Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Home: More Than a Physical Construct

If you are reading this now, it's very likely that you are doing so from the comfort of your own home. Look around for a moment. Go on. Turn your head to the left and to the right, then look behind you. Look familiar? Or maybe you're reading this while waiting at a bus stop, and if you are, are you wondering what's for dinner tonight? Are you excited about Game Three of the State of Origin tonight? Maybe you've just had a long, tedious day and can't wait to rest your head on a pillow and go to sleep. Whatever you're thinking, chances are you are looking forward to going home.

In the classic Australian film The Castle, Bud Tingwell's character utters some of the most profound words I have ever heard in a film, and yet they are so simple. He says: "You can acquire a house, but you can't acquire a home. Because a home is not built of bricks and mortar, but love and memories." I'm writing this blog in the confines of my bedroom. It's a room I know very well. I know my entire house quite well, actually, for I've lived in it my whole life. It's not a fancy home. It's relatively small, the colour scheme is a bit dull, and even some of the furniture is shabby and partially ruined. But it's a roof over my head, and I have so many precious memories involving it. It is the place I feel most comfortable, and I am sincerely grateful to live in it.

Our homes, like the people who occupy them, go through drastic changes sometimes. The objects within our homes are often as special as the home itself. Renovations mean that a room, or even the whole house, is supplied with a new atmosphere. We may change the layout of our own bedrooms, even if it involves switching the positions of our bed and our wardrobe. Change is bittersweet when it comes to homes. It may signal the end of a much-loved pastime, such as the time my older brother wanted to move into the spare bedroom of my home, which, at the time, housed a pool table. There was not enough space for a king-sized bed AND a pool table, so the pool table had to go. Once it was removed from the spare room, we did nothing with it, and it was left to perish in the rain. Change also marks an opportunity to experiment with new surroundings, which can be exciting. I remember the first shower I had after having my bathroom renovated. The water felt so powerful, like it was massaging my back. Everything smelled fresher, too. I was marvelling at the change, not to mention that my old bathroom was in a horrible state. The dinner table is very much a symbol of unity for most families. Not all families have a strict regime where dinner must be eaten as a family every night at the same time, but whatever the case, you have most likely consumed the majority of meals in your life at the dinner table. Think of the sense of occasion that sometimes accompanies dinner. You not only eat food as a family, but you often engage in friendly banter or talk about your daily experiences at school or at work. Steps are another feature of our homes that we take for granted, or use subconsciously. When you think about it, you use steps whenever leaving your home or walking up to your verandah. If you live in an apartment, walking up and down steps will obviously be a more conscious action to you. In fact, it could be said that in apartments, steps become stairs. But steps are also made for sitting. I often use my backyard steps to sit and ponder about dilemmas, or as a vantage point to gaze at clouds. You cry tears on steps. You share jokes on steps. You embrace on steps. You can do a lot of things on steps, now I think of it. And what about our pets? Those creatures that we love unconditionally and that bring us so much joy. Earlier this year, my family lost our beloved dog, Boyo, after having him among us for about fourteen years. We buried him in the backyard in what was a simple yet incredibly emotional process. He is a part of our home's history now. He practically lived his whole life in the one home, and that home would be his final resting place. 

I've always thought there's something quite Romantic about the notion of being alone after everyone has left a party you've hosted. We've all been there. We've hosted a party at our house - for a birthday, engagement, Christmas, etc - and there comes a point where there's only one guest left, and when he or she leaves, you are overwhelmed by mixed emotions. You wish they could have stayed for just five more minutes, or that the night just hadn't ended. Sometimes you just pour yourself a refreshment, put your feet up on the couch, and say "Thank fuck that's over." No matter what your post-party thoughts are, there is one thing that being alone after a party reaffirms. It drives home the fact that you own a home. People leave at the end of the night because they have their own homes. Sometimes when you host a party, it doesn't even seem like *you're* the host. You may feel dominated by your guests, as though you don't have a say in how to run the procedures. But when everyone leaves, and you stand as an isolated figure in the middle of your lounge room, it sinks in: "This is my house; this is my home." During a party, it's as though a house comes alive, as though it inhales oxygen to accommodate the people in and around it. When everyone leaves, the house exhales and returns to its state of tranquility. It has returned to its familiar setting; it is comfortable to re-establish that connection with its owner.

Many people my age see their homes as a prison - a place where they feel 'trapped' or 'enclosed'. I cannot understand this line of reasoning. How can a place that you've grown up in be a prison? The home should be the most comfortable place of all. For me, it is *leaving* the home that poses more of a problem than *staying* in it. Humans have a natural tendency to shy away or even fear the unknown. It is why so many people are afraid of death, as well as the dark. I do not have agoraphobia. It's not so much a fear of leaving my home, but rather a fear of facing the unfamiliar. I will now present you with a situation that you've most likely found yourself in at some point in your life. Have you ever been at a friend's house and needed to use the bathroom? Of course you have. Now, compare your state of mind in this situation with how you'd feel if you needed to visit the bathroom at your own home.When we need to 'go' at our own homes, we just go. It's second nature to us. However, at a house that does not belong to us, we feel as though we must take extra care with everything. Dilemmas such as "Do I leave the seat up or put it down?" and "What will I do if I stain the bowl!?" arise, and I don't know about you guys, but such thoughts make me extremely paranoid. Indeed, some people are so afflicted by this fear that it reaches phobia status, where they cannot go to the toilet anywhere else but in their own home. One of my favourite scenes from any 90s movie takes place in American Pie, where Paul Finch must face his fear of defecating at school after Stifler spikes his mochaccino with a laxative ( I digress, but I thought I'd use the bathroom example to provide some insight into how we take the comfort of our homes for granted.

When we're at home, we can eat what we like, sit how we want to sit, turn the volume of our music up high, and let's not forget things like sex and masturbation. Now, tell me, how can a place with this much freedom be seen as a prison? Sure, I realise that some people grow up in harsh surroundings. The home can be a place of domestic violence, sexual assault, quarrelling parents on the verge of divorce, but let's face it. The *home* is innocent; it's the people inside it causing the harm. If our homes weren't meant to be a place of comfort and familiarity, there would be no such thing as homesickness. It's something I've been plagued with before. It's a horrible feeling - being away from the place that you know like the back of your hand, and having to fend for yourself in foreign, at times alien, surroundings. This Sunday, I'll be leaving with some friends to go away for a week up the Central Coast. I'm sure I'll enjoy myself. After all, these people *are* my friends. Memories will be forged on this trip, by all means. Conversely, I know there'll be a touch of homesickness that creeps over me. I won't be sleeping in my own bed. My use of social networking will be scarce. I won't see my family. But considering all of this, it's a positive thing that I am going. It was the Russian filmmaker Tarkovsky who defined 'nostalgia' as a longing for one's home so sweet and sharp one might almost leave home in order to feel it. That is the beauty of leaving the house, of immersing yourself in a place that isn't your own. The homecoming will feel so much sweeter, and you'll be able to appreciate what your home provides.

So, what is a home? Well, it's many things. It's a refuge to protect you from nature's elements and the ills of society. It's a friend who rides the emotional rollercoaster of life with you, and who will always be there for you when you've given up on someone. It's a witness whose walls see you through your darkest hours, and who knows the things you obscure from the rest. It's a place that supports your treading feet and lets you carve out your life story in its walls. Home is bliss.


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