Panelists: Sybil Baker, Barrie Jean Borich, Harrison Candelaria Fletcher, Robert Vivian, & Xu X i許素細
Harrison Candelaria Fletcher begins “Homing In” by discussing his relationship to home as a native of New Mexico. He states, “New Mexico haunts me.” Fletcher’s approach to exploring how he perceives home is poetic and psychological. He quotes poet and memoirist Mark Doty, who says, “The past is not static,” and he adds to that by saying, “Memory erases rooms that don’t matter.” For Fletcher, home is as much a construct in one’s mind as it is a place outside of one’s self. Also, Fletcher meditates on the etymological roots of the word “home,” which has evolved from words meaning “to frequent.” The theme of home being something that one comes back to resurfaces in his comments and the comments of his fellow panelists.
Xu Xi illustrates her understanding of home with a PowerPoint that displays the multiple places where she has received mail, places which she considers home. She notes her habit of living on rooftops, especially in Hong Kong, a city with many tall buildings. After living abroad, Xi moved back to Hong Kong to look after her mother who had Alzheimer’s. However, for Xi, there is no one home; there are many homes that exist across decades and continents. Xi also says, “A place becomes like a person.”
Robert Vivian’s reflections on home stem from his remembrances of the Blue Heron River. He describes this place as “indifferent to human society,” and he asks, “What is home if not a sip of clear, clean water from a river with your own cupped hands?” Vivian explains that home has a “timeless” quality for him, but he “can never get close enough to it.” Vivian’s comments are replete with nature imagery and with concern over environmental degradation, such as the harmful effects of fracking.
Sybil Baker’s understanding of home is integral to her memories of growing up in Northern Virginia and to the twelve years she spent as an expatriate in South Korea. Baker reflects on the importance of “nostalgia” to one’s relationship with a place they knew from the past, and she sees the American Dream, which she argues is the desire to own a home, as the subtext of one’s pull to their home. Baker explains that Russian philosopher Viktor Shklovsky’s philosophy of how one views familiar phenomena are important to her own work. Shklovsky and Baker’s time abroad heighten her interest in seeing home more clearly and from a new perspective. Also, her fascination with the conditions under which a person leaves their home and the influence that has on memories of one’s home drive her work.
Barrie Jean Borich discusses her novel Apocalypse Darling and her depiction of growing up in Calumet City, Illinois. For Borich, home is inseparable from coming of age in this industrial “wasteland.” The aesthetics of the place as well as its political and personal realities continue to influence her work and her relationship to the past. She also comments on how time is intertwined with her recollections of her home.