This week’s listmaker: Camille Griep. Camille is a Montanan who lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. Her work has been seen or is forthcoming in Used Furniture Review, Commas & Colons, Short, Fast & Deadly, On The Premises, and Fiction365. She likes the Oxford comma and wine.
Last week, I skipped across the country from Seattle to Minneapolis to Boston, a flat stone over a pond. I woke up the next day in a place where the sun rises on the water instead of falling into it and people insist on eating breakfast while I’m still trying to sleep. I missed my bed and my coffeemaker and the stray cat who lives in the hedge. These are temporary inconveniences, but at the end of ten days, I’ll be sprinting toward my westbound plane.
We’ve been weighing a short-term move to this other coast. It could be an adventure, a once in a lifetime gift. But abandoning all that one builds to make a home is daunting. I worry that I won’t be able to build another home in a new place. I worry that if we leave, the home we leave behind will disintegrate. But what is it that really makes home? Here’s some music we can listen to while we figure it out.
1. Jim Croce: “New York’s Not My Home.” The line: “Things were spinning ’round me. And all my thoughts were cloudy. And I had begun to doubt all the things that were me.”
We’ve all been to that place where we stick out like the mosquito in the Moscato. You’re underdressed or overdressed or smiling or frowning or wearing all black while all around you is colorful denim and puppy t-shirts. Of course Croce’s cloudy thoughts might have been caused by more than homesickness, but it doesn’t make his lament any less poignant. Who can’t feel the urge to seek comfort when Croce sings, “I lived there about a year and I’ve never once felt at home,” Home is a primal urge to belong. We can leave it, but we have to search until we find it back.
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2. Shawn Colvin: “Sunny Came Home.” The line: “Sunny came home with a list of names. She didn’t believe in transcendence. It’s time for a few small repairs, she said. Sunny came home with a vengeance.”
Maybe home is the place where you feel comfortable walking in and making a sandwich, a place you can sleep naked, a place full of your own call and response. Maybe it’s a place where vulnerability is safely ensconced, where you can gather energy and rest and make plans to tackle whatever is outside. In Shawn Colvin’s song, Sunny does just that. Whether Sunny is young or old or plotting something spectacular or nefarious or spectacularly nefarious is the matter of some debate. But to have a home is to have a base for action, a place for tools metaphorical and physical and metaphysical — rooms of your own.
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3. The Story: Angel In the House. The line: “Even in my wildest heart I cannot kill the angel in the house.”
The Story’s “Angel in the House” is about the inevitable change that comes to us and our homes, changes that come when you aren’t looking, those things that force you from your house. There are fires and jobs and relationships. There are expansions and natural progressions. I knew, even as a child, that as much as I loved Montana, I’d leave. I knew because each summer night I’d walk barefoot on the warm, packed dirt, sagebrush, and humming sandstone to look out over the city. I ignored the drowsy rattlers curling away from me and my Walkman as we made our way down the ravine, even as the voices in the little yellow box slowed into an unintelligible basso. From my house, I could see the whole world and I knew out there was where I belonged, even though a part of me would always remain in that very spot.
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4. Steely Dan: “Home at Last.” The line: “The danger on the rocks is surely past. Still I remain tied to the mast. Could it be that I have found my home at last?”
“Home at Last” is my very favorite song about home. It’s possibly the most straightforward of Steely Dan songs and certainly one of the best. The song is their take on The Odyssey, arguably the greatest travelogue ever written. Sure it’s been reinterpreted by the great minds of Joyce (Ulysses) and Atwood (The Penelopiad), but I think Steely Dan’s treatment also deserves recognition. The adventures, the tragedy, the triumph, the tribulation, the embellishment, the embarrassment, the enlightenment. Our traveler knows “the superhighway,” the “bright familiar sun,” and guesses that he’s the “lucky one.” And yet, he warns us of the danger in going home, too. It might just be the most dangerous thing of all to love something, especially something that looks a damn sight different than when you left it. But I’ll wager it’s worth it to be home at last.
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5. U2: “A Sort of Homecoming.” The line: “See faces plowed like fields that once gave no resistance. And we live by the side of the road, on the side of a hill, as the valley explodes, Dislocated, suffocated, the land grows weary of its own.”
Part of the brilliance of U2’s “The Unforgettable Fire” is the pure, driving, cinematic sound. Bono sings about one’s own dream landscape and you can’t help but see and feel the velvet beneath your feet. There’s endless field and a sky –even if you don’t come from a place like this, there’s a place like this in your consciousness.
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Homecoming is a big feeling, the kinship one feels with the land and the people and the place. All the snips and snatches of city and road and season and sound and, as the song swells, you’re speeding into your hometown on a plane, in a car, on a boat, on two legs. You’re settling into your favorite chair, turning up the music, telling the house that you love it, singing to the bookshelves, dancing in the basement until midnight. “For tonight, at last, I am coming home.”