home as time, not space


This post, which I’ve been meaning to write for some time now (I’ve kinda let this blog atrophy from neglect), is inspired by a line from a song by the hipsterly-named folk band Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros called “Home.” Here’s a link.

The line goes: “Home is whenever I’m with you.”

(If you know the song, you may recall the line as “Home is wherever I’m with you.” I don’t hear an “r.” Different lyrics websites understandably vary in their renditions of the line. Metrolyrics is adamant that it’s “wherever”/”where” in every instance of the line. AZLyrics thinks it’s “wherever”/”where” in most cases but does have “when” in some instances. Genius.com (how flattering) agrees with me and has “whenever”/”when” in each case. In any case, the consonant is vague, and the listener is free, I guess, to hear it as he/she wants to. And besides, this isn’t the point of my post.)

The line appears not to make any surprising claim, but it actually does. For those who have grown up in a house/houses, the concept of home is inextricably tied to a space. It’s somewhere we go to, as opposed to something we, I don’t know, exist in.

(I mean exist in that hazy sense that we use when we in despair or boredom or some wonderful combination of the two say “What does it mean to exist?”. What I mean is I’m keeping exist from its [good-and-proper] entailment of being in a space. Of course humans normally exist in a space. It’s just that they also exist in a time. This latter point is the side of the coin that I want to focus on in this post.)

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros (henceforth ES&TMZ) construe “home” as a time. This is not to say that they construe it as a time exclusively. Other lines in the song mention spaces: “Alabama, Arkansas,” “the park… the jungle,” “moats and boats and waterfalls,” etc. This is natural and inevitable. But this doesn’t weaken the claim of home-as-time. In fact, the plethora of spaces mentioned throughout the song implies that the two lovers (I should have mentioned this: the song is sung by a man and woman representing two lovers)—the song implies that the two lovers can be at home regardless of the space.

Read that last clause again, it’s important.

ES&TMZ’s claim means something to me, who of course associates “home” with a “space” but finds it extremely helpful to think of “home” as a time. At this particular moment, I think of a house with yellow/orange-ish tones and stairs and a nice countertop and many bookshelves. When I’m at college abroad, I sort of think of my dorm room as my home, but there is a dissatisfaction in calling it so. The reason, I guess, is that the dorm room (both as space and, although it’s weird, time) doesn’t mean the things I’ve come to associate with “home.”

And when I say “come to associate,” I drag in the experience of having lived in all the houses my family has inhabited so far (17 houses, I think, by my count). “Home,” considered not from the discreet present but from the reflective, total, and terribly abstract perspective of my life as a whole lump, for me can’t be tied to a single house, which is to say it can’t be tied to a single space—although I can do so and can’t help doing so at particular points-in-time.

(As a sort of counter-argument:

Insofar as “space” is concerned, we, who live through particular points-in-time, inevitably associate home with a particular place [or if you have multiple houses, places]. Also, you can’t do things from that “abstract perspective” which considers time as an accumulated sum. Pity, but it’s probably for the best.)

What do I do then? Construe home not only as space, but also as time. Which is weird but also makes sense in a way. Thanks, ES&TMZ.


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