safiri (safiri) wrote,

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Eric from my pottery studio lent me a book this evening, saying, "hey, this is a really great book -- the author was really misogynistic, but still, a great book." It's Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness and based on the little I've read so far I can't imagine that he'll have much chance to demonstrate his misogyny since the book's about living alone in the desert.

But here's a piece of the first page:

Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary. A houseboat in Kashmir, a view down Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, a gray gothic farmhouse two stories high at the end of a red dog road in the Allegheny Mountains, a cabin on the shore of a blue lake in spruce and fir country, a greasy alley near the Hoboken waterfront, or even, possibly, for those of a less demanding sensibility, the world to be seen from a comfortable apartment high in the tender, velvety smog of Manhattan, Chicago, Paris, Tokyo, Rio or Rome--there's no limit to the human capacity for the homing sentiment. Theologians, sky pilots, astronauts have even felt the appeal of home calling to them from up above, in the cold black outback of interstellar space.

I read it, and I think, "that's lovely. It's not true."

Maybe for you guys? Do you, Gentle Readers, have a clear idea where you belong?

I don't.

I know where I'm from originally, and I know that I have no desire to go back there for more than occasional visits. I know that I live now in a pleasant house on a pleasant block in a pleasant town, and that I would leave happily if I could get a decent job somewhere closer to my family/husband/etc. I know, too, though, that there's no place I would move to without regret. I love walking past Manhattan brownstones, but I don't want to live that far from real hiking; I love the hills of Connecticut, but I have no interest in living in the kind of smallish town where I grew up, with two decent restaurants and no foreign films; and the thought of commuting to work for more than half an hour's drive gives me the heebie-jeebies. I can rule out city, country, and suburbs with no thought at all. I certainly want to live in the Northeast, where they get nice snow and I'm not the only secular Jew and other people are the same kind of bad driver I am, but that's pretty general.

I think the last place I felt really at home, the last place where I thought "this is the world I belong in," was when we were in Philadelphia after Christmas, and we went to the University of Pennsylvania bookstore. That felt like home; long, long rows of books I wanted to read, and other people, many of them badly dressed in the same dark turtlenecky way that I was, looking at the books and not at each other. It was a distressing moment in several ways: first because I don't think the University of Pennsylvania is very likely to hire me, and second because I'd much rather have home be a landscape than an interior. (Like poor Cecil in A Room With a View.)

Of course I wouldn't be thinking this way if N were around, because home is where the heart is etc. etc., but still, when I'm in his tiny little East Village apartment, that's decidedly not my home either, because it doesn't have a single one of my books in it and there's no room for the cat. (Seriously. If there are two adult human beings in that apartment, there really is physically not enough room to add so much as one ten-pound cat. This summer is going to be interesting.)

My book (which I'm working on again this weekend, despite the hollow ringing sound I get in my ears when I start up Word) is about people who make up imaginary worlds as alternatives to home, and in many ways I think that's what all academics do. But part of what makes that possible (I argue) is the emphasis those novelistic worlds place on landscape. When you read a Rushdie novel, you get a vivid sense of the physical layout of Bombay, the city's smells and hills and crowds. C. S. Lewis recommends that if you ever get to Narnia, you should go have a look at those caves whence Jill and Eustace emerge at the end of The Silver Chair. Books make places portable. But a place that holds books... is that really the same thing?

All I've got in my head is a bookstore, and the hope that if you leave the bookstore and turn left you get the trail leading up to Tuckerman Ravine, and if you leave the bookstore and turn right you get the Angelika. Behind the bookstore is a backyard with decent light and topsoil where you can grow tomatoes, and in front of it is a street where you can catch a cab to be at a major international airport within twenty minutes.

There is no such place.

I wish I could go home.

...poor me. Next post will be witty, amusing, and above all, brief. That's a promise.
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