Home - Are We There Yet?

A rambling meditation on the meaning of Home

Home. What is it? Refuge, padded cell, Architectural Digest theme park? The word home has multiple vectors, but I’ll take the Old English word ham - “dwelling, house, estate, village” - as a starting point because the duality of the term is at the core of my perambulations.  Home as residence. Home as locale.  Home is where the...

I recently spent 5 weeks away from home, visiting 4 different cities. It was one day in New York, around week 4, that I noticed I was not really missing my home, nor my current home town. I marveled at this; was it due to a vacation mind-set or staying in the home of good friends or being with my daughter? Not sure, although it did cause me to wonder where in the world I really belonged. This was not in fact a new process: having often uprooted myself, this question was always hovering in the psychic space above me.  “Where do you call home?” - for me, and probably many others, it can be a provisional thing where one calls home. But what sprang to mind, in that moment in New York, was the phrase ‘On Not Leaving L.A.’…

In fact I suffer from a form of bi-coastal psychosis or bi-location— the East Coast, mostly New York, is where I spent my young adult and parenting years, where my oldest friends and my daughter live. Yet I’ve lived on the West Coast - wound up here for creative reasons - for a decade, and now a small circle of newbie buds are starting to ground me here. New York? I love the buzz, the energy, and of course the seasons. And I some sense I actually am a New Yorker.

Yet I wonder if at this point I could actually sustain my now very So-Cal, sunny nature when battered about by New York’s ‘New Weather’, the throngs of fellow humans, and needing to seek refuge, due to higher rents, in much smaller living quarters. In Los Angeles, there’s simply more space - more room to stretch, to meander, and of course to ‘space out.’  As a relatively high-mach type, I would find it hard to sacrifice that perma-grin, LaLa land weather, that weather which is not weather, the endless summer that seduces one to the sort of surreal, fantastical thinking that fuels Hollywood.

SimpsonsNsanta ©2014 Ellary Eddy

L.A. is a sweet hometown in some ways.  Easy living and all the culture you can stand if you just get off your ass.  So why the doubt, the uncertainty? Do I simply have a restless, nomadic soul, one that would probably never find peace in any one locale/home?  

From that moment on, I find myself ruminating about what Home actually means. Home… Home Sweet Home. Home away from Home. Homesick. Hometown. Homegrown. Homeward Bound. “You Can’t Go Home Again,” “This little piggie goes wee-wee-wee all the way home.” And then there are ‘my homies’ - the ones that pull me East.   

London Sailboats ©2014 Ellary Eddy

Home is as much a metaphor as a reality.  As much a construct of time as of place. As much about memory, imagination and possibility as it is about the stuff of beds and TVs, photos of Junior in jersey #44 and Grandmother’s crystal. For some, home is a holding cell, for others a haven. In fact, home has been called a mirror of self, and it’s one we may rarely gaze into directly. 

I search Amazon for books about the nature of Home and find nothing that would appear to answer my inquiry into its nature but this one - an older book called House as a Mirror of Self: the Deeper Meaning of Home. (Link below.) In it, Clare Cooper Marcus, an architecture professor at UC Berkeley, explores ‘how personal crises, the need for privacy, couples' power struggles, divorce and career changes, affect one's feelings about, and design of, one's living environment.’

Her case studies of peoples' emotional ties to their homes offer widely divergent perspectives on what makes a house a home. As did Carl Jung, Marcus maintains that one's home is a symbolic mirror of one's inner self. Having interviewed over 60 people in their domestic settings, she found that ‘many had excessively bonded to a residence or its contents as a substitute for close relationships with people; at the opposite extreme were those unable to settle down in one place because having a permanent abode was fraught with unresolved emotional issues from childhood.”

It’s a provocative work that also includes exercises to stimulate thought about the nature of one’s relationship to one’s abode.  These include making drawings and entering dialogues where one both speaks to and takes on the voice of one’s house as well. Curious, I made a drawing of my home (one can be free in its depiction and I, pre-rationally, chose to use a symbol to represent it - a sort of 6-sided, orange, star-like amoeba thing, reaching out like a living, pulsing being, and surrounded by the sun, myself in water, people and dogs, hawks and my winged (dreaming) self in a cloud. I came to reflect that, despite my quandary about my locale, which to me is an issue as deep as the home itself, I had in fact made a pretty swell dwelling anyhow.

But was it a particular structure that Odysseus pined for, that he strove so fervently to navigate back to? Or was it his wife and son and the harsh Ionian landscape, the glint and scent of its rock?  Proust knew, with his tea-soaked madeleine, that power of scent. And any homesick human, when returning home, knows that feeling too, the one you get from the level of wet in the air, the way light bounces off color and the smell of the earth, of home turf.  Locked deeply in my psyche is the smell of moist mid-western soil, the living green light of deciduous trees in summer and the brilliant blue reflecting off of snow or pinned behind hot red leaves.

Chicago Suburban Home ©2014 Ellary Eddy

The life of an artist can make buying a home an unwise decision. Hence I rent, and gasp to think how much I’ve spent to date; but then again, when I leave, I just turn the key. I’ve also evaded years of ridiculous interest and liberated my capital to realize the dream of my magazine. 

My home is the upper floor of a 1930’s Spanish style duplex. The kitchen cabinets are original (charming but rumpled) as is all the bathroom tiling - a shade of mauvey taupe that probably can't even be found these days. The borders of the shower doors are rusting a bit and the thermostat is paleolithic and dull-witted, but over the years I have convinced my landlord to repaint and to replace all the appliances. He did recently balk however at ripping up the ancient nylon wall to wall carpeting I’ve hidden for years under orientals. This old carpet was really beginning to ‘harsh my mellow’ and when I mentioned this to a good friend - an older British actress possessed of an impressive mind and dramatic vocabulary, whom I shall call B. - she urged me to make a ‘commitment to place’.  She pointed out that not doing so is a common error made by many renters who postpone such things and years later, still in the same lodgings, regret it. B. convinced me exposing the wood floors would refresh my soul and so I determined to foot the bill myself, reasoning that it all balances out with my relatively reasonable rent. I have always had wood floors in my homes and now I will again gain access to the cool feel of wood beneath my bare feet and, having staked my claim, this place will become more like home. 

But this renovation stuff requires serious effort, even if one isn’t doing the work oneself, and I now see that there’s a wild child part of me that resists taking responsibility for the mundanities of a household.  Living solo at present, I have the decided benefit of being able to treat my home like a treehouse if I feel like it. And I usually do. But of course dust will pile up even in a treehouse.  And the more objects you have, the more stuff you have to dust. This is when I want to flee. House as sanctuary/house as dead weight.

Pacific Heights ©2014 Ellary Eddy

When I asked B., about her feelings on the topic of home, she immediately stated that her home owns her… and referred to ‘home as husband.’ She lives in a wonderful, rambling Greek-influenced house, with as much outdoor space as indoor (part jungle, part English garden, part Toscana al fresco,) but she is tied to this place and its endless upkeep. She often expresses a longing to leave the house and this town and head back to Europe. Yet she is too deeply attached to the ideal refuge she’s created. 

Of course there’s that other issue when contemplating a shift of home - moving, an enormous enterprise. Along with death and divorce, one of the bogeymen of life.  But beyond the physical feat of moving is the deeper, psychic one. Finding oneself pulled between these two elemental forces - the comfortable known (mother?) and the tantalizing unknown of life without her. 

B. also remarks that in her milieu, visiting her circle of friends, she always feels at home. “They all possess a great array of books, Kilim rugs, a sort of crafty chaos, a certain kind of lazy invitation to have great conversations by nice big fires, food, booze… and of course gardens.”  

Michael Dressel

Gardens, the great or small Outdoors (there is always this duality, inside the doors, outside the doors,) are another major component of what constitutes a home, at least for those who are lucky enough to have them.  But whether the home’s exterior is an extended palette for self-expression, or merely an annoying fact of, mostly suburban, life… may expose class delineations between the perfect hedgerows of the well-to-do, and the repositories of rusting cars on tobacco road.

Forlorn LA House ©2014 Ellary Eddy

For some, their home is a major pre-occupation, a huge investment of time, energy and money.  I’ve done that and I know - again to provide a home for my darling kid. But for now, I have my treehouse filled with paintings and taxidermy, and spend more money on travel and the experiential side of life. Yet I realize that creating that inviting atmosphere B. invokes is something that I too would like - a place to entertain, to rouse conversation, to foment minor revolutions over a good meal.  With my redone wood floors, I’m gonna do it.

It’s like those sleek new floors will groove me into a higher level of Feng Shui, another pre-eminent factor in the nature of home. B. remarked that when visiting others she sometimes finds she cannot sleep in their guest rooms - the energy is off.  “Homes possess energies.” And they’re either positive or negative or maybe just ambivalent. “Everything is a little story, every little object…” she says. Home as narrative; we embed ourselves in our histories.  And all those objects/stories hold energy - that either sustains us or detains us…

London Dining Room © 2014 Ellary Eddy

Home is also very much about acceptance - of what cannot be changed, or of what is sufficient. Having a certain amount of detachment about one’s abode? Seems like a positive thing.  And of course home is about control - do you have it? Is it your space to manipulate as you please or do you have to collaborate with others? Is it a symbol of stasis or strength or strife?  Is your home always in flux or frozen in time?  Does it truly express yourself?  Do you open it to others or is it an altar to your solitude?

Home can be a gathering place or sadly sometimes more of a showplace, and one that lacks heart. Herein lies a rub between many cohabiting couples.  Histories collide. Meanings collide. Aesthetics clash. Clare Marcus has much to say about couples navigating the choppy waters of sharing domestic space. The last two elements in the etymology below are intriguing, especially when you think of who is usually the ruler of a household.

Domestic (adj.) early 15c., from Middle French domestique (14c.) and directly from Latin domesticus "belonging to the household," from domus "house," from PIE *dom-o- "house," from root *dem- "house, household" (cognates: Sanskrit damah "house;" Avestan demana- "house;" Greek domos "house," despotes "master, lord;" Latin dominus "master of a household”…

This question of home can have huge ramifications for those approaching their later years… the empty nesters.  How long do you hold onto the family home and when, if ever, do you downsize? For many, especially those who find relationships shifting and domiciles breaking up, this can present an acute dilemma… or a fertile opportunity.  I submit it is the latter.  And there seems to be a growing awareness amongst the over 50 and 60 crowd that letting go is a very liberating, very appropriate act.  I’m not there yet, but I can see it on the horizon.  A moment when just arriving on my yoga mat, as one brilliant yogi says, I know I am home.  How apt it is that home and Om share the same resonant sound.

On a very deep level, home is about privacy, about having a domain all your own.  We all need our hideouts. It is one of the most primal of urges and we see it in children who always find a way to create their own private empire, whether under a porch, in a tree or in an attic. The need to secrete oneself - to find oneself surrounded, as in the womb, with only that which nurtures and protects us.  This is where we breathe. And even in these temporary abodes we choose a handful of objects that extend our identity beyond the edges of our flesh and state, to ourselves, who we are.

Treehouse ©2014 Ellary Eddy

Ultimately you cannot think of home, of an American home, without thinking of all those who, out of their own volition or not, manage to carry with them, in their soul, in their gut, a sense of home that requires no home town and little more than 4 walls.  “Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his hat was his home.”  A good friend says “Home is where I feel safe.”  She was referring to a point when she and her young son were living in a room, in a new town, with little but a few suitcases. 

Dwelling is the word that seems apt here.  I love the idea that it is a verb.  Here I am dwelling, here I dwell.  It’s a curious, almost contradictory etymology as you can see below… 

Dwell (v.) Old English dwellan "to mislead, deceive," originally "to make a fool of, lead astray," from Proto-Germanic *dwelan "to go or lead astray" (cognates: Old Norse dvöl "delay," dvali "sleep;" Middle Dutch dwellen "to stun, make giddy, perplex;" Old High German twellen "to hinder, delay;" Danish dvale "trance, stupor," dvaelbær "narcotic berry”…

Despite the historical divagations of meaning, our current notion of dwelling now chiefly resides with the sense of lingering… which then, sotto voce, implies sleeping.  Ah, Home as the place we lay our head.  To sleep perchance to dream. Is that not really what a home ideally offers?  A place to rest in tranquillity, to reunite the fragmented elements of minds that have been jostled by the day, to have the space and the safety to let our souls wander freely beyond the four walls, to explore and to create the worlds we will awaken the next day to create.

©2014 Ellary Eddy

Ellary Eddy is the Founder, Publisher and Editor of Realize Magazine, and these are her photographs.

House as Home - Clare Cooper Marcus   House as a Mirror of Self, Clare Cooper Marcus  - available on Amazon