I saw Mary Zimmerman’s vibrant “The Odyssey” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival a few weeks ago, a tale of endless metaphors and heart-rending questions about “home”. I left my home, New Zealand, decades ago, to live in the USA. I’m back now on a seven week sojourn, immersed in concerts, residencies, teaching and seeing loved ones.
For years I’ve felt my nomadic lives still simmer in multiple meta-places, in multiverses, and the question always arises: what if I had physically stayed in one particular place, and continued that life that I ended to begin another? My sense of home fluctuates, moody and at times despairing, guided by relationships that buckle and form again.
Rebecca Solnit writes in her book, “Men Explain Things to Me”, about our collective and individual Pandora’s box(es), that, once opened, mean we cannot, and should not, go back to our innocence. That a return, like that of Odysseus, is not really a return. While innocence is often privileged over experience in a romantic way, I would not want to go back to a time where I was told that women couldn’t be real composers, or back to that time where traditional Maori music was barely heard or understood by New Zealanders.
I left New Zealand as inexperienced, optimistic young artist. I wanted to surpass my own and other’s expectations, to draw music and other artistic genres closer together, to create music without the weight of sexism and pantheons of dead white men braying in my ears.
I’ve come back with more energy and focus than even in my youth, anticipating the catch-ups on what I have missed all this time. I’m excited to bring the goods home. But what I didn’t count on was my urgency in creating and teaching.
Around the time of seeing “The Odyssey”, I dreamed of a tsunami. I was in a five story building with five other people. As the sea strained against the building, and we all screamed in unison, I was struck by a) how we counted off the minutes we had yet to live b) how terrifying the sea was, that it was incomprehensibly vast and c) how comforting it was to be with others even as we died.
Coming home is not to the home of my New Zealand grandparents, who ensured I understood how a beautiful natural world and the creative life were one and the same. New Zealand, like America, strains against tsunamis of greed, poverty, immaturity, mind-boggling ugliness, the under-valuing of anything that is soft, atemporal, non-material. Every day I hear news from my multi-verse homes – New Zealand, South Africa, USA – that is morally untethered, that would make my grandparents shriek in their graves – they struggled hard to protect our beautiful lands and people. It remains, then, for us to build softly and resolutely, those priceless relationships suffused by love.