There’s No Place Quite Like Home

I feel uprooted. I haven’t posted here recently because Fitz and I were back in San Francisco for a couple of weeks, tying up myriad loose ends. Now I’m back in New York, possibly tying up loose ends here — although there aren’t that many. And soon we will embark for Europe where the ends are decidedly frayed but appealingly so. I enjoy this sense of end-less-ness because, in the space created there can enter new and exciting possibilities. But, even still, echos and stillness pervade in the corners. They lurk beyond the flash of light pulling me toward my next opportunity. So, after a while, I start to feel uprooted.

Haruki Murakami's "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle."

Haruki Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.”

I may also feel uprooted because I recently read Murakami, specifically The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. For those of you who have read this, enough said. It was a delicious tale, the next in what appears to be a long line of books translated into English for Em to read. I am beginning to suspect I enjoy these international takes on life in a particular way but I have to wonder what gets lost in translation – and why I gravitate to literature-once-removed.

Regardless of the language, one thing is for certain: Murakami can tell a story. Full on. His writing style was fresh – quirky yet decisive, blunt but enigmatic. But what really draws you in is the story and that’s such a breath of fresh air. Finally an author who can write AND can tell a story. What a novel-ty, eh? … I enjoyed his honest approach to portraying his characters (especially the main character, Toru Okada) and his commitment to the tale at hand. Murakami never shirked from the gritty and often less-than-appealing truths inherent in people, and he never shied from fulfilling every detail of the tale he set out to tell on page 1. Impressive.

One of the main themes in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is the idea of home. And, as you read further, you begin to attach this to a concurrent idea of self – appropriate themes to consider in my own uprooted life. Recently, I realized I haven’t had a “real” home since December 2011. I’ve lived places but, as wonderful as they’ve been, they were entered into and exited from in a decidedly temporary way. I’ve also traveled quite a few places and have been welcomed into countless homes along the way, all the while with my special person, Fitz (a true marker of home). But it’s not the same. Our last real home was the predominant loose end we just tied up in San Francisco, affectionately referred to as “Langton.”

Langton, circa 2010. [San Francisco] By Fitz.

Langton, circa 2010. [San Francisco] By Fitz.

The Colonel in all his glory. [Langton, San Francisco.] By Emme.

The Colonel in all his glory. [Langton, San Francisco.] By Emme.

As much as Fitz and I like to travel, we are in love with the idea of home.. our home… and the creation of it. Langton was an art project we lived inside. The walls (choose blue-painted-green-painted-white-painted-brown-painted brick) housed the first days and then the first year of our relationship. The floors (blue pine in a herringbone pattern, laid board-by-board by Fitz) held countless footprints of Life well-lived and well-loved. Memories in the onyx tiles (I pinched my sciatic nerve laying those tiles)…the black farmhouse sink and oil-rubbed bronze fixtures (Fitz learned true patience when I spilled polyurethane at 12:30am and we scraped it off the ceramic until 2)… in the distinct personalities of our appliances: the General (our fridge), Colonel Wedgewood (our stove), and Admiral Blackbeard (our dishwasher)… in the rooms themselves: Bonnie and Clyde (our kitchen and her living room)… in the wood stove that we kept burning all winter long, even when we had to wear shorts and tank tops — just to burn the left-over lumber. With Langton, we leave behind a home filled with memories, a home wrapped in two distinct senses of self, two sets of memories weaving, overlapping, and colliding into a unified relationship: Em and Fitz.

This sensibility is described so eloquently in Murakami’s novel. He uses the self and the home in a similar way, playing with the many ways to fracture, unify, collide, intersect, absorb, reflect, and interact with these concepts. The book opens with a mysterious phone call that begins:

“Ten minutes, please,” said a woman on the other end.

I’m good at recognizing people’s voices, but this was not one I knew.

“Excuse me? To whom did you wish to speak?”

“To you, of course. Ten minutes, please. That’s all we need to understand each other.” (5)

Early in the book, Toru and his wife, Kumiko, grieve over the disappearance of their cat — who vanishes without a trace one afternoon. A few chapters later, Kumiko disappears with no explanation, no forewarning – leaving Toru utterly alone in his own home. We follow Toru through a bizarre series of encounters with a cast of characters who do much to inform his sense of self but nothing to satisfy his search for home, for Kumiko. As additional experiences and people are added to the mix, Toru’s senses of self and home begin to expand exponentially. One beautifully written passage relates a captivating story told by Lieutenant Mamiya to Toru.

“Sometimes, when one is moving silently through such an utterly desolate landscape, an overwhelming hallucination can make one feel that oneself, as an individual human being, is slowly coming unraveled. The surrounding space is so vast that it becomes increasingly difficult to keep a balanced grip on one’s own being. I wonder if I am making myself clear. The mind swells out to fill the entire landscape, becoming so diffuse in the process that one loses the ability to keep it fastened to the physical self. That is what I experienced in the midst of the Mongolian steppe. How vast it was!” (139)

Our hexagonal bathroom and a broken fish pitcher, days before the end. [Langton, San Francisco] By Emme.

Our hexagonal bathroom and a broken fish pitcher, days before the end. [Langton, San Francisco] By Emme.

Murakami seems to be saying that, as our sense of home (in Lieutenant Mamiya’s story, physical space) expands, so too does our sense of self. In many ways this is enlightening and invaluable. People travel to gain access to this space, to find a renewed sense of purpose, a deeper sense of identity, a richer context to frame their lives. But, in this joyous expedition to the unknown reaches of our own Mongolian steppe, we need to remember the balance. Running away from home (like Murakami’s cat and Kumiko) is a very different thing than soul searching. We need to be careful we always have a home to come back to, a Langton in which to root a deeper purpose.

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