Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Home

I'm home for Thanksgiving break, and thinking about what "home" means and how to create it under conditions of impermanence.

My family moved to this current house only about a month after I left for college last year, and the way things are panning out I won't be living in it for more than a few weeks at a time until the summer after my junior year, if then. It is on a hill, and it gets much colder than I, a creature used to living in flat places, am used to. My main sensory memory of last Thanksgiving break is being cold and feeling distant and numb and grappling with the new person I seemed to be becoming and how she (I was still a she, back then) fit into the old patterns of family and hometown.

I put up some decorations before leaving at the beginning of this year, and my cat knows to come in my room for refuge, and all my books are here. But I haven't mapped the neighborhood with my feet, I don't know how to get to the closest library or grocery store, and I don't know if this counts as home.

Of course the family members are the same--but we are all different people, even if the change is easier to see in myself than in the comparatively more stable personalities of my parents and sister. That doesn't make it less valid as a home, but it does make home a moving target.

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I love my dorm. Last year I loved my hall; this year my entire dorm has entered my circle of compassion. It's a smaller dorm, with about 60% of the people in my freshman year dorm. I am close to more people in terms of both percentage and absolute numbers. It's not as white (the staff is over half black. I remember getting really excited about the diversity at in house draw).

Two months here is enough to strip me of any allegiance to my previous dorm. I seriously want to staff here when I'm a senior, because I'm going abroad in the spring so that makes for only two quarters and that just is not enough.

How can a dorm, especially one that houses only two classes of students, create such a consistent culture, such that I know that if I come back in two years it will still be a place I can call home?

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Right before coming home for break, I read Neil Gaiman's Ocean at the End of the Lane. Although I didn't really appreciate it as much as I've appreciated other Gaiman books (I kept comparing it, unfavorably, to Coraline--which is one of my favorite books), something about the description of the Hempstock family home resonated with me. Home is having what you need and a little extra, in case. Home is being able to provide for yourself and also others. Home is sanctuary.

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For my German final, I will be presenting on die Fl├╝chtlingskrise--the refugee crisis. I look at graphs of the numbers, read articles, become more and more afraid.

Paris may end up being the volta in public opinion. But the numbers aren't going to come down, and the world doesn't stop going, and if even Sweden is closing its borders--if only temporarily--what does that mean?

People are leaving their homes, or their homes are being removed from them--because if home is sanctuary, can an unsafe place be home? They are trying to find new homes, but along with opportunity there is fear and discrimination. Islamophobia. Distinct but related issue: Muslims in Europe. I'm terrified for them, for all of them. As a first gen kid there's particular empathy for those who were born in Europe but are from non-European extraction. They may consider it home but what if others disagree?

Who was I reading, last quarter in my German culture class? Amery. Jean Amery, with "How Much Home Does a Person Need?" I believe this was the text that talked about how identity is socially granted. Do you count as belonging to a group if members of that group do not accept you? If you are not recognized as something, does that affect whether you are in fact that thing or not?

Is home a place where you are physically and psychologically secure, where the identity you have and the identity you are recognized as are the same? I wonder if this definition is asking too much or too little. I'm not out to my parents--does that make my family not a home? I'm Asian and therefore will be seen as more foreign than a white person--does that make America not my home? But at the same time, is recognition enough? What about being a place from which you draw strength, where you can go to rest? A place can do this even if your walls are not all down.

What can one do, to create a home? Maybe actions are easier to assess than outcomes. Welcome, accept, protect, provide...and then what?

What are we building, and why, and how?

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