I grew up in a military family and it’s part of my inherited story that before I was nine years old I lived in no fewer than eleven places, whether they were houses, apartments or on-base “housing units.” I take this number of my mother’s on faith because I honestly cannot remember even a single one of those houses in detail, and have no way of making my own count.
By contrast, my husband can count on half his hand the houses he lived in before he went to college. (Just two, and one of those was a weekender summer home.)
I have a genuinely hard time understanding the heartbreak I see when people are forced through circumstance to leave a particular house for another – it’s a real blind spot for me, the kid who moved through a blurring series of homes, neighborhoods, schools, states, countries. Conversely, my husband and his family express fond sentimentality for the houses they remember in wonderful detail – their shared mythology of house and home is, by contrast to mine, vivid, specific and meaningful.
You can take me down
To show me your home
Not the place where you live
But the place where you belong.
– Toad the Wet Sprocket
To what extent do we conflate “house” with “home?” For me, not much at all – in my mind, home has includes a little bit of everything and everywhere (I often say I can feel at home anywhere I go, which is possibly just a comforting lie). Thirty odd years later I am still a renter and think mostly about where my husband, my animals and I eat and sleep, where I keep my stuff. Home may someday become a concept I equate with a house, but at early middle age it still hasn’t happened. For you, “home” may mean a combination of things, a specific arrangement of location, a particular group of people, a shared history.
Home is the primordial setting for our personal myths of origin, the measure of our early growth, experiences of love or not-love, justice or injustice, belonging or not. Home often means the house one grew up in, but not necessarily. It’s where we learn our first social roles and our earliest values, thoughts and memories. It’s also the stage for our profoundest dramas and where we begin to weigh the myths and values of the adults around us against what we begin learning is true for ourselves.
It’s also the place where you first feel frustration, wanderlust, curiosity – it’s where we dream of the things we do not have, the places we haven’t yet gone. Home is first a microcosm, then the stage where we build the rest of the world in our imagination to fit an ideal, an adventure, a future. Our earliest personal myths.
Notice that in literature and popular culture, home is rarely portrayed as idyllic except initially, before the plot thickens. Narratives about leaving home, going home or finding oneself in a strange new home have fascinated us forever – think of how many novels you know of that are based on a house, a mansion, an estate.
Perhaps not surprisingly, I am very fond of some fictional houses: Collinwood, from the early serial Dark Shadows, Mme. Beck’s boarding school in Villette, Navidson House from House of Leaves (which book actually felt like a house), also the bridge of the Enterprise in the original Star Trek series.
Explore your ideas of house and home in today’s poem. I’ve touched on several possible angles already, here are a few more:
* what drama in your life depended on a particular house?
* under what circumstances did you leave your first home?
* can a house haunt you?
* what little details of home are most vivid?
* were you ever forced to leave a house behind?
* what parts of your house feel most like sanctuary?
* as an adult, to what extent have you recreated your early home?
* can you carry home with you?
* can you ever go back?
Also, consider an extended metaphor – can a house be a heart, a body, a stage, a starship, castle, a cage, a ticking bomb, the whole wide world?