“Home is so sad. It stays the way it left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it whithers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.”
–Philip Larkin, Home Is So Sad
M.Snowe visited with relations living in the wilds of Eastern Pennsylvania over this past weekend. Of course, the wilds mean a country town on the edge of a valley, looking down at the vast green expanses of rolling plains and gently sloping hills, up until the hills hit the tree-burdened mountain ranges surrounding it all with their jagged finality. The mountains, in the early blue-gray of morning, faded into the sky by gradations, and looking at them you couldn’t tell where the earth stopped and the sky began–there was no horizon. It seemed too easy an enterprise to get lost in this mess of nature.
Like other parts of other states, this had been home for a long part of life. Not just the outdoor architecture, but the indoor infrastructure as well, including those who made it tick. Things/people have aged or changed, but most, like the scenery, has remained the same. So why is it so different now? Why does this huge mess of nature, and slower living seem unrecognizable, or at the very least, alien? Or perhaps the more apt question is: what is so alien about the visitor?
Talking to a friend while sitting on a regularly-haunted rock in Central Park (which has a clearly-defined horizon and much less greenery than the mountains), it became clear that city life suits some people very well. It also became strikingly evident that sometimes when we find a habitat with which to adapt ourselves, we loose the ability to react to the ones we previously lived in–and that’s the harsh reality of urban evolutionary theory. Perhaps, suddenly you find that you don’t like the person you are when you go “home”–perhaps people back home just don’t understand (or care to understand) the ferocity or intensity, or new found electric mundane-ness of your city life, or maybe it’s something completely internal–or a combination of all things. But the cliche abruptly comes to fruition, and you find yourself unable to come home again.
Within a span of forty-eight hours in the PA mountains, M.Snowe was baring her fangs at what might’ve been viewed as polite requests, and steely grinning with strained efforts in hopes of warding off the perception by relatives that M.Snowe might be annoyed by the remark that walking home at 7:15PM in the city is a “highly dangerous pursuit,” when the nighttime is much safer than the morning (a proven fact). The avoidance of snapping a clever yet sparklingly ill-intentioned retort when being asked for the fifth time if the tickets home were purchased took a valiant effort of self-control. All these things would normally not have bothered M.Snowe, at least not so long ago. They might vaguely vex, but never induce fangs.
Is it the city that puts us on edge? The city, with it’s electricity, seems to up the voltage on our conceptions and emotions. Without realizing it, the bright lights, public transportation, and general way of life have charged the senses–and while in the city, things can seem electrified, things can run skyscraper-high or subway-tunnel low. What might have served as a passing idea in some other mode of life can latch on in the city and follow you around like a pushy street solicitor. So when we leave the electric environment, perhaps we are so charged that other places seem dulled, or they don’t conduct the energy we have learned to feed upon; sparks fly as the differing voltages amalgamate. We might not be able to go back home again with the same outlooks and the same emotions, but at least we can prepare ourselves with the appropriate converter switches.