I want to be a homemaker. Here’s what I mean.
I am really comfortable on the move. This summer I spent a month travelling in the Middle East, mostly by myself. I took only a backpack with me. The whole thing weighed maybe twenty-five pounds. I know now that I can put twenty-five pounds of my possessions in a bag, walk out the door, and do just fine. I was lonely, and I was homesick. But I was OK.
I am much less comfortable at home. For a long time I couldn’t even say “where” home was, and that, for me, was a problem. I had places where I stored my shit. But I didn’t really have a home, I felt. “I’m going back to my house” just doesn’t have the same comforting effect as “I’m going home.”
I have this friend (I’m blessed with lots of them) who is a wonderful homemaker. By that I don’t mean that she knows how to cook (she doesn’t) or is a whiz with a vacuum cleaner or anything like that. I just mean that she seems to know how to be at home, wherever she is in life. She carries all of her stuff in boxes, moving twice a year just like I do, but the difference is that while I never feel at home in any of those places, she seems to feel at home in all of them. I used to wonder why, but then I saw the pictures on her wall. They were of her family and of her friends from home and at school and summer camp, all in one place, in her room. Every time she looked up, they were there to remind her of all of those people and places. She had stitched all these parts of her identity together so well, you could hardly spot the seams.
The other thing I noticed about my friend’s room is that there were always people milling in and out of it. It was kind of weird because people would just come in and say whatever was on their minds at the moment; they didn’t really need a reason to be there. They just wanted to be. It wasn’t a place where people came to borrow stuff or ask a question; it was a place they came to be themselves. And I can’t help but think that those two things are connected, that her room giving such a strong sense of who she was gave others permission to be who they were.
I learned a lot from that.
Last year I lived in a house with seven other guys, and it was OK. In my room upstairs, most of the stuff on the walls was my roommate’s, not mine. I had a bed there, and a couch. And I stored some boxes in the closet and some clothes in the dresser. I had piles of papers and lots of books. But I didn’t have any pictures up. I didn’t have any of the notes my friends have written me. Nothing with my name on it, that really identified the room as mine. No dead giveaways: “Oh, this is definitely Mike’s room.” More like, “Some college kid lives here. But we hardly ever see him.” And if you saw me in my room that year, it would have been either just after I got up or just before I went to bed, because that was the only time I was there. I would wake up, pull the sheets off me, go through my whole day, come back, pull the sheets back on, and fall asleep. That was what my room was for. Storing my shit, and storing my body, whenever I wasn’t using it.
That says a lot about how I lived my life last year. I was slightly disoriented. I knew my role in the world outside, but inside, I struggled to understand who I was as the world shifted and surged dramatically around me, often much faster than I felt I could adapt. This was because I had no place to come back to, I think. No place to be at home and remember who I was.
Unsurprisingly, I didn’t have a lot of people hanging out in my room that year, either. With my housemates, conversations would happen a lot in the kitchen or the living room, but my room was pretty quiet. And if I wanted to have a good conversation with a friend, I’d rarely invite them in, to my room. We’d always go out, for coffee.
I am good at being out and about. I am not good at being home.
So I’m trying to change that, because I’d like to be good at both.
Today I started unpacking. There are a bunch of boxes waiting for me at my new apartment, and I opened them up today and found a bunch of pictures and notes from friends. These are the kinds of things that my friend would put on her walls and in notebooks almost instinctively, without even thinking about it, but that I, for whatever reason, preferred to stuff in a box last year and forget about.
Tonight, they’re coming out of the box. It isn’t much, but it’s a start, and although I’ll probably never be as good at homemaking as my friend is, I still want to try. I think it’s important.
I used to worry a lot about the fact that I didn’t feel at “home” in life. I’d wonder whether my home was in Vancouver, or Seattle, and whether I’d ever feel at home again like I did when I was younger. Now I see that home is not so much a location, but a way of being in the world. It isn’t how often you pack that matters; it’s how well you unpack.
That’s what I mean when I say that I want to be a homemaker. I want to learn not where, but how to do it, how to create a space for myself and for others where I can be “at home”, a space that I can invite and welcome others into, so that both of us can stop pretending, and just be.
Someday I will say this with a confidence so true it will seem (no, it will be) effortless:
“Hi, come on in. Welcome to my home.”