There’s No Place Like Home

Home 2Home 1

Do you ever wonder what it is exactly that makes a home, well, a home? What it is that makes something more than just a collection of bricks and mortar and instead a home, somewhere special that you look forward to coming back to every day?

I’ve been thinking about that quite a lot recently. Largely it’s been to do with the time of year as the festive season always makes me rather contemplative and there are many reminders of ‘home’ over Christmas; of buying gifts and going home for the holidays, of decorating your home for guests and loved ones, of music telling stories of loneliness and missing home.

Christmas can be a nice time of year but if you’re lonely or away from home or nursing a broken heart then it’s not much fun. The constant reminders of home and how Christmas is for spending time with the ones you love can be depressing. I must admit I’m struggling with that quite a bit this year and I’m feeling little desire to celebrate at the moment.

I think the other reason it’s been on my mind though, and probably the main reason, is that I was broken in to recently. A couple of people went on a rampage through my block of flats; they were after my neighbour initially who wasn’t there, then in a rage they started to destroy everything; they rounded on my flat next and smashed through the screen door and yelled and threatened me, before they broke the windows in the block and hit someone on the head as they ran out.

It was scary and it took a few days (and the door to be fixed) for me to start to feel relatively safe in my own home again. And yet, that’s the thing as well… I was upset and obviously scared but I actually felt very little about the break in itself, which surprised me. I thought I would feel angry or violated in some way but I didn’t. Which I think goes to show how little this place has ever really felt like ‘home’ to me.

I’ve been living here for a little over two years now since leaving Sydney and while I’m grateful to have shelter, a roof over my head and (relative) security, I guess I’ve never felt much attachment to this place. It’s okay as far as flats go but I took it out of necessity rather than because I really felt anything for it and I think that’s why it doesn’t really feel like home. It’s a place where I live and sleep and have created some wonderful memories – but it’s not ‘home’ and I don’t think it will ever feel like home to me, or the way a home should.

But how should a home feel? And have I ever really felt that? I’m not sure. There’s what society and Hollywood tell us a home should be like and I guess that’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think about it – the idea of a happy family living in a nice house, with a couple of pets, a picket fence and lots of laughter, etc. The kind of place you come back to years later and the place echoes with memories.

Of course that’s an unrealistic fantasy; no matter how much money you have, there’s no such thing as the perfect house, just as there’s no such thing as the perfect family, or the perfect you. Life is about compromise and working hard to make your life better and eventually afford the things you want; a lot of people though seem to want everything now without being prepared to wait and work for it and I think that’s why many people seem so unhappy these days. They seek instant gratification and in the end that only leaves them unfulfilled.

So no, that fantasy, which I think a lot of people have (particularly first home buyers), isn’t a home. It’s a lifestyle, a fairytale; it’s what we’re told life should be like if we want our happily ever after. A real home, is something else.

Personally I think a home is not just a place, it’s an idea. A ‘home’ obviously must be somewhere that is attractive to you and suits your needs but I also think as a concept it is much more fluid than that and what ‘home’ is is probably different and unique to every person. For some people the ability to get a mortgage and buy somewhere they like may be what makes that place actually feel like ‘home’ to them, because they know it is theirs and they can build their life there and make what they want of it. For other people a mortgage may mean little and it’s only when they have realised whatever work and life goals they’ve set for themselves and have more freedom that a place starts to feel like ‘home’. For some again it may be when they have children and a place fills with their laughter; for others it may be when their children have grown and the mortgage is finished and the next stage of life begins. I think a home can mean many things and perhaps in the end all that matters it is that it feels special.

For me I think home is not a fixed place at all and never has been; I don’t feel like I’ve ever really felt an attachment to a place, at least not that I can remember, nor feel like I will anytime soon, so for me I think home is the memories I have made wherever I’ve lived. It’s the memories of where I grew up; the memories of where I had my first kiss; the people I have shared my life with; the fun and laughter, the pets who brought me joy, the friends who stood by me; the moments I cherish and the sorrows that define me. In that way everywhere is home, and nowhere, as I take it with me.

Or, to borrow from Doctor Who, for me home is like a Tardis; it’s my heart and it’s bigger on the inside.

I used to think that maybe I was missing something because I didn’t feel a particular attachment to somewhere, to a physical home. Perhaps I still may one day, if I buy a place or have a family. But even then I don’t think it will be having a physical place that will make it ‘home’ for me, it will still be the memories and the life I bring with me.

And I think ideally that’s what a home should be. It should be what we bring and what we make there, not the place itself. I think a lot of people get too focused on buying their idea of a dream home and that’s another reason why they can feel unfulfilled, because in the end the reality can never match up to the dream.

I think that’s why I didn’t feel much after the break in as well as it’s just walls to me; they could have trashed it, set it alight, done anything, but all I would have lost were things. It would have been unfortunate but I wouldn’t have lost anything important and I have insurance.

It’s probably also why I’m struggling a bit with Christmas this year now that I think about it as well. This is the first year I’ve really been by myself. I wouldn’t say I feel lonely necessarily but I definitely feel a sense of loss this year.

Then again I often don’t get into the spirit until late. Maybe I just need a mince pie, put some music on, and create some new memories.

Either way I guess the important thing is to make the most of what we have. Home can be many things and come in many shapes and sizes but it’s what we bring to it that matters. In the end there really is no place like home.

‘Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there ‘s no place like home;
A charm from the skies seems to hallow us there,
Which sought through the world is ne’er met with elsewhere.
John Howard Payne – Home, Sweet Home
From Clari, the Maid of Milan

The modern face of racism

<em>Racism</em> by temi00 on <em>Deviant Art</em>

Image: Racism by Temi00 on Deviant Art

Has anyone seen Lost in Translation? I’ve been catching up on some DVDs recently and I’d forgotten how good it is. I liked it at the movies but I think it plays better on DVD; it feels more intimate somehow. Bill Murray’s performance is wonderful and it’s a beautiful story.

One of the reasons I like it is the feeling of isolation in the film. Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two characters who feel increasingly isolated in Tokyo; surrounded by unfamiliar customs, they become drawn to each other. I wouldn’t say I feel isolated like that but I spent a lot of my childhood moving and the writer in me is always a little distant… I thought the film captured that feeling well, and Tokyo as well.

That’s why I was surprised when I read a past review of it on The Guardian’s website. Kiku Day is part Japanese and criticised the film as racist. She said that anti-Japanese racism formed the backbone of the film, from the jokes to the depiction of Tokyo and Japanese culture. “There is no scene where the Japanese are afforded a shred of dignity. The viewer is sledgehammered into laughing at these small, yellow people and their funny ways, desperately aping the western lifestyle without knowledge of its real meaning.”

Did we watch the same film? Where she saw a film about stereotypes and an exotic backdrop, I saw a film about disconnection; not just the disconnection between the two Americans and Tokyo but also in the direction their lives are taking. What I found interesting was the directorial style; it’s sparse and because the Japanese dialogue isn’t subtitled, it leaves viewers as disoriented as the characters. Perhaps that’s Day’s point as we see what Bob and Charlotte see, not the “real” Japan; but that doesn’t mean it’s stereotypical.

But I’ve never been to Tokyo. It looks like a beautiful city and I’d love to go there one day but obviously Day knows it better than I do. I thought Tokyo was depicted respectfully but perhaps she sees a caricature of Japanese life. I’m still not convinced, though… the film isn’t about Tokyo as much as the friendship between the characters; perhaps because of that it lacks some detail, but I don’t see anything racist in it.

After reading Day’s review I started thinking about the way race is depicted on screen. Some of my favourite actors come to mind like Denzel Washington, Lucy Liu and Zhang Ziyi, films like Crash, Monster’s Ball and To Kill a Mockingbird. But then I wondered about the films and shows I’d seen recently and with the exception of Crash, I can’t think of many which have depicted race well, particularly in Australia. The last Australian film I can remember seeing like that was Australian Rules, and before that Romper Stomper with Russell Crowe. As far as TV goes, the actors are still part of the supporting cast and are rarely very detailed; the way Indigenous Australians are portrayed is particularly troubling. Ideally a cast should be an accurate representation of our culture and it’s sad seeing such a narrow view still represented in the mainstream.

To be honest I thought we’d come further than that. It’s been 40 years since Star Trek had Uhura and Sulu, longer since To Kill a Mockingbird and In the Heat of the Night… shouldn’t we be seeing a more honest depiction of society by now or is that just naive? Perhaps the problem is as much political correctness. Racism has become such a loaded issue that people are overly sensitive to it; most people are respectful but mindful of what they say in case it’s taken the wrong way, and so for most films it makes sense to stick with a familiar cast and not make waves. I think that’s what happened with Lost in Translation. It’s a different kind of film and if you look long enough, you’ll find racism in anything, and Day saw enough to label it such. Really it’s the opposite of that but it does show how much racism is still a part of our society, the feeling it evokes.

I found this short documentary earlier and it’s a perfect example of the impact racism is still having today. It’s filmed by 17 year old Kiri Davis, who examines the importance young African American women place on colour. What stunned me was a scene recreating a 1940s experiment looking at internalised racism, where children were asked to choose between a white and a black doll and the majority chose the white doll. 60 years later it’s still the same. 15 out of 21 children said they preferred the white doll over the black, associating white with “pretty” and black with “ugly”. Worse they saw white as good and black as bad… it’s heartbreaking. No one should feel ashamed of their culture, their heritage, of who they are… but I guess it’s no surprise; how else could you feel, surrounded by such stigmatisation?

What’s so troubling is it leaves you wondering what we can do to change it and to be honest I don’t know. The problem is that racism has changed; it’s become subversive, an ideology permeating the culture that twists noble intentions to its uses. Economics, welfare, gentrification, poverty, all can be used as tools or justification for racism in the wrong hands. How many times have you heard someone say we shouldn’t donate to Africa because the money will be wasted, or that children should be removed from their parents because of poverty? It’s suggestive and almost makes sense, and that’s why it’s so dangerous.

The modern face of racism isn’t a group like the KKK or an individual. The truth is that it doesn’t have a face; it uses imagery and ideas to spread hate and often someone is not even aware of their own racism. There’s a test from Harvard which measures the difference between what we think we’re prejudiced against and what our impulses suggest. The results are very interesting; they suggest that most people have a higher level of unconscious bias than they thought. It doesn’t make someone racist but it does suggest a conditioning, which just shows how much racism surrounds us without our knowing it.

Perhaps racism is something we’ll never be completely rid of but I think the only way to start is by realising that we need to change the way we look at it. Racism has changed but we’re still approaching it like we did forty years ago; it’s not just a political issue but a personal one and unless people are willing to change the way they look at racism and themselves, nothing will ever change.

That’s why I’m still stunned by the review. Lost in Translation is a film about making connections and you’d think it’s a film that would create greater awareness of Japanese culture, not damage it… I guess Day sees it differently.

Anyway, what do you think? Do you think racism has changed? Have you ever experienced racism? If you’re interested in the IAT test there’s more about it here; I took it and it’s very interesting if you have time to check it out. And sorry for the long post! If you got this far I’ll owe you a coffee or something. 😉