At the beginning of September, I set out to document the process of reconstructing and re-imagining home after losing it when my family sold our farm in 2004 and my mom died in 2009. I wasn’t sure exactly what this process would look like or what I would imagine, create or produce. All I knew is that I wanted to spend some time making sense of my experiences struggling with and rebuilding from loss. The result of my efforts was a series of three digital videos about what home means (or has meant) to me.
The first video/story that I created was “My favorite part of the walk.” It’s a story about walking along the Minnehaha Creek path with my son Fletcher right after we moved to South Minneapolis in 2004. It documents my material connection to a neighborhood. I have lived a few blocks from this creek for over 8 years now and, when I walk on the Minnehaha Creek path, I can physically connect to memories of what I did and who I was in the past (when Fletcher and I used to take walks with the stroller or when I’d bike with the kids to camp during the summer or when I first started running). Because I moved around so much as a kid and adult (9 cities, 17 different homes), this physical connection is important to me; it’s evidence of my existence beyond the present.
The second video, which isn’t crafted enough (yet) to be called a story (I think?), is simply called “Home.” It focuses on some footage of my mom and I each talking about the importance of the farm and how it figures into our understandings of home. It was filmed in 2002, right after I had a miscarriage. In a general sense, both of our definitions involve home as nurturing:
These definitions of home as nurturing raise important, troubling questions for me: What other resources do I have for being nurtured? How do I balance my need for nurturing with my need to nurture (as a parent)?
Private Space: A Room of One’s Own?
In this final video, I put two home tours, one given by my mom in the late 80s (I think) and one given by my dad in 2000, beside each other in order to raise questions about home, belonging, memory and privacy. The tour led by my mom was originally almost 25 minutes long; I edited it down to around 3 minutes. I’m really struck by what I chose to keep in and what I edited out. In the footage that I kept, she spends a lot of time talking about her private, quiet moments and spaces in the house. I end the tour in her study as she describes her appreciation for her inner sanctum, a space where she can do “all the fun things she likes to do” and “not have to worry about how it looks.”
I have always appreciated that my mom was a private person; I’m a very private person too. For me, home is a space where I can retreat, be myself and “not have to worry about how I look” (or act).
I started writing this post last week and it’s been sitting on my dashboard, just waiting to be published. A few minutes ago I was scrolling through some old blog posts and I found one from last March, An urgent need to document my process/ing. I was struck by how part of my description of why I write in a blog and have created a virtual space fits in with some of the definitions of home that came out of my digital stories from September. Here’s what I wrote:
My need for leaving a trace isn’t just about providing others with my reflections; I leave a trace as a sort of chain, connecting my past selves and their stories with my present and future selves. This need for a chain of connections is important for me because I feel particularly disconnected from my selves, their stories and the worlds in which those stories were created.
In the past eight years, I’ve had to come to terms with the loss of two grounding forces that enabled me to link together the chains of my selves throughout the years of many moves and transitions: the loss of the farm that had been in the Puotinen family for almost 100 years and the loss of my mom.
The farm was sold in 2004 and my mom died from pancreatic cancer in 2009. Both were devastating losses. The farm had been my most important homespace; it linked me to past generations and served as a location for retreat and connection. My mom had been a kindred spirit and the person with whom I shared countless hours, hiking and talking and being curious about the world. She was also my biggest source of stories, since my memory seems to fail me a lot, about who I was when I was young.
When my family lost the farm and then my mom, something happened to my chain of past and present selves (which were already precariously linked because I have a habit of forgetting/ignoring that which has already passed); it seemed to fully break and with it, my links of belonging…to a family, to a community, even to the past selves that I once was.
I think one of the reasons I write in this blog is to create a space where I am building up an archive of ideas and experiences that I can access, remember and engage with now or tomorrow or ten+ years from now. This archive not only serves as proof of my past/present/future existence, but it enables me to craft (and imagine?) and perform a self that endures through time, space and a range of sometimes contradictory experiences and that is connected through (rooted in? beside) past selves and to generations of family members and various communities.
I like putting the idea of my virtual space-as-home beside other homespaces.