What does it mean to be “home?”
I bought an old ’60s rotary telephone last year. I don’t really know why, but I think I do. It is a physical object that at one point defined the concept of “home,” a place where your life was a permanent thing. You lived where you could plug in a phone and people could call you at. It only rang at one place.
I know, this concept did not exist at some point in human existence, but the phone then was something else, maybe the place where you could stable your horse. But it was always a “physical” place of some sort. Even nomads had a “place” where they could rest, repair, belong.
I’m thinking lately about the concept of permanent impermanence. I’m not quite sure what to do with these thoughts or what they mean in a larger concept of capitalism and the human need for certainty. I’m not looking for answers or solutions on how to find stability in a world that changes faster than our ability to control our destiny. I’m just ruminating.
I watched Nomadland and what it means for Fern and all of us who are living in a culture that has expectations of a stable home vs our need to explore. On the one hand, we’re encouraged to seek out new experiences, but when we try, we’re bum-rushed out of spaces that feed this need. We can’t just park a van any place we are; we have to pay for the space. Even what looks like a stretch of desert in the middle of nowhere, someone owns it. Someone is going to bang on your van door and tell you to move along unless you shell out some money.
We should have a job, a house, a family around us.
I hesitate buying a new book because I will have to place it on a bookshelf in a place that feels less and less permanent. I feel the same as my finger hovers over the “Buy Now” button on Amazon or various websites when I feel like I need a new trinket or gadget. If I buy this thing, I get to hold it but I also need to put it somewhere, a somewhere that feels increasingly like a place that is not mine.
I was given a theater-sized popcorn popper a few years back as a birthday gift. It gave me a lot of joy being able to pop popcorn anytime I wanted. After a few months, the popcorn popper went from something that sparked joy to something that just stunk up the house and probably attracted mice. I reluctantly moved it from the house into the garage where it now sits. I am allowed to make a batch of popcorn when the house is empty. It’s been several months since I’ve made popcorn as my house is hardly ever my space lately. Besides, I want to make sure my current pant size is either permanent or reduced and massive amounts of buttered popcorn work against that goal.
My dad was a philosopher when he was sober. I carry an image burned into my brain of him sitting alone at the head of the dining room table in the house I grew up. It was the middle of the day, but the room was dark because the black bomb curtains were drawn. The room was filled with smoke from the pack of cigarettes he was finishing off and the cherry of his lit cigarette glowed as he inhaled.
“Like footsteps on a sandy dune,” he said, holding his arms out and slowly bringing them back in to take another drag of his cigarette. “All of this — of me — will be blown away in the wind, like footsteps on a sandy dune.” He seemed profoundly sad and broken. I remember thinking that should be the title of his book. Years later when it became apparent he would never write it, I thought it should be the title of my book.
He died at 85, not written that book. I still haven’t years later.
I want what Hester Pryne had at the end of The Scarlet Letter — a small home, the quiet of stability… (oops, spoiler alert for every high school student who never got past the “A” in the novel and wrote song lyrics without the proper context… sorry Taylor, I love ya, but the reference is … confused…) But even the house you paid off is never quite yours because you have to pay the property taxes and the threat of a shifting “free market” makes a house not really yours.
Maybe the permanence is now the glowing screens of my MacBookPro and my iPhone, found at the address of gerardmclean.com and @gerardmclean at various points on the interwebs and not at the terminated end of a phone wire.
See you on down the road.