|Miller at Big Sur|
Henry Miller spoke of the word home with venomous hatred. He saw home as an oppressive, stifling concept. While I don’t necessarily share his passion, I do tend to agree with the sentiment. Home in an American context is a dull, harsh and sterile place. While Japanese people have tiny sweltering apartments filled with laughter and joy; and the Italians live in run down buildings with two simple pieces of furniture and smile through a shared meal. We sit and brood and compare in giant cavernous mansions filled with every convenience and luxury. Or we pine in noisy, cramped apartments for that same luxury we see in manufactured images of home. We find it unbearable or untenable to share any space at all, and we yell and scream and drive off others. Americans are the chattering birds of public squares.
I’m not excluding myself here, by any means. I’m as incapable of living with people as any other American. My spaces are as filled with gee-gaws and wasteful practices as any suburban American. And I’m certainly not making a moral judgment. Unlike Miller, who was disdainful of the American, I’m more baffled. I’ve lived in other places. I see how societies can work. I see the appeal of what my wife calls “intact societies.” Not in a utopian sense- these societies are flawed as well, from top to bottom- but in a functional sense of being cohesive, relevant to human issues… well, intact.
All that is in my mind as I return to my new home. My place that is suited to me, ridiculousness and all. I’m settled, for as long as my children live here, in Ithaca, New York. The New York that isn’t New York. It’s a fine place- I may lament in my romantic weakness for a Prague in which to cross bridges… I pine in a bizarre academic sense for structured Berlin… I even long to round a spiritual corner in a Kyoto park. But Ithaca is a fine place. We have a lovely little house, the kids are thriving and growing. My own wanderlust is tied securely to nonsense I need to purge, and Ithaca is the place to do it.
And best of all, perhaps, Ithaca is filled with people who would understand completely what Miller means by home as an oppressive concept. Without malice or anger, they could listen and hear. They could, as Miller himself would say, talk without just heaving facts at one another. I can get into that. I will get into that. If a small part of me pines or laments from time to time, hey… I’m only American. Only human.