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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Comfort and Well-being

In reading some excerpts from the book, Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski (recommended by a fellow artist, Kate Fisher), I immediately found myself reading the last chapter of the book on "comfort" and "well-being."  Usually, when I think about home, I think about these things so it seemed fitting for me to get down to business and immediately read that chapter.  Well, after I read the foreword and chapter 1 on "Nostalgia."  At any rate, Rybczynski hooked me at the beginning of chapter 10 when he said,

"Domestic well-being is a fundamental human need that is DEEPLY rooted in us, and that must be satisfied."

As an architect, he goes on to explain that we should not confuse the idea of comfort with décor.  Décor does not necessarily make a house comfortable.  Then he breaks down the history of different floor plans and how they have evolved over time to accommodate our comfort and needs and on and on and on...

However, what struck me the most interesting is the idea of measuring comfort.  How do you do that? Rybczynski thinks that maybe the only way we can measure comfort is by measuring discomfort.  Discomfort is much more measureable.  He says, "the simplest response would be that comfort is physiology -- feeling good."

I know when something feels good, right? My pillow sure does feel good when I lay my head on it every night, but would I know that it felt good if I had not experienced what felt bad?  My head did not feel good when it was resting on the dentist's chair for 3 hours on Friday.  That did not feel good at all.  I could definitely measure that much more accurately than I can measure the comfort my pillow gives me. The way Rybczynski sums it up in the end is perfect. He gives the example that most people say,

"I may not know why I like it, but I know what I like."

He continues to say,

"This recognition involves a combination of sensations -- many of them subconscious -- and not only physical, but also emotional as well as intellectual, which makes comfort difficult to explain and impossible to measure."

All of this makes me think of the longing we have for home and place.  We have this stuff.  Pictures.  Cushy pillows and blankets.  Fluffy rugs.  Pottery.  All this stuff that we fill our houses with trying to make it home. Trying to make it comfortable.  We are searching for comfort.  For the past 3 summers, I have lived in Colorado.  My room there is this generic room in a building of other generic rooms. They all look the same. They all have the same furniture. They all have the same stark walls.  I can't stand it.  I want it to be my "home" not just the place that I sleep.  So what do I do? I take photos of FRIENDS and FAMILY and favorite pieces of pottery that remind me of the PEOPLE who made them.  A Nestle chocolate tin can that my FRIEND gave me.  I hang special postcards and notes on the wall by my bed that special PEOPLE in my life wrote to me.  All of the stuff that I take there is related to people and that is what brings me comfort.  They are my friends. My family.  Is this longing that we have for home and comfort really a longing for family?  Is it family that brings you comfort?  Can we measure it accurately if we have not experienced the discomfort of missing parts of a family?  

Works Cited
Rybczynski, Witold. Home: A Short History of an Idea. New York: Penguin Books, 1987. Print.

Monday, September 15, 2014


I have found a German word that seems to describe the feeling of longing that we have and that I am referring to perfectly - Sehnsucht.

You may listen to how this word is pronounced here -

According to, sehnsucht is yearning; wistful longing. However, there is much much more to be said about this word in many psychology journals.  Here, the Developmental Psychology journal goes in depth about the term.

Additionally, there are plays and movies on the subject. Hope to find some of those and read/watch them.

I am currently reading more about this and plan to contact some psychologists on the subject.

Stay tuned... more to come on Sehnsucht later!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Thoughts on Lewis

In doing some googling and reading on the concept of humans longing for home or place, I stumbled upon some of C.S. Lewis' writings that were also once given to me by my undergraduate lead professor and mentor.  In Lewis' sermon, The Weight of Glory, he talks about a longing that we have for some place.  A place that we crave and cannot attain here. Though many of us try. In trying to find it and identify this longing, by calling it Romanticism, Nostalgia, and Beauty, Lewis comments on William Wordsworth:

"Wordsworth's expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all that is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering."

I will continue to quote Lewis because he said it better than I ever will:

"The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not IN them, it only came THROUGH them, and what came through them was longing. These things -- the beauty, the memory of our own past -- are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.  For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."

Yet, still we try to attain this place here on Earth.  A home. A place. I want it too.  A house with a wrap around porch. A swing in a yard filled with big oak trees that are homes to the tree frogs and cicadas that chirp at night all plopped down in rural Tennessee. I can envision it and taste it and hear it, but is that really the ideal? Hmmm... I don't think it is. I can't fathom it, yet I believe it is there.

I am reminded of an Emily Dickinson poem that I had to memorize in high school...

I never saw a moor

I never saw a moor,
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a billow be.

I never spoke with God,
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the checks were given.

In the end, I want to talk with people. Interview them and ask them these things... What is it that you long for in your home? What is ideal for you? What is your dream? I want to take their answers and investigate them. Compare them and see what I find. I think I will find that will all desire the same thing even though we all may not realize it.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. I never saw a moor. (from memory)

Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York: The MacMillan Company, 1949. Print.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

New techniques

I am enrolled in Digital Fabrication this semester. This course teaches us how to use computer programs and software that will operate a CNC router, laser cutters, and 3D printers. I am excited to see how these new skills and techniques will inform my work.  Here is some of my technical research for this project.  Continuing to use this stereotypical house form because I feel it is often used to reference the ideal, I am working on making new dies for the extruder which will expedite my building process and make elements for clay pieces and entire pieces using mixed medias. Here is some of the technical research in the works...
Check the laser cutter out in action...

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Research Project Proposal

I would like to investigate and research the universal desire and longing that people have for a home.  I think it is universal for us as humans to want to have a place that is ours.  A place that is safe and familiar and comforting.  Each person has a different idea about what that place is for them.  What are those ideas?

I feel that I am currently struggling in my work to figure out what I am really trying to say.  I know there is a theme, but I am having a hard time trying to figure out exactly what that is.  I have these ideas about the importance of preserving the traditional family unit based on my Christian worldview.  However, then I want to express the hope and grace that is available for those of us who have not had the fortune of growing up in that traditional family unit.  I believe there can be forgiveness, re-growth, and healing despite trials and wrong decisions that we may face.  Then, I am still so wrapped up in the longing that I have for a place – a home – a physical house.  I just want to figure out how all of these things go together.  They do. I believe they can and they will.  It is my goal that this research project will help me get one step closer to figuring it all out.