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Volume 14

Home Is Not A Place - Spring 2015


Written by
Katie Rensch

Katie Rensch is a poet and essayist living in Minneapolis. She will graduate from the University of Minnesota with her MFA in poetry in the Spring of 2015. She is the founder and CEO of SnailBooks Literary Library [link], a nonprofit organization dedicated to giving readers access to small press books. Her video essay "A Mind of Winter" under collaboration with Jes Reyes was featured in the Altered Aesthetics film festival and aired on Minnesota public television. Her work is also featured in Luna Luna Magazine, Cleaver Magazine, and the Squaw Valley Review.


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Audio Essay: Home


I can only say I’ve felt at home a few times in my adult life, which is not to say I don’t have a home, I do, and one that I love. But let’s for a moment distinguish between place, the structures of our exit and return, and dwell instead on the feeling of being at home, the deep, internal sense of acceptance, of belonging.

I so rarely accept myself for who I am or the world for what it is, that the feeling of being at home arrives fleetingly. I can think of more times I’ve longed for home than felt it, having spent a good deal of time lost to my own desires.

But I do recall the first time I wanted to build a house on the singular feeling of belonging. I was in Thailand with my now-husband and we were scuba diving off the shores of Koi Phi Phi. He had just proposed a few days prior in a grand and romantic gesture off the coast of the Andaman Sea, and I was in the perfect domain of happiness.

Our experiences of the ocean were at odds with each other. He took to the thrill of underwater exploration, his body suspended by his breath. In each inhale and exhale, he hovered over coral the color of wheat and sierra rooftops, fish the size of marbles, eels in the microcosm of their existence, all while the green water parted from his body like a curtain to the world.

He led us to the place where I felt silenced, overwhelmed by my body and soul, home.

For me, the water was something wholly different. In the few minutes after our initial descent, I immediately lost sense of the surface, something I promised myself I would not do. I felt a tight claw across my chest, and then paranoia. I could not trust my regulator, the reliance on machinery to breathe foreign and unnatural, and the air flowed salty and dry from the tank. The entire endeavor was less than practical, romantic, or adventurous.

For months after diving, I wondered what kept me under the water, why I didn’t end the dive and rise to the surface. I certainly didn’t enjoy myself. It wasn’t until much later that I understood what saved me from self-annihilation.

The fight-flight sensors in my body were encumbered by mixed signals of curiosity and fear. I was working up the courage to end the dive early, a decision that would also cut short this blissful experience for my new fiancé, when our guide directed us forward.

He led us to the place where I felt silenced, overwhelmed by my body and soul, home.

A school of fish, stacked like a thin wall, created a barrier before us, a threshold in the space of ocean. Hundreds of pelagic sets of eyes, all identical, stared at me. I let my body intersect with theirs, and they opened to make room for my limbs, the floating strands of my hair, my fingertips. They accepted me at precise angles like rehearsed Japanese fans. I moved, they moved, and together we hovered.

Perhaps this idea of home coincides with other emotional extremities. I could imagine it appearing within self-doubt, anger, and joy too.

The brief though lasting feeling of belonging within this school was this exact notion of being at home. I let go of my anxieties. The fish contained me, created a barrier of my body, and held me as their own, as their belonging.

During the only time I’ve been scuba diving, my sense of belonging arrived between the polar ends of fear and curiosity. Perhaps this idea of home coincides with other emotional extremities. I could imagine it appearing within self-doubt, anger, and joy too. Home, when we do find it, becomes a kind of birthplace where we can allow ourselves to flourish and renew. Emotionally, I think of this as returning to what I originally intended for myself, coming home to my soul. I do not think one needs to dive into the depths of the sea to belong — although, if one did do that, I’m sure she would feel at least something at the edge of her human existence. But this acceptance of ourselves in a world beyond our control exists on smaller scales as well.

Just a few weeks ago, I washed my sister-in-law’s hair in a hotel bathtub.  For me, this is one of the most human of gestures. She was in a great deal of pain, on crutches, having badly sprained her ankle, and I’m sure rinsing out the shampoo brought more pleasure to me than to her, but it gave me  the opportunity to care for another person, to express a deep and sincere love in the smallest of ways.

Or, maybe it’s because I’ve always wanted a sister, and this was the closest I would ever get to that kind of relationship. She accepted me as her kin, and through another person, I was allowed to belong in a home of sisterhood. I could not have bought that moment, and I’m sure I’ll never relive it in the same way.

In all the times I have felt at home, I have seen myself with an unrealized clarity

In the end, it may be that home only exists in metaphors and in our language’s idioms. Home is where the heart is. Make yourself at home. Home to oneself. To understand it, we must compare the very thing to something unlike itself, must translate our movements and experiences into words, the impossible undertaking of language.

Here, I am reminded of Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’. In the first stanza, he calls upon this idea of home:

I Celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

Whitman’s collective sense of the body is a less selfish way of understanding what it means to belong. He looks for his own identity in all of the people of America, all races, genders, and occupations. These lines transport me back to my days as a naive but eager undergraduate reading Whitman for the first time, when I learned that it is possible to live between the lines of a poem, take refuge in language.

In all the times I have felt at home, I have seen myself with an unrealized clarity, and for a brief moment, I’ve felt as though I’ve made sense of my world. I search endlessly for this feeling. For some, home truly does exist within rooms, knickknacks, and photographs, and justly so, for these are metaphors for our life experiences. But for me, I’ll continue to look for it in the living, in the poetry of our souls.



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