How can you tell if you know a place “well enough”?
Well, well enough for what? Well enough to settle… build community… know you want to leave?!
An author’s perspective
I was listening to the radio this weekend when I suddenly registered that the author being interviewed was a Third Culture Kid, and was reflecting on the role of place in her latest book. The interviewer noted that while Tana French hadn’t grown up in Dublin, her latest book was set there, and he queried if she was able to write from a Dubliner’s perspective. “Yes”, she parried, “I have grown up in many places but Dublin is the only place I have lived that I know well enough to set a book in”.
This caught me immediately. There have been numerous attempts over many years to capture by what means we can measure home or belonging. We have tried several barometers to measure our attachment to, and claim on, place – birthplace, place of mother-tongue, longest place lived, place lived during most significant developmental stage, place of most significant memories, current place. We have tried and tested many. Taiye Selasi suggested in her TED talk that a more effective barometer for belonging could be a new question: Where are you local?
A new barometer for belonging
Tanya French’s comment suggests a new line of thought; perhaps a place becomes significant also by our sheer familiarity with it. While it’s both tempting and natural to align belonging entirely to emotional attachment, might the experience of belonging not simply be about feelings? Belonging to or having a sense of ownership of a place could also be about “knowing it well enough”. For Tanya French, this meant well enough to set a book in it.
What does this line of thought do? For me, it opens up the meaning of belonging to place. Those places previously dismissed as less significant to my story suddenly gain in stature. I realise that what they may lack in terms of intensity of affection or cultural memory, they make up for in familiarity and geographical constancy. I know them. Not just the people and memories and experiences they hold. I know the streets, the tricks of light on the buildings, the weather cycles, the transport system! I know them well enough.
Where do you know “well enough”?
What does this do to your sense of belonging? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do contact me and let me know!
Listen to the full session, which includes Tanya French’s interview here.
For me, belonging has also a lot to do with knowing the place. It is less emotional though than another place that I might not know so well, but I FEEL better in… I might like the mentality of the place more or I prefer the climate, because it feels better to my body. But trulz belonging may also be blocked ny not knowing thoroughly ie the transit system or bying groceries on the bazar without being mistaken for a tourist. I guess I can cope best where I know the cultural codes best. But that does not mean that I feel the best or as if I belong to the same place.
** Oh, that book I referred to in the other comment is “Raising our children, raising ourselves” by Naomi Aldort. I adore it 🙂
Yes, important distinctions – knowing a place in a way that helps belonging, and knowing a place despite lack of feeling as though you belong…
I like the way you say this Rachel. I have lived for nearly four years now in a place where I “know my way around,” but don’t really feel at home. The cultural, language and daily life “markers” that make a place feel like home just aren’t where I live. They are where I work, and I am thankful for that, but I still feel very lonely where I live. I am so grateful to have read this post because it helps me realize that I must take more steps to find the “markers” that make me feel at home RIGHT HERE in my community.
Thanks Jack! Sounds like you have a plan… feeling we have the power to create or invest in home-building can make a big difference. Thank you so much for reading!
As a geezer, and with a wink, I posit that one measure of this happening is fulfilled when you know and use local dentists, doctors, specialists, pharmacies, etc, and you have confidence and satisfactory results from these. You’re comfortable with them. Not achievable in some locations. Please forgive me for the levity, Dr. Rachel.
This actually makes a lot of sense, Dan. When we know a place well enough to feel about to operate competently in it, and know what to expect from it… it’s a definite kind of belonging. Thanks for reading!