Beyond The Pale

On Home, Rant

Several days ago, on my first journal entry since I got back to Fayetteville from after my trip to Columbus to see my family, I was writing from my apartment, and I didn’t know what to put as my location of writing (while I was in Ohio, I switched from noting the city to noting the actual location. E. G., “Dublin” became “Dublin Starbucks,” etc.), so I noted my location as “Home.” “Home,” in this case is 1137 Capehabor Ct. in Fayetteville North Carolina, and I’m not entirely sure how that happened. This was certainly the first time that I had described Fayetteville as home. I thought that I wouldn’t think of this place as being home until Andrea moved out here later in the year, but there it bled into the page of my journal, the one place that I never lie. And in retrospect, none of the other places that I used to call home seem to be willing now to keep the title.

The house that I grew up in belongs to my brother, and he has made changes that make it almost unrecognizable, but were this not true, it would still not be home because the place ceased to be my home many years before my parents sold it, so home isn’t where I grew up. My parents’ house, even though Andrea lives there now, is home only in the sense that my loved ones live there, and while the cliché that “home is where the heart is” may be true in a sense, for me at least, whenever I’m there, I’m always visiting, and you don’t visit home. You visit everywhere else. My house in Springfield, even though I still own the building, emphasizing the “my” in the “my home” equation, has degraded into nothing more than a source of slight income and a whole lot of headache for me. So home becomes a third floor apartment in an out of the way part of Fayetteville. I don’t know how this happened, but other than two missing elements, Eris and Andrea, it is home.

Which sets me to thinking: last spring when I was traveling with my dad from California to North Carolina, we detoured by Springfield to pick up some things that I had left there when I joined the Army. I stopped in at my house to talk to the tenant, Christian, and was surprised  that it was a completely different place from where I had made my home when I was a Springfieldian. Of course, I expected the furniture and decorations to be different, and I expected the temperature to be slightly different because of our tastes, but overall, I thought it would be the same place. It wasn’t. The very texture of the air, and the way that the light filled the rooms was somehow altered, and while the infrastructure was apparently the same, it was like someone had transplanted my skeleton into someone else’s body.

Dwelling on this further, I realize (Afghanistan wreaked havoc on this computer. I had to slap the “r” key three times before it finally registered for that last “realize”) that there is an atmosphere to places I live that chases me. I’m sure that it changes subtly from place to place because of the lighting or the quality of the building, but the way I know when I’m “home” comes from some king of sensation of “homeness” an amalgamation of various associations and stimulus responses that cascade one upon the other to finally crest into the sensation that I’ve made it “home.” This sensation is almost impossible to consciously notice, but it’s even less possible to ignore. I can only assume that this is true of other people as well. Thus, even though 927 W. Lombard is my house, the reason it felt so strange to enter that night was that subconsciously I expected either the emptiness of a former residence that has been cleared out, or some kind of residual “my home” ness. Instead, I wondered into someone else’s home. It was disorienting.

We carry our homes around with us just like snails, or maybe hermit crabs, who can leave their shells for a while—and even trade them in for new ones.

This train of thought brings all kinds of questions to mind. For instance, what is the definable element that creates that tipping point where home happens? How does a new object integrate into the home? When I look at my new couch and dining set, I don’t think, “hmmmm, what’s that strange table doing in my home?” On the contrary, I see a part of my home, something organic. Likewise, when I go to my storage unit, where sits an old, busted couch that used to be a part of my home (and before that, someone else’s), I don’t see an amputated part of my home waiting to be sown back on (by the way, it’s kinda fun to flip this around as well. Are my fingernails me? Will they be next week when I’ve cut them away? What about that food on the table? Is it me? Will it be when I eat it? If so, what if I get sick later? I that vomit in the toilet me?). The quality of “homeness” has been drained out of it like water from a sponge on the back of the sink.

Let us take this a step further. When I was in San Angelo, Texas, for half a year effectively home-less, everything I owned was in a storage unit in Monterey, California. When I was fighting in Afghanistan, it was all in a storage unit in Fayetteville, North Carolina. At neither place did I ever throw open the doors of the unit, take a deep breath, and sigh “It’s so good to be home.” All the objects that would normally comprise my home had devolved into just stuff, things. This is true to the extent that when I moved into this apartment, I was able, for the first time in years, to convince myself to throw away some books. Where before they had been part of the fabric of my home, their time in storage had temporarily stripped that from them, and I was able to prune my collection a bit (not enough).

So for me, home isn’t my house, and it isn’t the objects inside of it. Neither, contrary to all Hallmark might want me to believe, is it the residence of loved ones—that’s home in a sense, but not in this sense of “my cave,” the place where I feel safe and comfortable. If it were, I would feel a homeness in Ohio that I simply don’t feel.

All this rambling leads me to the conclusion, as I hinted before, that there is a meta process by which I impart homeness upon a house or apartment (or cardboard box), which makes it through some kind of Alchemy from a place full of stuff into the unified essence of home, from which individual objects can be removed, and to which they can be added without altering that essence. One could argue, I guess, that this is really just an issue of how much time gets spent there, the comfort of familiarity, but I don’t buy it. I think that homeness is something we bestow upon a place, and I think that essence is imparted through the incantation. We speak place and stuff into home when we truly name it as such. We say, not with our mouths, but with our sub-conscious “home” and with our incantation we change the nature of a small portion of the universe. Perspective changes, things blur (like curds forming a block of cheese) in a cognitive web of associative memory, and home happens.


April 24, 2010 - Posted by | Journal Style Entries, Rant


  1. I love this post! Defining “home” is different from person to person and hearing your perspective is great. Pinpointing what makes a place home is not simple. I’ve gone through many phases in the past year and transferring “home” to a few places. We had a house in Denver that we called home…now it is rented. We spent some months in the in-laws basement which actually became “home” and felt like it. Now, here in the Philippines, I think I am in the process of calling this place “home.” It felt strange to be here these first few months and feel as though I had no home; not here (yet) and not in the states. Hoping and praying I can call this place home soon.
    Bridget (Land)

    Comment by Bridget | May 19, 2010 | Reply

  2. This post sparks different detours of thinking for me.

    The idea of home, in English language further confined within American culture and maybe bitten by generational perception, is one of many levels. Like the concepts of love, we have one measly word to encompass a whole passel of meaning and experience.

    For some reason the idea of home has shifted, and our society has been losing sense of what it might look like. we dig into our feelings of the time, and say “no that is not it”. Maybe some think they will know it when they see it, maybe some have given it up…like some mythical Shangri-La that they now believe does not exist.

    And it makes me want to spend some time thinking about the common Christian idea that “this world is not our home”, and how that affects us. Is the disconnect a spiritual reality protruding into our emotional sense… or is it something else? It makes me consider my own sense of “home”. Is it people or place? Does time make a difference for me, or do I mentally transport to inner memory to retain the sense of home? Did I have the wrong ideas about what makes home… or were they simply lacking in part?

    Do we conflate the idea of making a home with that of making a personal kingdom? Now there is food for thought.

    Comment by Ilona | July 7, 2010 | Reply

  3. I’ve thought about this a lot myself, which is a way of saying we’ve probably actually talked about it together at some point. It’s hard to catalogue the range of things we’ve discussed during these aeons. For now, out in the world you are, and I seem to have missed this post for all these months–or it’s been so long since I read it that it’s striking me afresh.

    I’m drinking a black eye right now. It’s become a mainstay. What does that say about home?

    I agree about investing home. I feel like “home” is a particular kind of place that does follow me around–a place that I charge a certain way with my presence. So in a sense, home is everywhere I am, though it varies in intensity, and certainly my “cave” is a very particular and singular kind of place. It does have a certain feel. It’s like the substantial space, even the constituting particles themselves, become infused with my presence and resonante myself back to me. All of which I think is very lovely. Like a home takes on a kind of irreplacable mark of your own. But why should it be otherwise? I have a specific genetic code and many markers that signify me solely and specifically. It makes sense that the place in which I invoke “home” would take on a specific kind of “DNA” marking that refers to me specifically.

    Comment by wordorgy | August 26, 2010 | Reply

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