there’s no place like home

Wishing for something more, coveting the grass over the fence, yearning for the thing you can’t quite describe and yet you feel should be yours. Does everyone feel like that? Is it a symptom of a lack of appreciation, or a desire for enlightenment and fulfilment?

Dorothy has a lucky break when the tornado hits Kansas and carries her, her house and her little dog, Toto, away from the bleak, rural prairie life she has grown up in, to Oz, the epitome of all that is exotic and sparkly. By dint of her role as protagonist, Dorothy undergoes a holy grail like coming of age journey to enlightenment. Embracing all that is picaresque, Dorothy meets characters along the way who teach her lessons in life. She learns about self-confidence vs. self-doubt and friendship and deception and the manipulation of power.

Throughout Dorothy’s journey, her goal remains to return home. Even although home is a fairly unappealing place. Like any road movie, Dorothy, as the central character, has things to work out. She has a conflicted relationship to her home and origins, and the tension between the desire to leave and the need for stability is a common theme in film and literature.

Dorothy’s ruby red shoes, which were silver in the Frank Baum novel, but became red with the need to exploit the new technicolour film stock, are the vehicle through which Dorothy gets a taste for power and self-confidence and provide us with a lesson about home. Because really. We leave our childhood homes and start to make our own lives. And while we might yearn for the simplicity of the back garden and the tree hut in the pear tree, the home-made caramel slice wrapped in waxed paper in school lunches, the Tolkien-encoded letters from the ‘tooth fairy’ and the fact that decisions were made for us, these things had their place in the past and we are striking out on the road armed with what we have and who we are. There is no place like home. But what is home? It is what we make or what is made for us. Preferably the former. 

Angus and Julia Stone – Yellow Brick Road (live in Paris)

By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those that let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond winning. Lao Tzu


an angry storm

Why do we describe a storm as angry? Is it because they have the potential to wreak havoc? Is it because we associate darkness and a sense that the weather is out of control with something bad? Did we do something wrong and this is the result, the anger of the heavens?

The sun kissed the flowers, the wind was whistling in the tops of the trees, the leaves danced gracefully in the summer breeze. We give elements of nature human attributes. We can’t help ourselves. We are at the centre of our own perception, quite naturally. So, while it may appear like excessive pride on our part that we endow everything outside ourselves with human characteristics and are seemingly claiming that nature and the world must serve our needs by association, it may just be because we need personification to help us relate to our environment and work out our place and role within it. 

juicy at the expense of flesh

6 for $5. Bargain. I carried them home from the market in my black string market bag, as they staunchly exuded their orange glow in the grey Elwood day. Tangelo. Sometimes called honeybells, although I have never heard that word cross anyone’s lips. The size of an adult’s fist apparently. Really? Which adult? There are a lot of adults and their fists are all quite different in size. I went to school with a girl who could fit her whole fist in her mouth. She had a fairly large mouth. And a fist the size of a tangelo. A tangelo is a hybrid of a tangerine and a pomelo or grapefruit and it is described as being ‘juicy at the expense of flesh’. Roll that phrase around your mouth. Now that is a sexy collection of words.

Can you buy memories? If so, I paid $5 for 6 tangelos and a sharp and vivid evocation of the past.  These are good tangelos. With the taste of the sweet tangy juice on my tongue, I was in Tauranga on my grandparents’ orchard/farm. The scent of orange blossom in the air, the sound of the chooks in the shed, the thought of later picking out the lumps from the willow pattern icing sugar jar and letting them dissolve on my tongue. And eating an orange that tasted like sunshine straight off the tree.

Marcel Proust was the first to use the term involuntary memory in his novel, A la recherche du temps perdu (In remembrance of things past). He describes an incident where he was eating a tea-soaked madeleine and a childhood memory of eating a tea-soaked madeleine with his aunt is suddenly triggered and along with it an exquisite sensation of joy and a series of memories about his childhood home and town.

Unexpected moments where we unwittingly unleash the essence of the past. Portals between the present and what has gone before.

we all hold monsters inside

sometimes they escape us

HG Wells’ Invisible Man, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Plato’s Ring of Gyges and Palahniuk’s Tyler Durden of Fight Club notoriety. All of these stories afford the protagonist a disguise, an excuse, for acting on his baser urges. And we love these stories. Because they tap into the eternal question of whether we as intelligent people would, given invisibility or an alter ego, continue to behave in a moral way if we did not have the fear of being caught or punished. When you are taken over by someone else, or you have the freedom to act as you please without being seen, then you are no longer responsible for your actions. Surely. The cynical view is that we behave the way we do for fear of punishment not for any sort of authentic desire for goodness.

We have a – and I’m going to go out on a generalising limb here – collective human obsession with good vs. evil. In philosophy, religion and ethics, good and evil appear as polarised forces on each end of a linear spectrum. The presupposition is that an evil person is the diametrical opposite of the good person. There is no grey on this spectrum. There is black. And white. Those who subscribe to a Buddhist perspective, see good and evil more as more of an antagonistic duality, and those who desire enlightenment must seek to assume the duality of these two forces in order to attain oneness.

Either way, we all have the capacity for choosing a moral or immoral path. Although in some this capacity is diminished through context, experience or neurological malfunction. Recent studies have implicated the amygdala (the little almond-shaped mass of nuclei located in the temporal lobe of the brain involved in many of our emotions and motivations) in morality and when dysfunctional, in psychopathy. The characters depicted in the above tales could very well be psychopaths. The amygdala is thought to respond to cues indicating distress in others, and so guiding individuals away from antisocial behaviour. Reduced amygdala functioning in more psychopathic individuals suggest reduced responsivity to the thought of causing harm to others when contemplating personal moral dilemmas. Without such amygdala activation, individuals may be undeterred from conning and manipulating others, predisposing to impulsive, irresponsible decisions and engaging in criminal behavior without feeling guilt. Even better if there is someone else to take the blame.

Perhaps these stories have so much resonance for us because, far from taking some sort of moral high ground and sitting back complacently on our heels in the knowledge that we are not psychopaths and that we make the right choices, we are merely relieved.

Where is my mind?

without our feather, we can fly

I moved to Melbourne two years ago today. It feels as though it has gone quickly and yet so much has happened. Right before I moved, I had a farewell and forty party, which, while cheesy on the alliteration front, seemed an obvious choice if one were to name such a party. I looked around at all my friends and family and thought, why am I leaving? Everyone I love is here. These are great people. But it was time for a new chapter.

My wise friend, Mark, suggested I write a blog so that I could share my experiences in a new city. Sometimes it feels conceited to be writing down my thoughts and putting them up in a public forum. Why does it need to be public? It could just be a journal for me. Nevertheless, I am doing it and I will continue to, if somewhat sporadically, blog. What started with discoveries of my new location seems to have segued into a more existential exploration of the deeper recesses of my mind, peppered with a new cafe or trip out of town. I’m ok with that. Without wanting to sound like a valedictorian speech by crow-barring a quote in, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. a physician by profession but also one of the best regarded American poets of the 19th century said, “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions.” 

I am working on my next entry, inspired by a newfound addiction to a game app, Fort Conquer (unlikely, I know, but I’m ok with it). My thoughts around the monsters in it have taken on their own monstrous proportions and I am following a circuitous thread that needs to be reigned in. If threads can be reigned in. It is coming. 
There is something to be taken from every new experience. Sometimes the decision whether to embark on a new experience or to embrace the current one can feel fraught. At least for me. Holding fast to that which is good was part of my primary school motto which has strangely leaped into my head as I write. We can cling to what we know and fear taking risks. But eventually there is peace once the decision is made and with it, the knowledge that a new chapter brings new insight, adventure, feathers in our cap and people who open our eyes a little more. I know more than I knew before.