I have a thing for place. I’m a bit fastidious about the arrangement of things, and the locations where things are set in. Now don’t get me wrong, I clutter up with the best of them (my specialty being piles of books at my desk). But I am fond of the notion of deliberate positioning. At home I may shuffle around the artwork and tschotskes to get everything in a just the right order. (I’ve been known to cock the wooden raven on the piano at a 45 degree angle to the look just right and I’m finicky about hanging pictures is particular groupings and arrangements down to the centimeter.) I attempt to order my kitchen into stations for efficiency. When planning for family pictures I thoughtfully cull through places that mean something: a park we frequent regularly, a telling landmark of the area we live in, or some place that served as a setting for some happy past memory. I realize this marks me as a sentimentalist, so be it. This fixation with fixation may just be one of my personal quirks of an appetite for control. That too. However, I’ll bet any real estate agent in the audience would say an “Amen!” when I advocate for location, location, location.

Knowing where I am, having visual clues in the environment, foliage, and architecture make me happy and feel settled. I’m even fond of food with place. When I’m in Boston, I want the beans and brown bread. At home in Texas, I like to cook okra, cut into a local watermelon and jam the prickly pears. Whether they are things from a specific place or just recall a location, I like knowing origins and cultures: where things came from and how they got to me. I understand it probably makes me sound like I think entirely too much; and my brain is jammed with the travelogues of entirely too many things–but it was this thinking about place and thinking about well, thinking that gave me some recent grounding I had been needing.

Deep in our cells, we have little brains and memories. While the nucleus carries our regular, nuclear DNA, there is another place, the mitochondria, that holds vital information. In the mitochondria, we carry our mitochondrial DNA. Unlike nuclear DNA, which is inherited from both parents and in which genes are rearranged in the process of recombination, there is usually no change in mtDNA from parent to offspring. Although mtDNA also recombines, it does so with copies of itself within the same mitochondrion. Because of this and because the mutation rate of animal mtDNA is higher than that of nuclear DNA, mtDNA is a powerful tool for tracking ancestry through females (matrilineage) and has been used in this role to track the ancestry of many species back hundreds of generations.

Buried in my bones, hidden in my heart and embedded in my brain are the genes of my mother, and her mother, and hers and on and on. My mtDNA traces back to the women that bore me. At times I’ve felt lost lost and wonder where is the female divine. I took pause and realized I may not hear of her spoken as often as I wish, but I can feel her within myseIf, because she is. And Eve, Sarah, Rebekah to my own very good grandmothers and mother. Placed within my body and spirit, I literally carry these great women with me. I can feel settled when I am not, and find place within myself.

Place matters. I’m not French, nor do I speak it, but I find cooling comfort in the quip mise en plas. Putting things in place; a place for everything and everything in its place has a calming effect on me. I like things to fit just so, but truthfully I lack total control within my house and certainly outside of it. I can’t always order the world in the way I would like; I struggle to place all the things that I know. It’s ironic that for a person who likes specific placement and order, I’m not at all black and white. I can’t locate just what I should always feel, I can’t arrange just what to say or do or go at times. If nothing else, I can place myself. My matrilineage roots and anchors me; I am settled and secured on the inside: I know my place.


  1. Kellie aka Selwyn

    May 15, 2013

    I dream of having such placement within my home – my bookshelves are specifically organised, but that’s about it!

    Thank you for the connection between my lovely mitochondria and my even more lovely female ancestors. If only they would find their place in my family history pages already…

  2. Andrea R.

    May 15, 2013

    I can’t tell you how much I love you for talking about mtDNA in this post. I love thinking about our matrilineage.

  3. Emily

    May 15, 2013

    This is an especially timely post for me today. For months we’ve been in limbo, planning a cross-country move to follow my husband’s next step in training. We don’t know whether that big jump will be north, south, east or west, and I’m feeling a real lack of connection to place. Where is home?!?! Meanwhile, frequent thoughts of the female divine (why can’t She stand up and be known already?!) lead me to think about my own womanhood and contribution. Could I give us a more concrete sense of place if I were to stand up and be the one getting more degrees and employment? How can the women of my mtDNA help me rally to this new possibility? What if this thinking stay at home mom of a decade were to become a midwife and her bookish husband was at home instead?

    For now I’m off to seek more order in the house by purging more closets so I don’t have to move all that STUFF across a continent. Funny how order in small things, like what’s on my piano too, makes the larger torrent seem a bit more manageable.

  4. Sage

    May 20, 2013

    Loved this. Thank you!

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