What is ‘Home’ for a Writer?

Bridge House, Ambleside, Cumbria, EnglandA writer friend who had recently moved to Montreal asked me where home was for me. Was it Montreal?

I was surprised how complicated it was to answer that. Yes, my home is in Montreal. I’ve lived here for years. But Montreal is not totally “home.” There are ways in which I’ll never feel I completely belong. For one thing, I only have to open my mouth and people know I’m not from here. I certainly don’t sound like a francophone Canadian. I don’t sound like an anglophone Canadian either.

Where are you from? I’m asked that at least once a week.

But where I came from isn’t home either. That country has changed so much that when I’m there, I’m definitely a visitor. I even have trouble working out which coin is what value when I get on the bus or go shopping.

So is home being with my husband? With my family? Or is it…

I’m clearly not the only one to have trouble pinning down the idea of ‘home.’

The panel discussion “What is Home” at the recent Blue Metropolis Literary Festival, with American-Indian author Anita Desai (Clear Light of Day, Fasting, Feasting), Slovenian author Drago Jancar (The Tree with No Name, I Saw Her That Night) and Israel poet Amir Or (Miracle, Dia>Logos), and moderated by Jeanette Kelly, quickly veered from stories of childhoods disrupted by political violence to less tangible notions of home.

It seemed easier to say where one didn’t feel at home (the U.S. and their countries of origin for Anita Desai and Drago Jancar) than where one was at home.

Some of the ideas that resonated with me:

Anita Desai: “Home is not soil, it’s a piece of time. A place changes…home is a certain moment in history which has passed.”

Amir Or: “Where I felt really at home is in writing, living inside it. To create your own reality. To create a new reality is the job of a writer. They also create new tomorrows. Writing is home and changing of home…offer a new reality.”

Drago Jancar: “I have two homes – home with the family and home with writing.”

Anita Desai: “Perhaps for a writer it’s not so important [to feel at home]. Writers need the tension of not being at home, of not knowing your place.”

Amir Or: “Not having a home is stronger for writing.”

Amir Or in response to an audience member asking how to deal with the difficulty of having to stay in Montreal while wanting to go “back home” because her children’s home is in Montreal and they don’t want to leave: “Look at it with curiosity.” I loved this answer because it opened the problem out into rich possibilities for a writer. He talked of home as being made up of all the pieces of you in time and space. It’s not “the home,” they are all parts of one’s “home.”

Anita Desai: “It’s an emotional land.”

Bridge House, Ambleside, Cumbria, England

Seventeenth century Bridge House in Ambleside, Cumbria, UK  looks like “emotional land” to me. Hard to believe it was once home to a family of eight. It’s also been an apple store, a cobbler’s, and a chair maker’s. Now it’s owned by the National Trust. Even someone 5’6″ looks like a giant going through the blue front door! Imagine having to use those little outside steps in the rain to go up and downstairs!

Many more doors to enjoy at Norm’s Thursday Doors – click on the blue frog!

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22 thoughts on “What is ‘Home’ for a Writer?

  1. What a great topic. Home is where your loved ones are is very true, but not always possible. I love the quote “look at it with curiosity” as it allows you to reframe what you consider to be home and learn in the process. Beautiful little house too!

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  2. Beautiful building and a very interesting post. I find it easy when in another country to answer where home is – it’s Ireland. Even when we lived in Spain for almost eight years, I still said home was Ireland. I suppose for me ‘home is where the heart is’ and it was always in Ireland. But we’ve lived all over the country, so where home is in Ireland is a difficult one to answer. Here people ask ‘where are you from’ and I never quite know how to respond. I was born in one county grew up in another and raised my kids in three different locations around the country. In fact, we’ll be moving to another county soon, having lived in this one for the past nine years.

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    • Thank you Norm. It was a very inspiring session at Blue Metropolis – lots of think about. I agree about squeezing eight into that tiny house – even though it would have been at a time when people were smaller than they are now!

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    • Thank you, Janet. I hadn’t realized that it would be such an interesting concept until I went to that panel discussion. Those authors were very generous with their thoughts and ideas. As for the little house, it’s a bit like that old joke ‘how many people can you get into a telephone kiosk?’ (from the days of course when there were telephone kiosks!)

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  3. Home is an emotional land is such a lovely concept! There are many facets that complete us and they do not all fall under one roof. I do love this defintion of home. And I do like this wee little home you’ve photographed, although I cannot believe it held eight! That is a mighty tight squeeze…

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    • The thought of eight in the little house is a bit fairytale-like as in There was an old woman who lived in a shoe. She had so many children…. I agree, the thought of home as an emotional land allows so many disparate odds and ends to be included. Somehow it’s very comforting – I suppose because it means one is able to draw in and include whoever one wants in one’s life rather than having to adjust to fit others’ homes. (That’s a bit complicated – sorry!)

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