Friday, July 9, 2010

At Home... with Philosopher Damon Young

My last post about ‘home’ as a state of mind has me intrigued about exploring the philosophy of home and how our own philosophies of what home symbolises shape our lives completely. And, what better way to start this exploration of philosophy than with a philosopher.

Damon Young holds a PhD in philosophy and is a writer and commentator. He is the author of the book, Distraction, about how to creatively craft one’s own life, and has another book, The Mystery of the Garden, out next year. He has been published in Australia, America and the UK. He has also written many opinion pieces for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

So, what is home for Damon?

‘Home is a varied thing: part sanctuary, part nursery, part kitchen and vegetable garden, part office. If I were to give a word to what unites it all, I wouldn't say bricks and mortgage. I'd say 'rhythm'.

‘Home combines all sorts of rhythms: eating and sleeping, outings and returns, work and play, and the cadence within each. For example, the rhythm of chopping parsnip and carrot for mackerel soup is very different to the rhythm of writing a newspaper column. Yet home throbs with all of this. It has to be maintained daily, in countless routines and rites. Then there are the longer rhythms of days - the rituals of breakfast, lunch, dinner - or seasons: summer's roses dying back, and the camellia arriving in April.’

For Damon it’s a mix of rhythms that create the truest sense of home, but the rhythm of writing is at the heart of it. ‘And I don't just mean the structure of form of writing - I mean the physical act of putting pen to paper. It's the quiet glide of a fountain pen, as it loops into words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages. It is a cadence of creative meditation.’

These rhythms, Damon believes, are crucial for a creative life. ‘Not simply the time or quiet – as vital as these are – but the juggling act itself: I'm not just a writer, I'm also a husband and father. I'm not just a pensmith, I'm also nappy changer, cook, cleaner and massager. All of this adds to my experience; it enriches what I bring to the pen and paper.’

Fatherhood has changed the rhythms of Damon’s home in many ways, ‘The pulse of home has been more intricate, entangled. My sleeping is inextricable from the snores and cries of my son and daughter. My meals are no longer as meditative, or punctuated by quiet conversation. My work is often interrupted by firm requests for cheese, or for me to pry apart Lego blocks.’

Yet these extra rhythms have brought with them more focus, ‘It's disciplining: I write more quickly and boldly and concisely as a father than I did when I was younger.’

While Damon writes that combining fatherhood and work has been exhausting and frustrating, he has also found it enriching, ‘My psyche now includes the rhythms of these new lives, and their quirks. It's challenging, but it adds to my feeling of life's solidity and vitality.

Damon has written articles about combining work and parenthood and while he says that it wasn’t ‘a pre-planned blueprint’ it did come naturally. ‘I never wanted to be a distant father or husband. I know why this happens: couples have bills to pay, debt to service, and the separation of labour can be efficient. But it makes too many sacrifices for me: of relationships with kids, and one another. I wanted to share the precious, precarious rhythms of domestic life: nappies, night feeds, kindergarten runs, weekend doctor dashes, Lego and walks to the cafe. It's also a recognition of equality: that both my wife and I deserve to cultivate ourselves diversely, in work, parenting, and intimacy. This is an investment of sorts: in a more lasting bond with my wife, our kids, and our own ideals.’

Damon also feels that the physical house and neighbourhood are important for making a home, ‘Our neighbourhood is friendly, quiet, slow: the city's busy indifference can be exciting, but also draining. We have a big garden, so the kids can get fresh air, and we can garden together - a way to get exercise, common rhythms, discipline and food, all at once. And we rent, which means we're not always chasing a mortgage. We can put our time into other things, like our creative work, and one another. The house is warm in winter, cool in summer, so the kids have slept better (so we all have). And then there's the interior design itself. We've not put enough time and effort into this, but we try: the built environment - its colours, shapes, smells - certainly plays a part in the mind's adventures. It can objectify ideals and tastes, and provide an encouraging or stimulating atmosphere.’

Overall for Damon and his family, the philosophy of home can be summed up as a question of value, ‘We value time together more than we value wealth. We sacrifice income and status, so we don't have to sacrifice familial bonds, or creative independence. It's about not being distracted from what's worthwhile in life.’

If you would like more information on Damon’s book or to read any of his published newspaper articles, visit

Photos © Damon Young

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