence in urban nooks and crannies, Montreal, July 10, 2014.)



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This entry was posted on July 10, 2014 by in Dispatches from Life.
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