“Home is where I want to be, pick me up and turn me around…”
—— This Must be the Place by the Talking Heads, (Songwriters: Chris Frantz / Christopher Frantz / David Byrne / Jerry Harrison / Tina Weymouth)
You can listen to Shawn Colvin’s version, my favorite one, of this song here.
I have spent all of my adult life searching for the elusive, mythical concept of home. I am not talking about a house or an apartment or a place to lay my head at night, but a place that feels like my refuge from the world, a place that reflects who I am as a person, an an artist, as a sometimes weary soul wandering through this life. For years, I carried around this vision of my perfect home: a big, old red brick farmhouse with a front and back porch, tall windows, hardwood floors, original doors and woodwork, a second story, surrounded by trees, gardens and countryside. This was the ideal I that I was always seeking, something I still have yet to find.
For most of my life, I thought I had made this place up, that it had been something that manifested as a result of having known and loved so many old houses. But in a recent conversation with my mom, she told me that when I was three years old, we lived in a house exactly like that. I have some vague memories of our former house, but I hadn’t remembered that it was brick. What I remember most is a big bedroom, a grand staircase, and spending time playing outside. The house we lived in was once a stagecoach house, built some time around 1800. There were four rooms downstairs, four upstairs, a central staircase that divided the house in halves. It was situated at the end of a long, tree-lined driveway, off the highway between two small Illinois farming towns. The house was surrounded by a garden with hydrangeas, phlox, columbines, and huge trees. Beyond the house was a barn and a pasture with a pond.
After our conversation about this memory/dream of mine, something in me cracked wide open. I have felt homeless for many years. Not in the sense that I haven’t had a place to live, but in the sense of not having had a place of sanctuary to call my own since I was a little girl. This red brick farmhouse was the only house I can remember living in during my childhood that was unmarked by some sort of trauma. Houses in my adulthood were also marked by traumatic events, adversity, and/or losses. And so, I came to realize that in all these years of searching for a dream house, what I have actually been searching for is a place where I am utterly, perfectly safe. In an ideal world, there is no safer place than home.
During the middle years of my childhood, my safe place was outside, in the garden, under the pine trees, in the blackberry thicket, among the hollyhocks, in the neighbor’s corn field. Nothing could hurt me there. In my mind, the idea of Home became associated with a garden. As a child, I was often usually alone, which suited my introverted nature just fine, playing house, decorating these spaces with treasures that I had found in the yard and those that I had borrowed from inside the house. In that respect, I haven’t changed at all. I still seek refuge in a garden, and that’s a particularly difficult struggle, considering that I live in an apartment and no longer have a garden to which I can escape. I do have a lovely little balcony that is filled with flowers in the summertime. That helps. It’s not the same, but it certainly helps. The flowers attract bees and butterflies. Chickadees come to visit. My cat, Peluche, enjoys this little bit of nature also, spending her days lounging in the shade, of the potted bamboo, surveying the courtyard below. I still have a strong need to decorate a space in a way that helps me feel connected to the things I love, to the natural world, to my past. While I am safe and secure in our little apartment across from the Seine, the search for Home continues. We know that our stay here is limited, and we are searching for the place where we would like to settle and continue to build our life together.
The night before last, I had another profound dream, where I was doing a “controlled burn” inside of my house as a form of maintenance. Yes, inside my house. It was to be something like what the Forest Service does to maintain our national forests, clearing away debris and litter from the forest floor. An interesting note is that there are some species of trees and plants whose seeds need fire in order to crack open the seed coat and allow them to germinate. In my dream, in order to prepare for the fire, which would only touch things left laying on the floor. No furniture, no walls, windows, structural elements, nor the foundation would be harmed by the burn. I was sorting through my possessions, throwing out those that no longer served, putting treasures away for safekeeping. In dreams, a house represents the psyche, the core of our being. My subconscious is quite busy these days, in the process of discarding certain things which I no longer need and holding onto those that I do, even allowing seeds to germinate and grow. And after the blaze, out of the ashes, new, tender growth will appear. I will do whatever I can to nurture those seedlings, to water them carefully, to provide them light and air, and watch with awe as they take root and thrive.
As I noted in my previous post, there are indeed treasures in those emotional hope chests that we haul around with us, dear friends. They make the journey with us from house to house, even traveling across the ocean at times. In this period of reflection that comes with the closing of another year, I hope you are revisiting the richness that exists within your own hope chests, keeping what you value the most, purging what no longer fits. This most recent dream reinforces that message from my previous dream, my last post: The only way to move forward is by looking backward, by seeing and understanding where we have been. That’s something historians and museum directors know so very well. May you become the guardian, the curator even, of your own precious history, the keeper of your own archive. There are so many treasures to be found among those artifacts…
Until next time…
P.S. Shawn Colvin sings an unbelievable version of This Must Be the Place on her album Cover Girl.