What Home Is

I’m sitting on my bed in New York, snacking from a bag of homemade Chex mix that traveled with me this morning on a plane from Portland, Oregon. This is bringing me great joy.

For the first time since I moved to New York over two years ago, I went home for Thanksgiving. I’d been home other times, of course, but this was the first time in a few years that I spent Thanksgiving in Portland. I was lucky to get a good chunk of time there, too – flew out Tuesday morning and came back Sunday afternoon.

One thing that’s surprised me about living in New York is how infrequently I get homesick. Or rather, how infrequently I get Portland-sick. I miss my family, but we talk all the time, and since my sister is also in the area for school, they come to New York at least a couple times a year. We’ve also gotten together in “neutral” places, like a trip to Florida last summer. So while I miss a lot of things about Portland – friends from college who live there, extended family, Fred MeyerPowell’s – I find myself able to go a long time without physically being there, because so much of what represents “home” to me can be found elsewhere.

This was my first trip to Portland since last Christmas, and I think I was wearing my almost-a-year-away-from-home badge with some degree of pride. I secretly wanted to see if I could make it a year. And I know I could have done it, but what’s the point? The opportunity to go home was there, and I wouldn’t have jumped at it if there hadn’t been some part of me that longed to be in the actual place.

These little thoughts about home have been bouncing in my mind since Tuesday. What is home, really? A place? The people in the place? A combination of the two and several other elements? When I landed at PDX on Tuesday, my first stop was my old high school, where my mom is still a teacher. A landmark for me in Portland – but the school changed locations in January. I loved chatting with my favorite teacher and cross-country coach, but we weren’t in any of the classrooms I used to sit in. It didn’t matter, of course. But it was different.

And about a year after I moved to New York, my parents moved within the Portland area. They’re not far from the old house at all – my sister who’s still at home didn’t change schools – but there’s not the same sense of nostalgia. I’m not going to Portland so I can sleep in my old room, you know? My whole frame of reference for driving has changed, too. Again – none of this really matters. Home is still home. Portland is still Portland. But I was reminded this week of how things are always in flux.

It’s the physical places that are in flux, though. Not the people I spend time with. My parents and little sister are the same people, as are my best friends from college. It was a joy to see those girls. I think there’s a relaxed air to the Thanksgiving holiday that doesn’t exist at Christmastime, where there are more events to attend, gifts to buy, places to be. At Thanksgiving, we can just hang out.

I know there isn’t a formula calculating the perfect number of times one should visit home. There are so many factors. But I know this visit was perfect, and perfectly timed. I saw so many amazing people, made two trips to Powell’s (scored a gloriously retro used copy of this for $2), tried new (to me) restaurants and sang at the top of my lungs while driving up and down I-5 (though I discovered that in two years of basically never driving, I’ve lost my parallel parking prowess).

There’s something I love about landing at JFK and knowing I’m home. Not home in the “this is where I was born” sense, but in the “this is where I am supposed to be right now” sense. So here I am. Eating snacks from home and thinking about what home really is. I think the last few days have given me a pretty good idea.

New York and Portland, Lately

There is no tired like red-eye jet-lag tired. Holy cow. Actually, new-parent tired is probably way worse, but of all the tireds I have experienced, this PDX–>JFK variety takes the cake.

While I’m tired in this moment, I’m really feeling refreshed after a four-day visit to Portland for 4th of July weekend. It was planned pretty last-minute, and I flew out after work on Wednesday.

Brief aside: One of the best “cheating the New York system” feelings comes from taking the subway to the airport. Yes, I paid an arm and a leg for a cab ride home from the airport this morning – I love the subway but there’s no way I’m riding it at 5:30 a.m. after having been on a plane all night – but getting all the way from Chelsea to JFK for $8ish when you include the cost of the AirTrain? One of the city’s best bargains.

Anyway, we (meaning my sister Hope and me; see below for more on why she’s in the city this summer) arrived late Wednesday night and got our first glimpse at the Landsem family’s new home in West Linn. My parents moved from Tualatin in May, and despite my lack of familiarity with the floor plan, I have to admit it’s a cool house, complete with a huge backyard that provides ample roaming space for the dog who may have kind of started to like me.

For as long as I can remember, we’ve spent our Independence Days at our cousins’ house in the Columbia River Gorge among grandparents, aunts, uncles and other friends, setting off our own fireworks in their driveway and enjoying a bigger show over the river, put on by the city of Cascade Locks. I talk a pretty good “city girl” game, but spending the day in view of the river, trees and mountains reminded me that there’s nothing quite like the natural beauty of the Northwest.

More visits with family and friends filled the weekend, and they not only afforded me opportunities to see some of my best friends from college; they also gave me the chance to drive all over Portland to see them in various locales: downtown, the Rose Garden (as in flowers, not Blazers), Pittock Mansion, the Eastbank Esplanade and of course, that great bastian of suburbia, Bridgeport Village. I love driving and never get to do it in New York. Jetting across town to see some of my favorite people at some of my favorite places, all while driving with the windows down and blasting my rediscovered Switchfoot mixes from high school (don’t judge) was a serious treat.

It can be tough to live 3,000 miles away from most of the people with whom I shared my college years. While I’ve made amazing friends in New York – honestly, every day I count my blessings with regards to the community I’ve found here, and know many of those people will be lifelong friends – there’s a slightly deeper comfort zone with the people who knew you before you started out on the post-college journey. This past weekend, they challenged me (in a good way) with regards to how I like New York, where I see myself in a few years, whether I would move back to Portland and how I’m doing personally and spiritually. I was probably in a reflective mood anyway, since the visit came around the same time as my one-year anniversary of living in New York (June 18) and my birthday (July 1), but I loved seeing how the last year had taken us all down different paths but hadn’t changed the relationship we had. I am blessed to have them.

New York is a singular city. No other place holds the same level of excitement and intensity, but this weekend reminded me how important it is to take a breather every now and then. Recharging in the company of family, friends and Portland was good for the soul.

*Since I haven’t written in awhile, I have to do a quick speed round of awesome NYC happenings from the last month or so:

  • SUNSHINE. And as a result, perfect afternoons and evenings outside at the Bohemian Beer Garden in Astoria, the Skillman BBQ Crawl last month in my neighborhood, and the Top of the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking district.
  • My sister Hope’s arrival in NYC for the summer. She’s interning at the Wall Street Journal, and even had an editorial published in the paper last week. A number of other friends – from Oregon and elsewhere – are also finding their way to the city this summer.
  • Lots and lots of Mets games.
  • Movie obsessions as of late: Joss Whedon’s black-and-white, Shakespeare-language-in-a-modern-setting staging of Much Ado About Nothing, which Hope and I loved. And, because I’ve had a Bill Murray obsession lately (for no particular reason, although I recently rediscovered Lost in Translation and have pretty much had it playing on a Netflix loop), I watched The Royal Tenenbaums on my flight to Portland. So I guess now I have a Gene Hackman obsession. I mean, come on.

That seems to be it for now. I can’t wait for the rest of summer in the city.

Ohhhhh, We’re Halfway There…

….ohhhh, livin’ on a prayer!

Okay, that was lame, but it fit so perfectly. It has hit me that my time in New York is halfway over.

Time flies when you’re in the big city, so without being too sappy or cynical, here are the five main lessons I’ve learned, about the city, the public relations industry, and myself since I’ve been in New York:

  1. It’s okay to do things alone. For some reason, I have this idea in my head that if I’m not doing something with other people (running errands, having lunch, seeing a show), I am a friendless loser. You’re in a city of eight million people and you’re alone? That can’t be right – that’s what the voices say. Sometimes, I’ve forced myself to do things alone because my other option, the option that would involve being around people, would put me in situations I wouldn’t want to be in. New York can be lonely, but I am learning that it’s better to go solo than do something contrary to your values.
  2. New York really is the coolest city on earth. Granted, I have not been to every city on earth, but I’m pretty sure New York is the coolest. It is amazing/awesome/thrilling/enormous/challenging/busy, and if you’re lonely or sad or upset, you’re still in New York and that’s enough. The mix of people, cultures, buildings and industries here really does make it the place to be. I’m not saying it’s the place to be forever, but I am grateful for the chance to see it as more than a tourist.

    Not even the best New York skyline picture, but still amazing...how do you compete with that?

  3. PR jobs are not the same as PR classes. Let me qualify this by saying that my internship is not a real job and that I haven’t taken every PR class my school offers. But, the working world is totally different from college. You don’t do public relations in the real world by consulting a theory in your textbook – you do it by understanding the task at hand and what you want to accomplish in that unique situation. That’s not to say that college is worthless, but it’s really only worth it if you understand how to apply it to real-world tasks, situations and strategies.
  4. You have to be fearless. Recently, I had coffee with a PR industry veteran who works at Rodale. She dispensed a lot of valuable advice, the best piece of which was to be fearless. Whether it’s picking up the phone to call a reporter even though you’re terrified of talking on the phone (that’s me, at times), or asking to meet with a professional to talk about their work. Work through your weaknesses and become stronger and better at your work in the process.
  5. Learn from and be grateful for everything that happens to you. (Warning: this one’s a little sappy.) Be grateful that you’re scrubbing the toilet, because even though it’s a toilet, it’s in the coolest city on earth. Be grateful that you get to talk to your little sister on Skype, because it’s not everyone who gets to hear about his or her sister playing Louis Armstrong in a summer camp play. Be grateful that you get to talk with a lady from the Bronx on the subway, even if you’re packed in on the train like sardines. Be grateful that you are where you are, because you’re there for a reason.

Even though the last lesson was a little sappy, it’s still true. I think I’ve learned more about myself in the last month than I did in the previous nineteen years (more or less).

Thanks for reading over these past few weeks – feel free to drop a comment and say “hi!” Here’s to the next five weeks!