By Jane M.
In 8th grade, I decided to go to boarding school for high school. I went where one of my brothers went, St. Andrew’s-Sewanee in Tennessee. The next four years were spent letting go of the things I had pretended to like, and beginning to come to terms with who I am without worrying what that means to other people. I was around open-minded people with similar interests for the first time in my life, and that felt rather freeing to me. Boarding school is strange because it can start to feel like a home really quickly, and having lived in the same house-like dorm for the majority of my four years there, I felt an intense connection that I never felt with the two houses I had lived in in Destin. I felt so comfortable in a place, and that feeling fostered a way for me to feel comfortable with myself, too.
In the fall of 2010, when I was a junior at SAS, Arcade Fire and Chris Milk released an interactive video project for the song “We Used To Wait,” entitled “The Wilderness Downtown.” I was taking a mixed media class at the time, and became so ridiculously obsessed with this video that I based a midterm project off of it. The song was one of my favorites from The Suburbs, and interacting with it through this project made me irrationally emotional. Milk and AF essentially worked with the technology of Google Maps to create a completely personal experience based on the viewer’s childhood home. Instinctively, the first time I participated, I entered in 290 Quintard Road, the address of my school. Seeing the images integrated into the story of the song reinforced my affinity for the place. I then entered the addresses of the two homes where I had lived in Destin, and I felt nostalgic for Destin in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. Seeing the roads leading up to my first driveway and elementary school in the context of a song about places and people changing made me appreciate Destin for what it was, and myself for my relationship with it. I could write a letter to my former self, and I could feel the distance between the stages of my life closing. It allowed me to visualize and participate in this necessary detachment while conjuring memories of childhood before life got complicated and home felt confusing.
Two years post high school graduation, I have turned back to the video multiple times to remind myself that I can appreciate Sewanee as a home without relying on it. This idea is hard to swallow when senior year at SAS is entirely focused on finding a “sense of place.” Sure, Sewanee made me confused about where my home was, but it also taught me the broader implications of the idea, and that it doesn’t have to exist solely in one place. I have come to understand that the sense of place doesn’t necessarily have to be the place where I learned that phrase and its meaning. Every time I go to Sewanee, people ask me if it feels like home, and it does, but I don’t have a room in my dorm anymore. When I come to Destin, people ask me the same thing because I left so early, and my answer is constantly changing. Sometimes these places feel like home and sometimes they don’t. However, I know that they were at certain points, and in that way, they always will be homes whether I care to admit it or not. Perhaps most fittingly, when I typed in my first address yesterday, I was reminded that it no longer really exists. I was met with updated Google Maps images of an unfamiliar house with palm trees replacing the oak trees, and an ugly brick disaster built by some douchebag from Louisiana looking for a second home. I wanted to run away like the character in the video and write a letter to my parents that said “don’t’ sell this home.” I closed my computer and went to sleep in their new house with my golden retriever, just like I would have in the old house. Things change, and homes change. Ultimately, I think the concept of home in the modern world is convoluted, impermanent, and reliant on people, not places. I also think my frustration about the nature of the place where I grew up led me to another home, and graduating from that place made me move on to New York, where I feel more at home than ever before, even though it’s not as familiar as Destin and it’s not always nurturing like Sewanee. And when I’m confused about home, there’s always Arcade Fire.