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Belonging: A Place or a Feeling?

Updated: May 30

Detail from Our Ancestors' Wildest Dreams by Twin Walls Mural Company. On display at SFMOMA.

Over the last month, I've returned to two places where I've spent big chunks of my life: the Boston area, where I grew up and went to college, and the San Francisco Bay area, where I spent the 90’s. It felt great to reconnect with these places and with my loved ones who still live there. However, after living for over 20 years in Portland, these places feel less like home with every visit. They have changed. I have changed. They feel familiar, they feel strange. So I spent a lot of time thinking about the idea of belonging during the trips. And almost on cue, the museum visits I fit into my schedule addressed my wonderings in one illuminating way. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is hosting a beautiful Claude Monet exhibit that includes "The Road at La Cavée, La Pourville" (below), in the region of Normandy, one of many places he explored thoroughly as a painter.

The Road at La Cavée, La Pourville, 1882 by Claude Monet

This quote on the exhibit wall sums up his attitude about traveling for the pursuit of artistic discovery.

On one hand, I admire Monet's outlook: viewing the world as his oyster, waiting to welcome and inspire him. But deep down, I have a hard time relating to his level of comfort about venturing out and wandering. I envy that sense of freedom, a privileged kind of freedom no doubt, but one I might learn from and possibly lean into.

On the flip side, I also visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, where abstract expressionist Joan Mitchell's work was displayed in an extensive solo exhibit. While she often used music and poetry as her inspiration, Mitchell's work is mainly based on representing the inner experience of a place and capturing the feeling of it in color and shape. She traveled a lot in her life, but this quote suggests that her happy place was her studio.

I felt relief in reading this, and in seeing how her internal focus could produce such powerful, beautiful work. The homebody in me resonates with this sentiment. The space where I create in my home is where I feel the strongest sense of belonging. Portland doesn't always feel like the one place where I belong, but my studio is my home base in every sense. It's not easy for me to admit this. It seems dull and incurious. On the outside, it looks as though there's nothing exciting going on. It's hard for my travel-hungry husband to understand my need to do this and that in my room for long stretches of time. And fortunately for both of us, he and I see the rewards of meeting in the middle. Getting out and exploring is important, and at times I could use more of Monet's venturesome spirit. Nonetheless, Mitchell's example helps me embrace the deep exploration that can happen while staying in one familiar place.

There's a Place for Us

This playlist belongs to you.

Listen to my interview on the Disobedient Femmes Podcast

It turns out that I'm a little disobedient! At least podcast host and multi-talented artist Suzanne LaGrande thinks so. I was excited to be a guest on her intriguing podcast, Disobedient Femmes. In this interview from July, she asked me lots of probing questions about creativity and its connection to resilience, and we touched on many actionable ways you can keep that creative spark alive. You can find it on Spotify, Apple, and Google podcasts.

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