I’ve spent the last few months reading Claudio Magris. Most recently, I’ve immersed myself in his latest collection of travel writing, Journeying, skillfully translated from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. Magris is an author of some renown in Europe, but, like countless other authors who do not write in English, is still relatively unknown in the United States. He is a writer whose name always seems to come up when the betting on the next Nobel for Literature begins, even if the odds are largely against him. Still, he is a heavyweight in European letters who deserves a larger audience in the United States. I’ll come back to Magris.
Because of a change in employment, I am moving my family from New Hampshire to Maryland. In the space of a week we sold our townhouse and purchased a new house in Maryland. Needless to say, it was one hell of a week. We placed our New Hampshire house on the market late Friday evening, and by the end of the day on the following Monday we accepted an offer. Over the weekend we had to keep the house in pristine condition while strangers came in and out. It’s a strange thing to know that someone you do not know is moving through your home, looking in your closets and cabinets, inspecting all of the things that physically make up a home. It has been more than a little disconcerting for me in that I value my privacy to the extreme. Nevertheless, if one wants to sell one’s home, one must make certain sacrifices that are, at the very least, uncomfortable and intrusive.
We sold our home before we could get down to Maryland to look at new places. However, we all (my children were especially keen on searching for homes on the internet) spent much of our time looking at houses online. It’s both strange and wonderful to have so much information at our fingertips. I looked at dozens of houses and each one brought with it something special. With each house I viewed I tried to picture what it would look like with us in it. Would we be comfortable? Would we be able to transfer our lives as seamlessly as possible into a new dwelling? Of course, there would be a period of adjustment, but I wanted to make as smooth a transition as possible. But I also wanted something different. I had grown bored with my surroundings in New Hampshire, especially professionally, and needed a change.
I suspect that most people would not equate change with the concept of home. In fact, home would seem to connote the very opposite: a regulated, comfortable and secure (secure in the sense of unchanging) environment. But for me, home has always been a fluid concept.
All of which brings me back to Magris. Somewhere early in his book he mentions that our concepts of home are entangled in routine. It’s the practice of routine that defines and sets the parameters of what it means to be at home in the world. As I thought about this, combined with the experience of moving for the first time in over a decade, I found myself agreeing with him. We lose ourselves in the routines of daily life, and through those routines we begin to stake out a claim. Home and its connotations are different for most people, yet we continue to force our dominate conception (in the case of the United States its wrapped up in the idea of home ownership, of property, but this also goes back to the political ideology of John Locke) on others, just as we force our way of life on others. Home, in other words, is conformity. Well, I’ve never been a conformist, and I not only balk at, but am repelled by the dominant concepts of what it means to be at home in the world, and I’ve been exploring this topic for the last twenty years.
As my family continues to pack up our “stuff,” we feel more and more unhomed. I tell myself that this is one of the richest experiences I can give my children, and so far, they seem to be taking it all in stride. When we finally come to settle in our new home, it may take a few years before that familiar feeling of being at home sets in. But until then, I plan to revel in the fecundity of movement, of being anything but at rest.