Home is Where

“A house that has been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space.”

So wrote philosopher Gaston Bachelard in his 1957 book The Poetics of Space. I was thinking of the book today as I was driving back from an errand in Salem today, a day on which I am normally home. For those of us fortunate enough to have a steady place to live, a house or apartment enclosed by walls and a roof, our accumulated possessions (not to mention the patina of sloughed-off skin and hair; sorry if you were eating) constitutes an animal claim on the space as home. In America there is a legal structure in place that grants ownership (or, through rent or lease, temporary stewardship).

Do these things make a home? If Bachelard is right, there is an extra dimension to a home that cannot be mapped or transcribed. Neither do I think it can be found in a legal contract. The dimension of time–the fourth, or whatever it is now–can deepen the relationship. Spaces that have passed from one generation to the next, for example. Or the place(s) in which we spent our childhoods. But time itself is no guarantee of transcendence. What if you didn’t want to be there? Also, there is no guarantee, period: according to the Pew Research Center, “Nearly 1 in 100 people worldwide are now displaced from their homes.” In the Middle East, it’s now 1 in 20.

Our family has been living in the same house–6 people plus one cat in what is only technically a three bedroom–for five years. We did not intend to stay here for this long, after having made three moves in the five years previous.

Each year we have discussed how we could countenance our next move into a place more central, more spacious, more insulated, less soggy (and almost certainly more expensive). Instead, we have accumulated some of that stuff, including heaters, fans, blankets, shelves and (thank goodness) a dehumidifier, that have made this ostensibly temporary space more livable. It makes sense because, you know, we’re living in it.

Also tied up in all this is the realization that to our children, even the older ones who remember different addresses, this is the place in which they’re growing up. At some point we had to come to the same conclusion, and behave accordingly.

Or as Bachelard writes, “imagination augments the values of reality.” Right.