D*S Essay Contest: Ashley Hallmark

by Grace Bonney

AshleyHallmark - Meaning of Home Essay
[Editor’s note: All week we will be posting the finalists for our first D*S Essay contest. The theme was “HOME”. Voting will begin on Friday after all finalists have been notified and posted. Thank you so much to everyone who entered this year’s contest! -Grace]

Mud brown walls.

Beige carpets that are in dire need of a shampoo.

An offensive odor coming from the kitchen sink and dishwasher.

Generic spec home layout.

Our new home.

An abundance of morning light that streams softly through the windows.

A large backyard.

A defiant, struggling, beautiful rose bush with sherbet orange blooms.

Our new home.


I have lived in four different houses in four different states in the last year.

The white-washed walled rental in Mesa.

The beautiful, poorly insulated old cabin on nine acres in upstate New York.

The comfort and relief of my sister’s house in Missouri.

And now a die-cut and stamped suburb variation in South Carolina.

With each move, the meaning of home shifted and became more and more elusive. I found myself squinting at its fuzzy outlines in frustration, and when I got tired of squinting, I crated the idea and shoved it into a corner. Home was more of a physical structure with empty veins than a haven with a beating heart.

[continued after the jump…]

As much as I am loathe to admit it, I have had the unfortunate tendency to look outside of myself for contentment, fulfillment, and peace. For joy. I did that with every house we lived in, every new place we moved to. With each new house and each new town, a stubborn voice living in the back of my skull would push its way through: “Maybe this one is it…this one will feel more like home. Maybe this time you’ll finally be happy. Maybe this time the restless, uneasy feelings will go away.” But houses can’t fix what’s broken inside. Structures of wood and plaster and stone and wires and haphazardly slapped paint can’t force what you’re reluctant to look at. The real stuff. The stuff of inner workings and unrelenting expectations. Moving to all those places was, in part, a dream come true but an adventure I willingly admit I was reluctant to participate in. Yes! I wanted excitement. Yes! I wanted to go somewhere new. Yes! I wanted to see the influence of other people and cultures. But I am nothing if not a contradiction (aren’t we all?). My heart – part nester, part wanderer, part rooted – longed for all the things new places could bring me. But moving is hard. Beginning again is hard. Letting go of people and places that have tattooed themselves on thin, sensitive skin is hard. As much as I longed for adventure and seeing new places, I longed for order and simplicity, for comfort and routine just as much.

It took four different moves to give me the courage to slice the onion of discontent open and peer inside. And what I found is that if I look outside of myself for essential things – joy, contentment, satisfaction, approval, etc. – I will only find disappointment, that my heart will be broken, that the heavy feeling of restlessness will plague me like bad wallpaper. That a house won’t heal me if I’m creating it for the wrong reasons. That my cathartic release won’t come from hanging pictures on the wall. That I can’t patch a spiritual hole with new paint. But if I do the hard work instead – the hard work of loving and accepting myself, I will find joy and contentment and harmony and laughter and comfort and inspiration – so many of the things my heart longs for and the nourishment my soul needs.

I now know that home is as much about acceptance as it is anything – a metaphor for taking something that doesn’t necessarily fit every need and desire and loving it anyway. Working within its inherent flaws and rooting your feet down and doing the hard work no matter how long it takes. That none of it is a waste. Home is about unpacking one’s self and finding what works. Looking for harmony and contentment and a resting place.

For now, home looks a whole lot like chaos and disorganization, smells a little too much like the previous tenant’s dogs, has weeds and bare patches of yard that need tending to, but it is home. It is home in a way that none of the others have ever been. It’s where we’ve landed. And walking in the door makes my heart happy because I can finally see it for what it actually is – ripe and beautiful with promise. –Ashley Hallmark

Suggested For You


  • Makes me choke up while I read it. It’s evident that this is an honest portrayal of some of your recent soul work. And sharing that is very brave.

  • From the beginning we knew it was going to be different. The construction…masterful…poetry, then prose. Honest…raw, yet tender. Love the image of peeling back the layers of an onion to uncover what is buried deep within. This was brave and beautiful!

  • I love that you are so open and real about your experiences and self-discovery. It causes me to pause and reflect in a way that I might not have otherwise. Thank you for sharing yourself so transparently.

  • Congratulations. You share personal insights into universal truths with simplicity and clarity. Wish you happiness always, thank you

  • This essay resonated with me on so many different levels. I’ve read & re-read it so many times already and keep referring back to it as I reflect on the meaning of home to myself.