SPACE, PLACE AND OTHER STORIES: A REFLECTION
“We don’t get to choose where we’re from so it is what it is”, I responded when someone told me they were just from the Netherlands. This was the answer they gave when I returned the question that those of us with the sun living in our skin often get asked in countries with four seasons: Where are you from?
The scales at which that question can be answered are many. Spatially the specificity can range from country — to region — to city — to neighbourhood — to street — to landmark proximity. Adding the layer of politics, the constraints may now look different, the references are no longer relevant at that moment and so new names are used and places fade. But memory and sharing stories may keep these worlds alive. Worlds where each element had a purpose and a precise language to identify it. Worlds where relationships ran deeper than blood, a sense of belonging that is only understood by those who were present.
“YOU HAD TO BE THERE”
Temporally, where you’re from can be where you spent the last undefined amount of time in, where you spent most of your life or where your life started. Materially, we can consider the lives we came from, those who carry stories of their own, and the legacies on which our foundation gets built. The time we spent taking in the scents, the ground and the structures that created our first references to existence can all have weight.
“THE PLACE WITH RED SOIL”
Ultimately, one’s answer can be adjusted to the awareness of every party involved and the space available to dig deeper. Answering that question for ourselves warrants an evaluation of belonging. Being asked where you are from can be an assumption that you are not from the place where the question is being asked so ultimately, the question becomes: Where do you belong?
How, where and when does belonging happen?
How do I know I belong?
How do I shift spaces so that I can belong?
As someone who navigated various physical and cultural spaces, this evaluation is ongoing. As personal shifts happen, definitions of belonging may also change. The way we show up in the world and the response from others, that conversation of spoken and body language, trigger our senses. Many of us have experienced relief, unease, comfort and other emotional responses to certain spaces. Depending on how long we spend in or our purpose in these places, can define how we choose to engage with it and its elements. For those of us who take the responsibility of curating, shaping, making and evaluating spaces, the consideration is deep. Building an understanding of how all elements interact provides a base of understanding of the consequences of sticking to the norm versus disrupting the peace of “business as usual”.
This reflection is to motivate the disruption inclined. Here’s to reflecting on what space, place and belonging look like. Here’s to bringing awareness to other ways of shaping the stages where we live life and challenging hegemonic discourses on space. Here’s to imagining and dreaming up new pathways to tell our stories of existence.