Friday, March 05, 2010


I know it's been a while since I've written. I was working on an excavation in Karnataka for almost two months, and it was extraordinarily busy and exhausting. It was also wonderful, and I'll write a post about that soon. Just a note of warning, this post is a bit more personal than what I usually write. And by personal, I guess I mean emotional. Oh well.

Now that the excavation season is over, everyone I was working with is about to go home. They return to comfort and familiarity, to family and friends. And I will be in India for about 8 more months. Though I have not been homesick at all in the past four months, I was suddenly hit with pangs of longing, as I listened to my friends talk about the things they are looking forward to back home.

The thing is, I'm not really homesick. I don't have a home to be sick for. I find myself longing for a home that doesn't exist. I find myself missing a home I have never had. I long for the home I someday hope to have. It's pure fantasy, it lives in the form of day dreams, scribblings, and internet research.

The home I dream of having changes from day to day. It changes settings, countries, and climates. It changes changes architectural styles, and it varies in size, form, color, and shape.

I have no real formal training in architecture. But when I was about 6 years old, I took an empty tissue box, added cut out cardboard wheels on drinking straw axles, and independently invented the concept of the 'mobile home'. At summer camp I started doing woodwork, and made a number of small items, and then began to work on furniture. When I was in high school I studied architecture and design, primarily in the form of a class at The New School on furniture design. I particularly enjoyed the section on the Bauhaus Modern, and wrote my paper on Mies van der Rohe. Though many of my scribbled drawings of my imagined home are frequently in my own version of the high modern style, I actually feel most at home in places with much more natural wood and stone, than I do with stainless steel. I love the warmth of wood, the color of light that it reflects, the infinite visual depths of the grain.

One thing is constant. The plans of my imaginary houses are always open, airy and full of light. One version of my home is perched on the side of a mountain, overlooking a deep valley. In this incarnation, it is mostly glass (triple-pane for good insulation), with stone floors. It is built into the mountain, and two or three-tiered, partially subterranean. It leans into the mountain, and is rooted there, with windows on three sides. It smells like the damp earth.

In another incarnation my home is in the desert, it is single storied, and square like a hacienda with a huge open air courtyard in the interior. It has a peaked ceramic tile roof, with wooden rafters, and adobe walls. It is made of shade, and sunlight, with a cistern to catch the rain. The courtyard is paved with sandstone and pebbles collected from a dry gully wash. The pebbles make a secret mosaic, only showing their colors when they are made wet by the rare desert rain.

In another incarnation the house is a cabin, deep in the woods amongst rolling hills. It is small in plan, but with a tall atrium roof. The interior is paneled with a warm rich pine wood, honey colored, and sweet smelling. It nestles in amongst the trees, with bright tall windows, it brings in the light that filters through their leaves. The light changes the house with the seasons, from green to yellow red orange, to white and back to green.

Another version of the house is three storied, brick and stone and wood. On the ground floor, in the center is a living room under an atrium that goes up three stories to the roof. On either side, two separate staircases lead up to bedrooms and on the third floor, studies. My third floor study is surrounded on all four sides by windows with built in book shelves all around. Across the atrium opening, through my windows, I can see the man I imagine I'm married to puttering about in his study, making notes, pacing back and forth, absorbed in his work or some other project.

Aside from the changing architecture, the changing materials, climates and locations, my homes have variously changing inhabitants. Sometimes they are full of pets, a dog, two cats, or a couple of parrots. Sometimes there are kids. Sometimes I am alone. Lately, these daydreams have been populated by one person in particular. This is the most dangerous part of the fantasy, the part most likely to cause heart break and disappointment later. It's also frequently the hardest part to avoid imagining.

Of course, these homes are concepts of design, primarily in the aesthetic sense. If they were to become realities, I would have to take into account the question of environment, of energy efficiency, of water, etc. Obviously these things are important, but to me they are impossible to conceptualize in the abstract. Each location, each climate, each house would have its own specific needs, its own conditions of heat and cold with which to contend. Those things can and should be dealt with later, dealt with in reality.

To add to the list of homes described above, which are the product of many years of thought, many years of contemplation and sketching in notebooks, I have recently been given new concepts to consider, especially: WeeHouse and some of these from such as this, and this. These teeny tiny houses appeal to me at multiple levels. First, it brings me back to my original (re)invention of a house on wheels, a home you can take anywhere. Second, I love the eco-friendly nature of it, and the coziness of something so small, so compact. I love the idea of minimal living. It is a way of life I feel I am more or less engaged in now.

To imagine a home that I someday hope to have, however, is really an exercise in futility. In the career path that I have chosen, to be an archaeologist, I will in all likelihood have to sacrifice the ability to choose where I will end up living, and simply go wherever I can get a job. To have a job at a college or university, if it's in the US, probably means that my home will not be in the desert, on a mountain top, or amongst deep woods. And although the image of this home is important to me, it isn't as important as my career.

Home is where the heart is, or at least, that is how the cliche goes. The problem is that my heart is divided amongst so many places... places that I have lived, places where family and close friends are, and places that I hope to someday live. Recently my heart has set up shop in a new location, with it's hopes no longer set on a place, or a kind of house, but rather on a particular person, who I can't seem to stop myself from hoping will be the co-inhabitor of this imaginary home. As I have repeatedly told myself to let go of the attachment to all of my other dream homes, so as to avoid disappointment later, I have told myself to let go of this hope as well. So far though, no success.

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