However, that didn’t stop me from coming to Tasmania. Obviously. I arrived the morning of September 3, 2010, and that same evening went to an art exhibition opening, where Pete’s wonderful poems hung on the walls beside Christl Berg’s exquisite photographs of flotsam found “On the Waterfront,” and he told me about homesickness. But I was really in Tasmania. On the other side of the planet. About as far away from home as I could possibly get. I was thrilled.
Over the next several weeks I travelled with Pete and Anna to Bruny Island; I went with Denbeigh and Maddie and “Gramps” for fish and chips at Fish Frenzy and to Salamanca Market, to Conington Beach and Peppermint Bay; I went on a bushwalk with Millie and Lily and Sarah and Vishnu and Jane; I went with Millie and Garth to Salamanca Market then went with them to Anna and Dave’s for supper; I experienced my first footy Grand Final at “Boyler’s” house – along with the requisite “barbie” and pavlova; I went with Jane and Ralph and Em to the Poetry Festival in Launceston, and with Jane to the Botanical Gardens. I tasted the beer in Pete’s four favourite pubs and read poetry at the Republic AND the Lark. I even got drunk with Pete and Deirdre, along with writer Richard Flanagan, photographer Matthew “Newts” Newton, and Marcus Morse, “the great river man,” at Knopwood’s.
But then Thanksgiving rolled around (that’s the second weekend in October for those who aren’t familiar with Canadian holidays), and it was also the double-whammy of my birthday (I’m one of those people who actually LIKES her birthday!), and there were Facebook postings about turkey and stuffing and cranberries and rum pumpkin pie, and e-mails from home asking, “Who’s going to make the gravy?” (that was always MY job!) and “What about Laurie’s buns?”… and birthday greetings and “Wish you were here’s…”
|Poets Anne Kellas and Liz Winfield|
|Jane Williams reading poetry, with Emily, Liz, and Peter Bakowski and his wife looking on|
And even though Thanksgiving Sunday and my birthday were spent with new friends at a poetry reading at the Republic, followed by a potluck at Liz Winfield’s house, where the table looked just like the one at home would – sagging with scrumptious food and surrounded by a dozen new friends on mismatched chairs, with the wine flowing freely and the conversation engaging and warm and funny – there was something missing: the turkey in the middle. And the gravy and stuffing and cranberries and my Auntie Jean’s airbuns and my rum pumpkin pie. And my old friends. And Saturday morning Farmers’ Market. And even the Superstore. And then it started. I walked into the university on Monday morning, bumped into Kate Booth who asked me how my weekend was, and I started to cry. A divining rod would have jumped out of the diviner’s hands.
They say that homesickness is a pathology: you can be, literally, sick for home. Psychologist Douglas Porteous writes (and I quoted him in my Master’s thesis): “The idea of home as a base, a source of identity . . . is the goal of all the voyages of self-discovery… Journeys are necessary in order to discover primitive roots. Exile is likely, and even in exile one is surrounded by those who re-create home . . . home tugs throughout our adult lives.” While journeying, Porteous writes, “home remains the territorial core. The necessary sense of adventure gained by venturing from home is supported by knowledge that the home remains intact and the ways back to it are known.” As I wrote in my thesis: in keeping with the idea of “primitive roots,” the self is so tied to its place of origin that it can become physiologically “sick” for “home.”
So there. It’s legitimate. I’m sick for home. And this, I guess, is my journey for self-discovery. Ironically, I’ve exiled (ex-isled, in my case) myself from home in order to learn MORE about my home – about my islandness. But, always, “home tugs.” And, ironically again, it’s exacerbated by the means by which I stay close to home: e-mail and IM and Facebook and Skype… I am in touch with home on a daily basis – not like in the “olden days” when you’d write a letter which might take a week, and then you’d wait a month for a reply (if you were lucky), or if you were a student travelling through Europe you might phone home once the whole time you were away (or if you ran out of money)… Thank you to Jane Ledwell for that crucial insight into how technology affects our relationship to home. It bears more thought, more teasing out, in the context of my work about place – and placelessness – about what Canadian geographer Edward Relph has put into categories of belonging: “existential outsideness (feeling alienated from a place), objective outsideness (remaining purposefully unengaged), incidental outsideness (dispassionately observing), vicarious insideness (appreciating a place without actually being there), behavioural insideness (recognizing familiar things about a place), empathetic insideness (“getting” a place, being open to the significances of a place), and existential insideness (knowing in your bones that this is the place where you belong).”
That last one is me. At home. Where, according to Lawrence Durrell, in his book A Spirit of Place, I “have had particularly moving experiences,” from where I get my “vital source of both individual and cultural identity and security, a point of departure from which we orient ourselves to the world.” To me, Prince Edward Island is literally a “field of care”; it is, paraphrasing Relph, “where I know and am known.”
Fortunately for me and my disease, I have some very supportive friends - both old and new. Claire gave me a pep talk: “This is just a very small period of time in the grand scheme of things. You’re there experiencing new things, meeting new people, seeing new people. We’re still here doing the same ol’ same ol’. You’ll come back and fit into our lives like you’d never left. Except you’ll be richer and wiser for the experience you have had.” (She must have read my thesis!) And I realized through my blossoming friendship with Tassie poet Jane Williams that establishing these new links is why I’m here… the rest of my life would be poorer if I hadn’t gotten to know people like Jane Williams and Relph Wessman and Jane's daughter Em, Pete and his wife Anna Williams; fellow post-grads Millie Rooney and her partner Garth, Anna Egan and her partner Dave, Lily Pearce, Jade Price, Vishnu Prahalad, Mahni Dugan, and Jenny Steiger; my officemate Jenny Scott; recent PhD grad Kate Booth (another of Pete’s students!) and soon-to-be-grad Andrew Harwood; Leo Cheverie’s cousin Pamela Balon and her partner Paul; and my housemates Denbeigh and Stewart and Maddie, and “Nona” and “Gramps” and Suzie… It helped get me through the homesickness, and I could knuckle down to work once again.
But when Mike told me he couldn’t come to Tasmania for Christmas after all, all bets were off. An idea formed and fomented until it bubbled over the top: I asked him and Mikhala if it would be all right if I came home for Christmas, instead of coming to their UPEI graduations in May. But if I did that, it meant I couldn’t come home until June. Mikhala said, “Graduation, shmaduation… it’s a boring affair anyway!” And Mike said sure – he’d come to visit in May instead, and fly home with me when I left. So I asked the-Queen-of-organizing- travel-itineraries Mikhala to start looking for flights; I booked it (paid way too much money - thank you, Acorn Press sale!); and then started counting the weeks. Pete said he was sorry I wouldn’t be here over Christmas so I could see how they pack a whole year of fun into a month, and how they replicate a Northern Hemisphere turkey dinner in 35-degree weather… I told him my body was craving the cold – it needed minus 10 and snow. It needed a Christmas tree and lights, singing in the choir for the candlelight service and Midnight Mass at 9, Saturday trivia at the Churchill Arms, shopping at the Superstore, a huge snowstorm where EVERYTHING stops, snuggling with my sweetie, and a Christmas turkey dinner - with cranberries and stuffing and gravy and buns and shortbread cookies - at John and Claire’s. My body just needed to be home.
The countdown was interminable: I felt like a little kid waiting for Santa. I counted sleeps.
But December 3 finally arrived… I said good-bye to Maddie, and told her I’d bring her some pictures of snow and Christmas trees… filled my borrowed backpack with socks from the Salamanca Market, and went home.
And it was everything I asked for. Even the 12 hours I had to spend in LA were fantastic, thanks to Sheryl MacKay’s cousin Thane Tierney, who met me at LAX wearing a big red maple leaf on his shirt, took me to lunch, then toured me around Santa Monica and rural LA County, all the while entertaining me royally with stories about the music biz. He and his “bride” Carol welcomed me into their home like family (my daughter Mikhala IS sort of related to them… she’s the stepdaughter of another of Thane’s cousins Paula – we are a postmodern family, after all!), before depositing me at the airport for the last leg home.
I realized when I arrived back that I’ve come to love Hobart, too – being greeted by Denbeigh’s huge grin and rushed by Maddie… carrying her all the way to the airport carpark in one arm while towing my suitcase with the other… driving over the Tasman Bridge and seeing Mt. Wellington loom large behind my house in South Hobart… the view from my bedroom window down to the harbour… my morning walk down to the university and then back up that *&%*$# hill on Lynton Avenue… meeting up with my friends in the Geography tea room… sailing on the ferry over to Bruny Island once again with Pete and Anna, with Flossie and Ollie yapping shrilly in my ears… walking Nebraska Beach… it all brings a sense of familiarity that is comforting.
It’s empathetic insideness I’m feeling. I’m “getting” this place. My heart is open to the significance of this place. And it feels just fine.