Home Place

Arslocii writes a lot about place, especially other places, sometimes far-reaching places. But there is another place, the most significant one really, and that is the place we call home. Home can be as difficult to find as those other special places are, or it can be easy. It is not easy for us. Maybe that is why we seek placeness in all locales, although we know the difference between placeness of the soul and placeness of the heart. Our quest for a sense of place may be a direct result of feeling like misfits most of the time. Our strongest sense of place is inside us – we are trying to find it externally as well. Our guess is that many people derive a sense of place from external factors: being in a family, being a part of a community, living in a neighborhood, structuring their lives around what is meaningful to them – their world reflecting back at them what their place in it is. Building from the outside in, like a house.

What about those of us who build from the inside out? Maybe we are not the norm but there is no manual for life that says it can’t work that way. There is more struggle with this approach, more effort required but, perhaps we hope, more reward. We begin with a strong sense of who we are and try to maneuver our way through an unyielding maze of conformity. Or maybe we build that internal sense through trying to negotiate the maze – it’s a chicken/egg thing. The attempt is to find one’s own way, creatively, uniquely.

We have found house, but have we found home? We love our abode. We should, we made it, in a sense. Starting with the original 1873 manse built by a stone mason/builder for himself to live in, a place that from certain accounts had indoor plumbing and an orchard on its grounds. Fast forward nearly a hundred years, and watch while the late 19th century and most of the 20th reveal the up- and down-side of the economy reflected in this one building: As house became a local bottler’s retail outlet (with the plant built behind – goodbye orchard), then an empty prohibition casualty, later a series of taverns, take-outs, a boarding house and finally, (drum roll) offices for a plumbing and heating contractor (with warehouse behind). And, as is often the case, as the usefulness of a structure wanes, so does the viability of the surrounding neighborhood. When we rolled in it was no longer recognizable as a house, let alone a home. And, too, the neighborhood had been on a downward spiral along with it.

Following our twenty-plus years of sweat production and hard decisions, we have, like a tugboat, escorted this large ship into the 21st century as a house once more. And we think it is wonderful. Most likely unrecognizable to the guy who constructed and designed it, we like to think he would be pleased that it has returned to its original purpose. We honor his memory and his ability to build the most solid house we have ever known by making his work whole again and living in it. Happily living in it.

As we have actively improved our house, we have watched as the immediate area – the community – has changed from a mostly working-but-not getting ahead-class to a mostly non-working-and-selling-drugs-but-not-getting-ahead-class to, now, an influx of student-renters who are being funded by their suburban middle class parents to make them into useful citizens somehow in between their prolonged periods of inebriation. Sometimes I believe we are living in 1970s Russia. Speaking of which, there are coincidentally, Russians buying up empty lots in the area and building mega-houses for the new crop of young professionals pouring out of all these colleges, once they have sobered up and become “citizens.” Or maybe not.

But such an in-flux, together with a vying-for-space mishmash of people does not build stability. In a sense, you could call us pioneers, since we were among the artist wave of early adopters of funky old buildings that nobody else saw value in, other than the generations that were stuck in history-repeating cycles. We had community at the start since we all were outsiders and we could pick each other out of the line-up of houses based on the non-traditional touches we applied to our residences. We all knew each other, some of us visited each others studios and some of us became friends and socialized. There was a smattering of us, not too concentrated, maybe one house per block which made it fun to seek out our other partners-in-crime. So our inner selves got to be expressed, in a small but significant way, in our external interactions. For a while.

Only, just like our house and its changes, many of the artists grew up or grew apart or outgrew the neighborhood and moved on. We might be the last ones standing. And as twenty-plus years went skating by, here we are, still in place but not experiencing a sense of place any longer. In our house, yes, but not so much here in the neighborhood. Although the neighborhood is still changing and trying to figure out what it is now – it is currently a cluster of mini-neighborhoods: the old, the brand new, the temporary, those not-too-thrilled about change, those desperately clinging to what they have known in the face of a disappearing way of life, those looking to a brighter horizon or a beginning.

Where are we in all of this? A little lost. In a place but not of it. We are, surprising to us, looking for a kind of place to call home. A place that speaks to us on a number of levels, or maybe different levels from what we desired oh so many years ago. We are seeking arslocii as a place to live. It takes both the house and the site to create the synthesis. Maybe we will find it again. In the meantime, we have one of the two.

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Filed under Art & Architecture, Musings, Philly-centric

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