• Here’s the Story

    I wrote a book called The Forest for the Trees and it’s an advice book for writers. For four years, I blogged every day about the agony of writing and publishing, and the self loathing that afflicts most writers. A community of like-minded malcontents gathered and thus ensued a grand conversation. Now, the most popular posts are gathered in Greatest Hits ( a work in progress) Gluttons for punishment can scroll through the archives. If I've learned one thing about writers, it's this: we really are all alone. Love, Betsy
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Get Me Jesus On the Line

If you’ve been reading the blog for any length of time, you know that I like nothing more than to have a big fat pity party and invite all my friends.You know I like to wonder what life would have been like if I hadn’t been kicked out of film school, if I hadn’t fallen apart, if I had kept my eyes open when I kissed you. I try to understand why I didn’t make any sacrifices for my writing such as financial security, health insurance, a lifetime supply of remorse. Should we take the ferry or should we take the train? Did he just litter? Did you see that? I want to thank my parents, my sisters, the babysitter who got us stoned and taught us how to make Chex Mix. I want to be grateful for what I don’t have. I want to braid my counselor’s long dark hair again. If you went to my high school, you know a boy died there, you know the seniors paint the big rock out front, and that everyone is bored or maybe it’s just me. Is that a grey bear or a snowy owl? I saw my father in a tree. He wouldn’t look at me.

Can you or can you not go home?

75 Responses

  1. Quite a question as I sit here in my hometown for the first time in 10 years. Yes, but it’s never the same.

  2. The last time I went home they tried to charge us a cover to walk into a bar. In upstate New York. I repeat, upstate New York.
    We ended up at the dive we had always gone to that never changes and we drank pitchers proving that we hadn’t change as much as we had thought either.
    And yes, you are special.

  3. I never had a home. I lived in 23 different houses and went to 9 schools. (My father’s job). The only ‘constant-home’ I had was my grandmother’s house. Went there a few years ago and cried uncontrollably for the little girl who should have never tried to go back.

    Going home is like eating chili, the anticipation of it is mouth-watering but it looks like shit and makes you shit.

    • hmmmm…there’s a big rock in front of the local high school the seniors paint. Not sure if a boy died at the school but could it be…hmmmm …

    • Wry, I sometimes visit my mother’s hometown, and go to my Aunt’s house, where I spent time as a kid. It’s a little strange, and makes me think of people living in a cemetery. I pay my respects to the living and the dead, and don’t linger.

  4. Bobbi’s right. I tried to go home, but it wasn’t home anymore. At some point, I’d been away so long that I couldn’t shed what was different about me. And I couldn’t stop noticing the things about them that I hadn’t noticed before.

    • That’s exactly right. I moved two states away from ‘home,’ and have no desire to return. My parents are the only reason I do and my childhood home has shrunk to odd memories, even when I’m standing in it.

      • I know what you mean, Sarah. I don’t get back often, but when I do, I’m clearly a visitor. My parents don’t live in the house I grew up in so I’m especially aware of being a visitor in their house.

  5. No going home for me. I can occasionally return to the state where I grew up, but I can never return home.

    And I’m so very happy about that.

  6. seven years ago, i convinced my husband to buy the house i grew up in (from my dad). we gutted it from top to bottom and renovated every square foot…turning it into the home i wanted it to be when i was suffering through adolescence. then we sold it four years later. i called it the excavation of my personal history and saw my therapist regularly the entire time we lived there.

    • Someone, I forget who,(Teri?) said this would make a great book, Amy. I agree.

    • That’s really amazing, Amy; a very good story.

    • One of my favorite clients – who had married one of her late father’s business partners – purchased her parent’s home and hired me to completely renovate this very dated, but lovely older house. From takng a jack-hammer to the slab in the master bathroom to create the new room-sized shower, to hauling 2-ton rocks into the garden, this was a true, over-the-top project.They are extremely happy with their one-of-a-kind home and I am quite proud of the final results. Still, their zeal reminded me of some conquering army leveling the vanquished town’s fortress.

      • one of my favorite renovation projects while there was tearing down the vertical blinds that hung in the living room over the portrait window on the front of the house. (and i know this sounds completely ridiculous, but i didn’t get the metaphorical meaning of that until just now…i swear. i had always hated the color of the blinds–pale peach. i thought it was a color/texture thing. now, right now, i get it, why i hated them. so weird.)

    • Do it. Write it. It’s too good not to.

  7. When I was eighteen, I knew I was so fucking wonderful that any choice I made would have to be the right one. I was thirty five before I noticed someone who didn’t like me. This is my home. I made it.

  8. You cannot go home, Dorothy, so ditch the tacky ruby slippers. You’re stuck here in Oz with the rest of us–the shyster showman, the brainless security guard, the arthritic working stiff, the spineless hepcat who pisses himself silly, the bitch from hell who signs your paycheck, the bubble-headed bimbo who always has something prozac to say, the flying monkeys from accounting, and a village of really short people who are only too happy to send you on your way. But there’s a nice field of poppies you can lie down in and just sleep sleep sleep if you like. You and your little dog.

  9. Noo-no-no. That is a journey best left for when I am too feeble to remember most of the details. I eagerly left that city 30 years ago this April to follow a small twinkle of an idea, to abandon what had hurt, restricted and maltreated me; to finally step upon a path of my own choosing. Never-the-less, it took years to learn that focusing on what I have been able to surmount, modify, embrace and treasure leaves little energy for the hurtful situations and people of the past. I have been given more than my fair share of second chances and that great gift eclipses the occasional pangs of remorse.

  10. I consider going home sometimes. When I’m in pity party mode and everything that is far away glimmers. But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be that disco girl in a striped shirt anymore with puffy cheeks and Lady Di hair.
    So why go there.

  11. No, I can’t go home. After marrying a foreigner (an American), roaming the world,living in a number of poor countries, I no longer belong anywhere. Physically I can go back to the place that spawned me, Holland, but I’m a stranger there now.

  12. The old home isn’t mine now, and friends have left, or changed, or died. I’ve changed, and I’m most at home on the boat.Past and future are short there, and what matters most is not what has happened, but what is about to happen.

    The log says I’ve been home twenty two times this year, and maybe there will be a homecoming today. I’ll check the tides.

  13. I had a chance a few years ago, but I turned it down without hesitation. My memories of that home are clear and happy, and I want to keep them that way.

  14. I can tolerate short visits back into John Cheever/Royal Tenenbaum land. Barely. I like the scene I’ve created better.

  15. Thoughts of going home, it’s wet and gray out, garbage day, milk’s off, bread has a green spot, bald tires, dog has an ear infection, again, broken bra strap – well kids it’s going to be a hell of a day. I’m drinking it black or I’ll kill someone.

    Fuck the garbage, switch to apple juice, saltines, walk, find the dog-ear stuff, go braless, noooo…never. It’s still raining. How do people in Seattle stand it?

  16. fabulous post…I only go “home,” (ie not the 13 places I lived in growing up) when I’m feeling exceptionally strong and fortified. I have to able to accept the criticisms, slights, and marginalization of me as a person. You did say something about a pity party.

  17. Kicked out of film school? What did you do, use a tight close-up to open a documentary? And no, you can’t go home again. Even if home has remained exactly the same–and it has not–you have changed. You can never see it through the same eyes. They are gone.

  18. “I try to understand why I didn’t make any sacrifices for my writing such as financial security, health insurance, a lifetime supply of remorse….”

    I never made those particular critical sacrifices for my writing. There are other ways to make it work if you accept the idea that it’s your job to do both: support yourself well enough AND write, and that they are not incompatible goals if you, say, live somewhere cheap; don’t have children; have an “ordinary” or even dull job with no prestige. It’s interesting to me that so many (including you, Betsy) seem to forget these other alternatives — that you go all dramatic.

  19. So I typed “if” into my search engine and got this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J94-_w9ARX0
    Needless to say, I’m speechless.

  20. I’ve never been able to. I grew up in Yonkers, so that probably explains a lot. The message I got: why would you want to leave? It’s so comfortable here. One person’s comfort is another’s depression. Everyone worked for retirement, counting the days as if they were a sentence to be served. I was a country boy raised in the city air, the wooded areas I loved were Tibbett’s Park and the woods around the Dunwoodie Golf Course; I’d walk (later run) miles just to slow down and walk in the woods. Eventually I just kept running, finally settling in a wild place with winters that can seem like an unending string of December nights then suddenly change to a week of blue sky, deep champagne powder snow and nothing but time to enjoy it. The lakes in the summer have never failed to reinvigorate my soul and while driving to work I need to remind myself to look at the mountains; this place is beautiful, open your eyes.

    I’ll go back to visit, sometimes because I want to, often because I have to, but I don’t look into the rear view mirror on the way home, the view nothing that I haven’t already seen and the danger of turning into a pillar of salt not compatible with borderline high blood pressure.

    The bitch of it is, I still love New York City. No other place like it in the world. Once I hitched a ride in with a New York Post delivery driver who had just dropped his load north of Albany. He was reluctant, but needed the company to keep him awake for the just after midnight return trip. Came into the city at 4am and place was insanely alive, the weary hookers and night denizens fading into the shadows, morning delivery trucks making their rounds and the air smelling more like fresh baked bagels than exhaust fumes. I got something to eat, walked down to the river and fell in love all over again.

    After a couple of days, though, I got back on the road and headed towards home.

  21. I left my hometown in West Texas in 1970 for New York City. Three years ago I returned to Texas (not the desert, thankfully) to take care of my 94-year-old mother. I did the right thing, but my grief at leaving my heart hometown never ends.

  22. I keep thinking I know where home is. I don’t live there. But I have these recurring dreams and I’m there. Home. But it is always some place different and never any place I’ve ever been. But in my dream I feel this intense longing for these places as being home. So where’s home and can I go back? I suspect that for me it doesn’t exist anyplace other than in my dreams.

  23. I can’t go home this week for sure. My baby brother is in the town jail for assault and I’d be expected to bail his ass out. At least from this distance I can ignore the voice mails and text messages and know he’s in a safe place.

  24. Just moved home this week, after 12 years away. Within 48 hours was screaming at my mother—who I get on with incredibly well—that I would not be party this family’s dysfunctional bullshit. Then I thought, who’s really dysfunctional? Is it me? But the sun is shining and the roses are blooming.

  25. No, I can’t go home again. The place where I summered in Lake Placid has been turned into one of thoose $500 and up a night rooms; Haiti’s political position is too volatile. If I had liked the house where I lived in Westchester, I’d call it’s new owner and tell him/her to get good fire insurance — my track record of places I’ve called home isn’t exactly one anyone would want to emulate. However, I still have my memories.

  26. God knows I love a pity party, but what if you never really got away from home? After my mom died, I sold her house to a neighbor who promptly razed it to the ground…….every time I drive by there it’s like a gaping whole where our lives should be.

  27. Was that the real us, back then? Sometimes a cigar isn’t just a cigar, but we still revisit time-unsmoothed places as we try to write new ones.

    Going home after a long absence should be good for a poem or a short story or a bit of internal yellow journalism, at the very least. And isn’t it nice to pretend we’re someone else? Easiest acting job in the world.

  28. Holy shizznits this post punched me in the ta-tas. I have lived in the same mother-flippin zip code my whole life. Not because its 90210, thankyouverymuch. I grew up two blocks from the Elevated train in Philly. It’s a place the ghetto didn’t even want to claim as its own. We weren’t ghetto enough but not middle class enough for the uppity neighborhood on the other side of the Ave. We were upper-lower class, and yes that exists. But its not the same neighborhood anymore. It is the ghetto now. And the ghetto neighborhood is now a dirty-hipsterville.

    But growing up there I remember playing spring (freedom to some of you peeps), freeze-tag, kissing-tag, mother may I, and so many others until our parents called us in. I remember playing double dutch (just turning the rope for me, I sucked at it) and Chinese jump rope. I remember going to Sabatino’s every friday night for Pizza and walking there. I remember my Italian neighbor with his Italian mother who baked bread everyday and his 7 Italian-Amerigan daughters. I remember the corner store, the local barber, and I went to Catholic School where Nuns could still beat us. I grew up in the 80’s, btw.

    That was my childhood. Now, as an adult, I moved to that Uppity part of the hood but by the time I got there it wasn’t so uppity anymore. It was like being back home. But things were different. I wasn’t a child and this wasn’t where I grew up.

    My teenage daughter never played spring, double dutch, or Chinese jump rope. She never walked around the corner to get a pizza or never walked to school. She never had neighbors whose moms could beat you if you got out of line. She didn’t grow up in a place where even two blocks away from home everyone knew my parents and I knew to behave or else. She never got any of that. I am kind of sad thinking about it.

    Yes, I wish I could go back home and take my daughter with me.

  29. No. It just reminds me how I will never fit in anywhere. And why. That’s the worst part. I can pretend from a distance. Sometimes.

  30. I was telling my daughter just today how “the cootie man” hit me on the head with a board. She opined how that would go over in this day. He was the junk man with a wagon and a HORSE. And the waffle man in the green truck. How we loved that with powdered sugar. Then someone said they saw him pee and not wash his hands. I know he died wondering what happened to the business on North Kilbourn. These are sins I pay for over and over. I guess that’s karma. Weave happy stories or Steven King’s clown in the sewer from this stuff.

  31. My then-eighty-something mom moved from her long-time home in Miami Beach to be nearer to my sister in Ft. Lauderdale. My father wasn’t happy there and died within a few years after the move. I tried living next to her, but the proximity threatened my sobriety, so I moved away again. Once, when I came home to visit with my husband, she asked us to take her for a drive to Miami Beach. Off we went, stopping more than once along the way to tend to her overactive bowels.

    We visited her old home, and apartment building she owned and ran, her mini-kingdom, where she was queen and host to guests from all over the world. It had been turned into condos, each unit silent and unyielding to our gaze. She went up to the curtained windows, straining to get the briefest glimpse of the interiors she knew better than her body. Come on, ma, I kept hissing, afraid that someone would open a door and start yelling at us for trespassing and peeping.

    She had to use the bathroom again, so we drove about a mile south to the McDonalds I frequented as a child. It was in bad repair, shabby, and of course, much smaller than I remembered. She started to cry in the toilet stall, and when we came outside to wait for my husband (who’d dropped us off and driven around the block), she burst into sobs. She stood there on the side walk while I held her hand and the wind whipped her skirt, wailing, I want to go home, I want to come back to Miami Beach. But there was nothing for her to come home to, and we all knew it. I tell her story because it’s sort of mine also, except I’ve become accustomed to the idea of homelessness. Yeah I have an place to sleep, but there is no place on this earth I call mine, and I don’t feel I’m really missing anything. I’m on a roadtrip right now, so maybe it’s just the fatigue talking.

  32. Pity party hangover this morning, Miss Betsy?

  33. I’m not really sure…..about going home that is, because I don’t really know where that is. I lived in Detroit until I married at 22, then moved to Dallas, and then to Chicago. Other than a few years in Tampa and San Francisco, most of my life was spent in Chicago so if I had to pick a place to call home, that would be it. My children grew up there, so it is certainly their home, but I do not have a strong pull to return there, although I love the city and would feel at home if I returned, as I adjust easily to various surroundings.

    I guess I have to say that home is where ever I happen to be…and that would be Louisville, Kentucky right now, for the past 17 years. But I will soon be moving to Vermont with my youngest daughter and I’m sure it will seem like home in no time.

    So glad to be here again, Betsy. It’s been a while. I’ve been hold up finishing up my memoir but ow I have a little more time to scope out some of my favorite blogs again.

    • I was born in Chicago and always say Chicago when asked where I am from, even though I am now four miles from the Wisconsin state line. But that’s not a homey feeling thing. It’s a Chicago thing.

  34. Am moving back to my home town. Most of it is great, but then there are the Townies who remember every stupid thing I ever did and feel free to tell me about it. Yuck.

    • Sounds awful. Can’t come up with a plan B?

      • My plan B is to not go to the local supermarket. lol
        I am building my first-ever home there and it is in the woods. I am truly excited about my soon-to-be cottage.

      • @girlbuildshouse: “My plan B is to not go to the local supermarket.” I love this! lol with you. For a cottage in the woods, I’d move back home too. Keep us posted

  35. I can go home and usually do, once a year. But, it’s Akron, Ohio, so why would I?

    My family still lives in the same house where I grew up. I know it’s the same house, but it looks much different inside now. The stairway seems smaller, the football helmet wallpaper I had in my room is now gone (I never played football and didn’t really have an affinity for it).

    Is it my home?
    _

    This is irrelevant to the post, but I wrote a book based on an abusive marriage I was in. I want to get it published.

    Help if you want or can.

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