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Leaving home, finding home

Josh Parker explores the disorientation that comes with growing up and leaving home in your twenties, and where the answers may lie to finding your feet.


What does it mean to feel at home? What likely jumps to mind at first is a physical place – where you were born, where you grew up, where you spent your childhood. Often, it’ll also be linked to your experience of family – where your parents raised you. Think of home now, and I’ll bet you can remember the way your living room smells, the clatter of dishes as your parents do the washing up.


But as we get older, home becomes more of a tricky concept. This year my parents packed up and moved out of my childhood home, a gut-wrenching experience that saw me sorting my life into cardboard boxes and saying goodbye.


It wasn’t as if I still lived there – I moved out of the house over my time at university – but the loss of where I had grown up was surprisingly painful. The years upon years of memories, family dinners, sleepovers, birthdays, and Christmases were built into the structure of the place. It was like slowly picking away at the stiches of a tapestry I had been a part of my whole life.


Where do you go from there? Back to your flat, back to your job, back to your friends… but something’s missing. It’s a feeling of deep uncertainty, and one that I am not alone in experiencing.


In fact, it’s likely for this reason that Gen-Z has been dubbed the ‘most stressed generation’. The sudden transition into working life leaves us destabilised, feeling unmoored from the ways of life that we’re used to. And in the era of permacrisis, who can blame us? Every year seems to bring a new set of fears and pressures that hit us just as we try to find our balance.

How are we expected to navigate our fledgling years of adulthood as we start to feel our childhood fall away? It’s not an easy question to ask, and a harder one to answer.


‘All roads lead to where I started’


In search of an answer I turn, as I often do, to music. For the past five years, alt-pop singer-songwriter Ryan Beatty has been a frequent contributor to the soundtrack of my life. Itbegan with the opening song of his debut album, Boy In Jeans, with his declarative chant: ‘Run home! Get back to where you came from!’ ‘Haircut’ is a song of joyous self-expression that came just at the right time for me – a teenager revelling in the idea of the fresh start, the permission to ownwho you are, and love it.


But, five years later, Beatty is tired of running home. After three years of radio silence, he has recently released his marvellous exhale of an album, ‘Calico’, a meditation on what it means to leave your past behind and find yourself in the midst of stranger times. His proclamation on opening track ‘Ribbons’ strikes a remarkably different tone to his debut: ‘It’s brave to be nothing to no one at all,’ he realises.


Now, as a twenty-something finding my feet in London, the song that resonates with me most is ‘Hunter’. It’s a seven-minute ambient folk epic, a meandering poem set to the distant twanging of acoustic guitar, the ripple of brushed drums, a reedy saxophone.


Sonically, it finds its inspiration in ‘Song for Sharon’ by Joni Mitchell. With a similarly serpentine structure and unsettled atmosphere, this iconic song from her album ‘Hejira’ is almost mythic in its construction – a product of three road trips across America in a time of intense crisis for Mitchell. And asimilar desire for escape reveals itself in ‘Hunter’.


It begins with a vignette of Beatty drinking in a bar next to a man mourning the death of a deer he has just shot. From this disconcerting start, Beatty takes us through his winding stream of consciousness as he imagines a life where he follows that hunter far away from the streets of LA: ‘I've adapted to run. When it gets tough, I disappear’, he admits.


It’s a feeling I am familiar with – wanting to run away, disappear, seek solace in getting away from it all. But where do I run now? To my parents’ new house, to stay in the guest room? To my flat, as I come to the end of yet another extortionate lease?


Through ‘Hunter’, I start to recognise the symptoms of what’s now being known as the ‘quarter life crisis’, the delightfully existential name for the fears that come with making your way through your twenties.


Juliana Piskorz explored this in The Guardian, arguing that “young people are told they have a kaleidoscope of opportunity but are fettered by a complete lack of stability.” Much of this is of course down to an oppressive economic climate, but I think it’s also a very real fear that the choices we make now have permanent, far-reaching consequences: every career move could risk stagnation; failing to save enough money now could compromise your pension; everyone around you seems to be achieving far more, far faster.


This feeling of entrapment infects ‘Hunter’. ‘All roads lead to where I started’, intones Beatty. ‘You woke from a nightmare, your nightmare woke me up from a dream,’ he sings sleepily, stuck in the loop of warbling woodwind.


The song’s repetitive, labyrinthine nature plays on you like a spell, capturing that feeling of being trapped. It’s a sensation of desperate impatience: to find yourself, to succeed, to put down roots. Because where do we go without our roots?

‘I don’t want to be found’


In an interview with DJ Zane Lowe, Beatty discussed how he escaped to a remote studio when recording the song. ‘It sounds to me like you had to disappear to do it,’ says Lowe ‘But it couldn’t have been done unless you lived that life. How was living the life before the songs came?’ Beatty nods his head as though his mind is still somewhere deep in the woods. ‘Hard’, he murmurs.


I think we’re all feeling that. Our twenties seem to be full of goodbyes – to childhood homes, school friends, grandparents, pets. And the new beginnings are as fragile as ever - jobs that only just pay the bills, friendships scattered carelessly across the country.


It’s easy to paint a bleak picture. But, by the end of ‘Hunter’, Beatty has begun to untangle the knots he has found himself caught up in. ‘I’ll be gone for a while, and I don’t want to be found,’ he concludes, not in a voice of defeat, but one of defiance. He’s tired of the uncertainty, choosing to forge his own path away from the pressures of expectation.


That’s of course easier said than done. But as I pack away my old schoolbooks, teddy bears, and random keepsakes from a childhood seeped in sentimentality, I catch myself thinking that perhaps saying goodbye to your childhood roots shouldn’t feel like an ending. Maybe all these beginnings that we’re collecting in our twenties are something to be celebrated – that, as Beatty realises, ‘all wildflowers come from dirt’.


So I tape down the last box and decide to go for walk. And it’s not a search to try and recapture the walks of my childhood, to go back to my roots, or debate how I will go about putting new roots down. It’s just a walk. I listen to some music, watch the sun set, kick dust around my feet.


‘I’m not looking for a shelter’, Beatty is singing. And there’sa freedom in his voice that I haven’t heard before. Maybe it’s okay to not have all the answers. Maybe getting caught up in questioning if we’re doing enough, making the right choices, or trying hard enough, just isn’t a helpful exercise.


In the midst of a folk song, I start to realise that maybe it’s okay to be okay about where I am in life. Because as we allnavigate a time of uncertainty, there’s something very special about that – about giving up, getting lost, and finding joy in a life uprooted.

I’m Josh, a writer and playwright based in London. Alongside studying at the University of Exeter, I’ve been lucky enough to see my work performed at the Oxford Playhouse and workshopped with theatre companies across the UK and Canada. When I’m not writing about music, I’m interested in the efforts we make to keep ourselves together, and what happens when it all falls apart. After graduating, I moved to London to begin a career in copywriting. Now I’m a writer by day, and, exhaustingly, also a writer by night.

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