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Geographic Identity

We talked here recently about places we’ve lived, and characteristics of those regions. A lot of us have lived in many different places. But what’s your geographic identity?

I was born in England, my father stationed there in the Air Force. But we moved back home, to Southwick, Massachusetts, when I was a year old. When I was 7, my parents divorced and we moved to Feeding Hills (Agawam) until I was 9. After selling everything and moving to California, my mother got very sick and moved us back after just a couple of weeks. We lived in Feeding Hills until I was 16.

Then she remarried and we moved to upstate New York (Albany area, which is more midstate, but to some people, anything north of the city is upstate!). I did my senior year of high school there, then headed to Ohio for college. My family moved to Connecticut my freshman year. I spent one summer there and one in Michigan, and after graduating a semester early, I lived for five months in Maryland while I worked in Washington, DC.

All of those places were home for a period of time. I was 21 when I moved to central Pennsylvania, and I’ve lived here since. I turn 41 this December, so I’ve been here half my life. I’ve lived out of Massachusetts far longer than I lived in it.

And yet, guess where my geographic identity is?

I’m a New England Patriots fan, and though I have little interest in other sports, I’m happy when the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins do well. I scoff at how they handle snow here, and whenever anyone asks where I’m from, I seek clarification:

“Where I’m from, or where I live?”

Someday, I’d like to return to New England to live (though I admit it would be very difficult now to leave the friends I have here). But my husband grew up outside of Cleveland, and his family moved away while he was in college. He’d like to live back there someday, too, and his geographic identity is even more strongly tied than mine.

I would like to think the formative years aren’t always as definitive as we as authors—or as psychiatrists—tend to make them out to be. But this makes it hard to dispute!

So how about you? If you’ve lived in one town or area your whole life, how has that affected you? If you’ve moved a lot, where is “home” and why?


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9 Responses

  1. Natalie: The whole “where are you from” question is funny isn’t it? We have this intrinsic need to know where people identify with and compare it to ourselves.

    As a military brat/wife, I always struggle with this question. I even gave a speech on the conundrum in Toastmasters once. 😉

    I was born overseas too (Germany) and lived there in early grade school. That experience had a profound effect on who I am, yet I’m an American, absolutely, and specifically a Westerner (AZ, CA).

    I’ve chosen Arizona (Tucson) as my “home state”, though I have no plans to move back. That’s where both of my parents were born/raised, it’s where my extended family was, and I lived there 13 of my first 23 years, including the formative 6th-11th grades. I met my husband at the University of Arizona, and he’s from Phoenix.

    So, having lived in eight States, I feel like I can *live* anywhere, but don’t *belong* anywhere. Not yet.

  2. I lived out of Arkansas from 1984-1997. Other than those years, I’ve always lived in Arkansas, so I don’t have a problem with my geographic identity. But I’ve heard other people talk about their issue with the “where are you from” question.

    The upside to you and Gwen is that you a much broader view of the world, of how people react in different geographical locations, how they talk (Coke? Soda? Soft Drink? etc) and so forth, which can give your writing a more realistic twist.

    I can’t imagine NOT “belonging” to Arkansas.

    But interesting topic , Nat!

  3. I am and always have been a Montanan, even for the twenty years when I lived in South Dakota and Oregon. Although I’ve loved much about the other places I lived and often miss being there, this ranch and these mountains own my soul.

  4. Hi Natalie,

    Wow, you moved around as much as I did. It’s an interesting concept. I was born in Ogden, Utah, but we moved to California when I was 2. I was born in Utah, but I’m not from there.

    We’ve lived all over the western United States, finally moving back to California on my 13th birthday and we’re still here. Even though I left a part of my heart in the Cascades, I guess I’ll always be a California girl, even if I’m not a California native.

    Great post!

  5. Interesting post Natalie. I’ve always lived in Arkansas and am a Arkansas Razorback fan. We enjoy watching the games (my husband a little too much).

    Hubby would like to live in Memphis or Dallas he thinks but his father (his only relative) is getting older and lives about 30 min from us in Cyndi’s neck of the woods. I don’t see us moving anywhere, besides – I’m not leaving Lilly behind.

    BTW – Saw your new book up on NetGalley for review with a release date of Oct. Congrats!!!!

  6. hm. interesting question. I’ve always belonged to Arkansas, so I never thought of not being able to answer that question. I was born in Louisianna. after a few months, we moved into Arkansas. a few years later and my parents divorced.

    Mom brought us home to south arkansas and I’ve lived here since. My mom remarried and they bought some land. we moved on it when I was still in elementry and my home is about 200yrds from the home/place I knew growing up.

  7. Well, I’m a Louisiana girl, but I was (shhh!) born in Pennsylvania. I’m affectionately known as “the Yankee” in my family. My whole family is from Minden, a small town east of my current home of Shreveport. I live in Shreveport but I’m from Minden. It’s totally a distinction I claim.

    My husband is also from Minden, but he was born in Georgia, lived in Texas for many years, and doesn’t feel tied to my hometown the way I do.

    Fun topic 🙂

    Oh, I also lived in South Louisiana for seven years (New Orleans) which is a whole different sub-culture and I spent one year in South Carolina.

  8. Wow! I think you’ve lived more places than I’ve visited. LOL I was born and raised in Texas, hubby in Mississippi. We’ve love to travel and visit new places, but it’s always so nice to get home. 🙂

  9. Sorry I’ve been so absent! On deadline, so forcing myself to stay away from the Internet while I work on the book. 🙂

    I think what becomes most clear, hearing all your stories, is that geographic identity is all about connection. Wherever we’ve lived and for however long, the place that makes us feel most like ourselves is home!

    Thanks for weighing in, everyone!

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