The following is a guest post by Laura Grothaus, author of Baba Yaga in Conversation with her Home, poetry runner-up.
The time has come to examine the term “homebody.” As a lady, wary of the booby traps of domesticity, but also angry about denigration of the feminine, I have crafted a personal somatic definition. I am aware that the desire to remain at home has very little to with the cleaning and cooking of it, and more to do with a general avoidance of human kind. I write this in a empty house, in a chair that has begun to memorize the finer lines of my bottom, in a room of curtains that remain tight-lipped at the sun’s pestering.
But it may be good to break down the delicacies, the nuances of the “homebody.” It is composed (don’t get too excited now–– I know my clarity riles the hearts of all who mistakenly listen) of the words “home” and “body,” words that I will argue are often synonymous.
Bodies are like homes. Homes are like bodies. (This is the beauty of figurative language, and thus why poetry is a necessity of being.) At their best, bodies aspire to be homes, but often face complications. Like bodies, homes must hold prayers and grudges. Mine certainly will not forget the pictures I carved into wallpaper with my thumbnail–– the repetition of three linked circles, inspired by an enduring obsession with the cinematic masterpiece Quest for Camelot. Homes must talk slowly and not be above a bit of sass. At times they must know you better than you know yourself. They must say, “Of course, you are going to forget to turn off the burner because you are always nearly burning both of us down with your carelessness.” They must have long memories, often grounded in the theory that when you know someone entirely, you cannot help but love them. Every villain has its backstory. But homes must also speak not so much in the language of humans as the language of stone and wood. A tree is not ironic. A cliff is not ironic. The body is not ironic.
So, when I say my home holds grudges and prayers, it is also because my skin will not let me forget. It is because when I walk into a gothic cathedral, I can feel the rafters in my ribcage. Maybe this is just me, a trick of my tendency to anthropomorphize, which, at seven, left my bed full of stuffed animals who would otherwise be jealous or cold.
And so, when I write Baba Yaga speaking to her bird-legged home, she is also speaking to herself. They are part of the same legend, teammates in a constant game of chicken against protagonist after young protagonist. Fairy tales send you to the world of the demonized domestic, where homes are as frightening as their occupants. It is a world where youth is linked to beauty and beauty is linked to morality, where the woman with white hair and a wart on her nose might put razor blades in the caramel apples. Baba Yaga, like many witches, suffers from being a part of ageist society, which can make one’s body feel very unlike a home. My grandmother died without revealing her true age. At least one of my aunts has settled into perpetually being thirty two. Some days, I fear wrinkles, and I have just turned twenty one.
At the base of the witch, the body, and the home is a desire to love living in your skin. I’ve written about this before as part of my dear friend, Lexie Bean’s body-positive book of letters, Attention: People with Body Parts. The pieces were written by people of all backgrounds to parts of their bodies. It has been expanded into a website, where anyone–– witch, homebody, or human–– can submit a letter.
Just as one may not feel at home in one’s body, one may not feel at home in one’s physical location. The two are frequently connected. Being a “homebody” is a privilege of loving your home, feeling more a part of your body within it. But it may also be an aforementioned result of avoiding human kind and the roles one is forced into. Baba Yaga may not be a recluse because she stores gold in her chimney and, on occasion, threatens to eat people. She may be a recluse to avoid being seen and seeing herself through the eyes of those who only believe her to be old and weak and ugly.