Chasing Home: Holly Painter at TEDxWaterloo 2013

Ask a young child to draw his house more often than not, he will put pen to
page drawing a square structure with windows and a doorway he will say this this is my house ask a young child to draw her family she was scribble stick figure
silhouettes crayon creations of siblings parents and pets she will say this this is my family yet ask a young child to draw home and you may find that the picture then
shows both for home is a mix of people and place
there are so many ways in which we define it often the only way we can find
to describe it is to stay home is where the heart is so let me tell you where my heart has been first picture two streets one lonely set of stoplights marks where
they meet there are no fast food chains or big box stores on these corners just
Karen truth be told i never knew if it was her orange vest
or her smile that stopped the traffic crossing guard extraordinaire karen was
just one of the many familiar faces I grew to know in my hometown a place filled with small-town charm is
infectious is the chicken pox we all caught in kindergarten when people ask
where i am from I smile shyly and reply you probably
won’t know it and its true because though there are many who may know my
home’s name they will never know her like i do my heart belonged to dusty forest bike trails and
street hockey showdowns to corn fields and home-cooked meals and my elementary
school playground we played made up games because well there was honestly nothing else to
do but we played those games until our
shadows disappeared and the street lights called us home I called the streets home until I
started to learn their secrets and began to keep some of my own I don’t know exactly how it happened but at some point I fell in love for the first time and though I’d like to say it was as perfect
as a Hallmark valentine there are reasons beyond being sixteen that this
wasn’t the case for most first love marks a coming of age but for me it was an inability to come
out and tell anyone her name so she and I made new homes inside our closets knowing small towns and words like ‘gay’
fit together like puzzle pieces picked from different boxes it was the first
time I started to not feel at home in my own skin my body became an expert at holding
things in as I swallowed secrets like confessionals consume sins the small
town I grew up in morphed into a place I couldn’t wait to escape from I started to dream of a new place to call home one where I could hide in the shadows of
skyscrapers bigger than the secrets I was stockpiling in my lungs bigger than
the lies that were jumping so easily from my tongue I wanted to shake hands
with strangers who didn’t care where i came from or who
it was that I loved so I went where any small-town Canadian
kid struggling with their identity would go I packed my bags and I moved to the city
of toronto home to people of all shapes and sizes all colors and creeds and you
better believe I found home wandering those streets lined with shops displaying approval not for sale but
given away freely it was right there in their store front windows stickers of big ol’ gay rainbows and so I started a collection I put a glass jar in my heart and I
filled it with acceptance examples of stickers stories and moments that all
told me was okay to be me and eventually I cashed in that courage I counted out exactly enough bits of
bravery to say “mom, I’m gay.” oh and uh… happy mother’s day that’s… that’s true again not exactly how Hallmark drew it up but my family’s words of love were like
cups of hot water pouring over the fear that have kept my mouth frozen closed
and though I’d like to say this is where the story ends I had another lesson to
learn about hearts and homes it came when I heard the word divorce over the
telephone I was twenty four years old and in that
moment I learned some things when broken hurt worse than bones I wondered when my family fell apart why didn’t I hear a sound I wasn’t given time to prepare to take
my heart underground before the disaster hit I was sitting in a nineteenth
floor apartment needing to know what had happened but not wanting to return to
survey the damage it’s funny when i did I almost hoped to see that the walls
have caved in or that the roof was gone something that could be repaired with
some muscle and a toolkit and I’m not saying these would have done the trick but I knew the shards of hearts left
shattered on hardwood floors would be so much more difficult to fix eventually we did we licked our wounds and somehow
made it through and i’m not saying they’re aren’t scars but what are scars but just beauty
marks saying I brought my heart to a knife fight and life may cut deep sometimes
but dammit I’m still here and I’m here today because I found home in a place that I
never imagined one where people get on stage and share poems
and I don’t mean like roses are red I mean like people have bled their
hearts out onto paper put tears secrets and hopes in the mix and
then shared it with a roomful of strangers am I crazy absolutely but when my stories are exposed belted out under bright lights and
amplified through microphones I hope someone out they will think “I’m not alone” so next time you find yourself a bit
misplaced seek out a space where words and hearts
are being shared pull up a chair and take a peek at the back corner of the room you may find me there pen in hand scribbling out my next poem be sure to come say hello I’ll smile at you like a child and say
this… this is my home.

8 thoughts on “Chasing Home: Holly Painter at TEDxWaterloo 2013

  1. 3404 views…10 of which have been mine…still so beautiful…I love every bit of it…Holly, you're a true inspiration for anyone who has a message that needs to be shared 🙂

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