Saturday, May 1, 2010

There is no House but there is Home/ Re-Thinking Home

I am leaving Charlotte in two weeks, to go work and attend graduate school in NYC. And because I don’t have relatives or family living in North Carolina, I probably won’t be back very often( except for frequent visits to my dear friends). And I found out today, that moving my things on a U-Haul truck will cost me at least six hundred dollars, which is money I don’t have. So the only other option I thought of, to solve this problem, is going for the “immigrant style” move. I am used to this style of moving and it consists on getting rid of as many things as possible (including my mattress) and limiting my baggage to three boxes of books, my bookshelves, and three bags of clothes which will fit in my car. That’s it, that’s all I’m taking with me to NYC. Exciting, huh? Here we have, embodied, the old idea of traveling free of burdens, and from material items from the past. This idea can sound pretty bohemian.
Yet as much as I keep trying to convince myself that “traveling free” is the best way to travel through life, and that half of my possessions I don’t even use anyway, and that my room will be smaller in Queens, I find it slightly difficult to have to say good bye to my room as it’s been for the past few years in Charlotte. Difficult to say good bye to the material structures that gave me a sense of stability I could perceptually label as “home.”

And I cannot help but do these stupid things were I compare myself. I compare myself to the people who get to move away with limited items, like me, but who still have the opportunity to “go back home” for the holidays. They go back home to the structures of stability, and there rests their childhood room with their old teddy bears, and their memories all stocked up, somewhere, anywhere. Yet I’ve lived by the old Tom Wolfe line, “You can’t go back home again” for years, because this is just how it is. We immigrants have to travel light. We get rid of things, we avoid accumulating, and when somebody we know shows us their boxes with baby clothes from when they were children: boxes full of childhood pictures, yearbooks, and items that have helped mold their identities, we turn away. We don’t want to turn away, but indifference is a better response than longing for what we lost through the cracks and leaks of so many moves. Forgetting allows us to travel free. A good friend of mine, who is also my Alanon sponsor, always comments on how she cannot think of the past or the future because sometimes memories are painful, and projections are scary. "All you have is today, and that is enough.” I never thought I would really buy into this whole “live the present” mentality, but I do, and it has allowed me to re-think the concept of “home,” by turning, not to philosophy, but to literature.

In her novel Animal Dreams, Barbara Kingsolver describes an alternate way of thinking about “home.”
“The greatest honor you can give a house is to let it fall back down into the ground,” he said. “That’s where everything comes from in the first place.”
I looked at him, surprised. “But then you’ve lost your house.”
“Not if you know how to build another one. All those great pueblos like at Kinishba—people lived in them awhile, and then they’d move on. Just leave them standing. Maybe go to a place with better water, or something.”…
Loyd rubbed his hand thoughtfully over my palm. Finally he said, “The important thing isn’t the house. It’s the ability to make it. You carry that in your brain and in your hands, wherever you go. Anglos are like turtles, if they go someplace they have to carry the whole house along in their damn Winnesotas.” …
“We’re like coyotes,” he said. “Get to a good place, turn around three times in the grass, and you’re home. Once you know how, you can always do that, no matter what. You won’t forget.”

In this dialogue, Loyd, a Native American man, discusses his conception of home with a Latina named Codi. Loyd argues that he learned from his Pueblo ancestors that a house that rests on a solid foundation and resists destruction is not necessarily synonymous with a feeling of being at home. In his view, “home” means that you “have the ability to make” a structure in which you, family and friends can reside, and that you can re-build it when circumstances, or you, dictate. This structure need not be literal—just as a coyote builds a metaphorical home by turning “around three times in the grass” I can also build my home through this re-building, re-creating of my ability to make. But to do this, today, I can only stay in the present, and I can choose to stop looking back, I have made this choice a long time ago. This is another reason why I’m interested in the philosophical (metaphysical/ethical/political) problem of personal identity. For example, what might be the conception of the self that underlies such a conception of home? That is, if “home” means that one has the ability to make, then the self becomes a continuous project of becoming, of “shining through” (from the Latin Per-sona) and against the structures of this artificial stability, and what types of philosophy might one need in order to formalize that self-conception?