The Difference Between Looking and Seeing

“I have to see a thing a thousand times before I see it once.” 
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again

The concept of "home" is an innate part of the human experience. Like language or the proverbial riding of a bike, the concept of home is ingrained in the human psyche from an early age. Even as we grow and change, impressions of what home is can lie buried in a person's subconscious, forming a foundation for future understandings of belonging and identity. In fact, researchers have found the drawings of six-year-olds to be revealing in attempting to understand how home is felt before it can be compared to outside standards or described in a more analytical way.

Juliette's experience doing this type of project in the past has shown that kids tend to have the easiest time defining home verbally. Even if home is unconventional—maybe the child doesn't live with both parents or has moved multiple times in their life already—a child will ascribe the meaning of home to a place and people associated with it (e.g. grandma's house).

At some point, home becomes more complicated for most of us. Just as problem-solving in a non-native language tends to be less emotional, creating concepts of home as an adult become more utilitarian as people deal with the responsibilities of every-day life. Adulthood is an opportunity to revise knowledge received as a child, including what home is.

When we begin to think analytically about home, the deep-seated childhood memories can become a lens through which new experiences are colored, examined, and perceived. The other night Juliette and I had a conversation with another couple of twenty-somethings about what home means to them. And somewhere in their exposition, the three words "comfort," "safety," and "nostalgia" were offered up as basic tenets of what home is. But what followed were expressions of hope: because of Maine's abundant environmental assets, appreciation for the availability of opportunity in Maine for folks who revel in self-reliance, and the quietude offered by a rural and sparsely populated state. Parsing experience into a broader understanding of the world is far beyond the purview of a young child, and yet this type of experience-building and meaning-creating can only occur after first experiencing home intrinsically. At least for this couple, perpetuating former experiences of home into young adulthood required identifying aspects of their surroundings that had the potential for ongoing "hominess."

Home is constantly being recreated, as is our perception of any experience that holds meaning in life. A future post may deal with this topic more deeply as we further explore the subtleties of not only what but also how people tell us about what home means to them.

As Juliette and I persevere in our attempt to recognize the crafted nature of storytelling, encourage dialogue around the topic of home—a universal concept with myriad meanings and implications—and simply share time and conversation with Mainers, we will undoubtedly be reshaping perceptions of home, both for others and ourselves.