Peter Korchnak

Writer. Immigrant. Traveler.

Tag: home

where is your toothbrush

Where Is Your Toothbrush?

This essay first appeared on The Listserve.

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Neither of us can remember how we came up with the idea to travel around the world for a year. We do know that the journey of making that dream come true required us to redefine home. “Identifying home is in essence an act of ongoing imagination,” writes Michael Dorris. “When we’re home, we don’t pine to be anywhere else, we don’t feel out of place or a stranger.” We pined to be somewhere else very much.

Travel brought me, a Slovak, and her, an Californian, together in the Netherlands ten years prior; we decided home was anywhere we were together. As we watched our house sell, our budget tighten, and our belongings dwindle, tongues in cheek we also decided that the only object we absolutely needed on our travels, aside from clothes, money, and passports, was a toothbrush. And so we concluded: Home is where your toothbrush is.

Flipping Thoreau’s exhortation to live at home like a traveler on its head, we set out to live in the world like at home. Wherever we went, we made a point of visiting temples, cemeteries, and markets. We ate street food and at restaurants, went to museums and corner shops, strolled the streets of villages and cities, hiked through forests and parks, rode public transportation. Everywhere could be home if we felt it was home.

Of course, it’s not that simple. Sometimes I’d wake up and spend an eternity figuring out where I was. No wonder: in the 13 months of traveling I slept in 73 different beds. But because I am my only constant, wherever and whenever I was my habits and routines and rituals were always with me—they’re what makes a place familiar and safe. Visiting the same kinds of places in every destination became a routine in and of itself. Repetition breeds familiarity, which, in turn, generates a sense of being at home.

Once you leave the original home, you make every home yourself. A location begins to feel like place and eventually like home when it acquires substance: the mass of memories. Where routines lay the foundation of home by creating a sense of regularity and comfort, memories build home up into a distinct place on your mental world map. Like every traveler I have a million stories from the road, which stitch together quilts of memories that I associate with each place. Those memories are the place. If an effect of travel is to create memories, you can be home anywhere, even on the road itself.

When place becomes a part of you, it turns into home. The distinction between where you live and who you are becomes blurred; if, as Robert Frost predicted, the day ever comes who you are, you may know better where you are. I felt I became one with many places: Bariloche, Havana, Penang, Sarajevo… We set out to live at home out in the world and in the process we discovered, nay, redefined ourselves, as individuals and as partners in life.

Home is also where your travels begin and end. We began our round-the-world trip in our adopted home town, Portland, Oregon. In the end we decided to go back to where we started—we realized Portland is home. We discovered, like T.S. Eliot before us, that “the end is where we start from.”

My toothbrush is in Portland, Oregon, where I advocate for a good cause, make beer, and write. Where is your toothbrush?

What is home

What Is Home?

This essay is my introduction to the book Home Is Where Your Toothbrush Is, which may see the light of day some time in the future.

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Lindsay and I met in the spring of 2002 far away from home. I was living in a shared student house in Leiden, the Netherlands, where I was attending graduate school in the Political Science Department. She was in between homes, spending the period before moving to Eugene, Oregon, for her bachelor’s studies in journalism visiting a childhood friend, who happened to be one of my housemates, and backpacking around Western Europe. Our first dates, chaperoned by the matchmaking friend, took place in Amsterdam and Delft, the latter just as Slovakia’s ice hockey team won the country’s first world championship. In the next year, we kept in touch with email and phone, and visited each other in our respective home countries. Then, on my last visit, I stayed so that we could stay together.

Before Lindsay and I met, I lived for a year in Budapest, five years in Bratislava, and 18 years with my parents in Košice in two different apartments; I’d visited 25 European and North American countries as a traveler. My immigration to the U.S. represented the ultimate displacement for me, for I found myself away from home-home, as I came to call Slovakia, and not quite settled in my new home country, living with one foot in each culture, on each continent, neither here nor there. Lindsay moved around a lot and lived in nearly a dozen different places around Northern California. Together we lived in four different apartments in as many years in Eugene and Portland before we bought a house.

Travel both is second nature to each of us and constitutes the fabric of our relationship. Perhaps, it is fitting, then, that neither of us remembers who came up with the idea to take a round-the-world trip for a year, or when that happened. What we do know is that the journey of making that dream come true started with redefining home.

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finding home

Finding Home in Unexpected Places

This is an unpublished article, which I aimed to place on spec in the Oregon Jewish Life magazine.

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When artist Kim Millen set out to paint kids’ faces at the August 1 Cedar Sinai Park Community Barbecue, she expected anything but to discover a home. “Meeting the seniors reminded me of my father and grandfather,” Millen said. “It brought me back to my roots.”

Interested in spirituality since an early age, Millen has explored various religions, always surprised to never have found spirituality in Judaism.

“Mine was only one of two Jewish families in our Phoenix, Arizona, neighborhood where I grew up,” Millen said and clarified that her mother converted to marry her father. “But we weren’t religious. I mean, we had what we called a Hanukkah bush—a Christmas tree with the Star of David on top. I have never met a spiritual Jew.”

Instead, she found her life’s purpose in art. A performance dancer since the 1970’s, she supported herself and her family as a Dr. Scholls sales representative.

“I went from a poor actress-dancer to a regular paycheck,” Millen said. She kept the artistic spirit alive by continuing her dancing career. Homeschooling her two children, now in their 20’s and “out of the house,” propelled Millen to teaching art to kids.

Though a promotion and transfer from Washington to Oregon in 1989 halted her dancing career, Millen continued to teach. In summertime at her house, Millen leads a series of week-long arts camps for up to 8 youngsters at a time.

“I love the kids,” said Millen, a 23-year West Linn resident. “We make art.”

Millen began to paint in the early 2000’s and showing in 2004. She discovered body painting by accident in 2008 when she was assisting her daughter at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts with a fundraiser for XYZ. As they painted faces for donations, people would ask whether they did birthday parties. Millen realized it was a good opportunity. She now paints, mostly on faces, at parties, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and various events. Believing that every body is a canvas, Millen has also done full-body painting as performance art.

“I enjoy getting a child or adult in front of me and my brush,” Millen said. “They pick a subject and I a creative outlet. Not only do I get to experience someone’s happiness, I get paid for it.”

The cultural connection she found at Cedar Sinai Park made Millen feel at home. Millen, who is 57 but feeling 30, said, “As I get older, I feel more and more Jewish. I want to be connected with Jewish people on a deeper level. Judaism for me is about being at home with who I am.”

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