The Next Chapter

What's it like to move 32 times in your life? Jane Christmas's new memoir tells you

The U.K.-based Canadian writer opens up to Shelagh Rogers about writing her memoir Open House: A Life in Thirty-Two Moves.
Open House is a memoir by Jane Christmas. (National Arts Centre/Patrick Crean Editions)

Jane Christmas is a Toronto-born travel writer and author presently based in the U.K. Her memoirs include What the Psychic Told the Pilgrim, Incontinent on the Continent and most recently Open House.

Open House looks back on Christmas's life through the one constant: moving. She's moved 32 times over the course of her life. She reflects on her final move, into a dilapidated English property that needs a ton of work, alongside her previous 31 moves, which began when she was a young girl.

Christmas spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing Open House

Moving around

"I had parents who bought and renovated homes and sold them. We moved frequently. It created a lot of instability for me. Every time I started to put down roots — especially when you're six or eight years of age and you're just getting that little posse of friends together — and then to be uprooted from that and then planted somewhere else and having to start over again was very destabilizing. 

I had parents who bought and renovated homes and sold them. We moved frequently. It created a lot of instability for me.

"But along the way, I figured this is the way everybody operates. I got used to it. After a while I got exhausted with the whole idea. I got angry with my parents about it. I vowed that I would never ever do this at all — certainly not to my children — and I never wanted to renovate a house. 

"And look at me, I've gone and done it."

Never settled

"I think [the desire to constantly move] is in my DNA. You don't grow up in that atmosphere and not absorb some of that into yourself. I certainly gained my mother's restlessness and, unfortunately, the striving for perfection. And also a nomadism that I have been trying to quell.

You don't grow up in that atmosphere and not absorb some of that into yourself.

"She was unforgiving and hard on me. But I also learned a lot from her about making a home. I watched her all the time to see what she would do, how she would set up a room and how she would prepare for when guests came over for dinner parties.

"That stuff sounds old fashioned but it's really important: that sense of creating hospitality for people is a gift. As tough as she was, she did have that gift." 

Staying put

"One of the things about writing a memoir is that I know it's entertaining to people to read. But for me these books have been a form of therapy. I think I am more at peace. 

"My husband is very different from me and he's a very calming influence. If I had been with somebody else — who just did everything that I said — I know we would be moving over and over again. 

These books have been a form of therapy. I think I am more at peace.

"I think out of respect for him, and his need for stability, I've been able to stop myself and to make peace with things too.

"Certainly in this age of pandemic, it's made me think more deeply about why I move. But also the importance of home and what does home really mean."

Jane Christmas's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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