“All day I think about it, then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that, and I intend to end up there.”
Rumi (13th c)
What am I supposed to be doing? That question gets me every time. I often think about that David Shrigley cartoon – there’s a lady milking a cow, and the cow, outraged, looks over its shoulder and says, “What the hell are you doing?”
It seems so wholesome and harmless to go ahead and milk a cow. But the cow’s question destroys that perception. And suddenly the whole situation is absurd and a little bit sinister.
I feel like my figurative cow is beginning to get impatient and is about to look over its shoulder and belch at me or lash me in the eye with its tail.
Possibly related, the other day I got talking with my friend James (whom I’ve “interviewed” before) about the idea of a spiritual home, as in “where do you belong?” The idea of a spiritual home is pretty flaky – maybe even the idea of any home is quaint now; we’re supposed to have evolved past that – but I’m drawn to it. Everyone wants to find The Place. James and I got nowhere near a definition, if a proper one exists. We flailed, fumbled with our house keys. I blame myself for this aimlessness. But not enough to not post the transcript below.
I like what Frank Lloyd Wright said about houses, that a house should never be on a hill or “on anything”: “It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together, each the happier for the other.” One definition of a spiritual home could be: somewhere you feel happy to live, where a place feels equally happy to have you living in it. I guess the problem is that many houses perch at odd angles on hills and sometimes the hills crumble and the houses fall off the hills, or someone comes along and digs tunnels in the hill.
When I was a kid I felt deeply happy, and, I guess, “alive”, in places like Mokau beach, the hills just above Te Kuiti, and under the pine trees in Oamaru. But I think it was less a sensation of truly belonging somewhere and more my hyper-awareness of my surroundings, due to my squally hormones, and stuff. I felt intensely alive because I was more alive at that time than I probably ever will be again. Hell, I don’t mean to be depressing. Only that the intense heat of wishing to belong somewhere has gone. When I feel homesick I realise it’s for times of my life rather than places. But I still hope that at some point, maybe when mortality is really kicking in, well – the cow will be less belligerent, will look over its shoulder with less discernible rage. And so on and so forth, as my boss would say.
AY: England is seeping into my pores. Maybe this is my spiritual home? But not really. … No, it definitely isn’t.
JP: What the hell is a spiritual home?
AY: A nook for one’s spirit.
JP: A spiritual nook.
Can it be a movable nook?
An overhead luggage nook?
AY: Yes. It can be an overhead compartment for the spirit. A spirit compartment.
JP: Carry-on spirit.
AY: I think it’s just somewhere where you feel quite good, and at home, and have waves of real happiness just at being there.
JP: Hmm, yes. I have no idea where that could be for me.
AY: A seaside village?
JP: I always like the British Library. Or Soho.
JP: But they’re not really spiritual homes. Soho is too touristy and urban.
AY: Too rock ‘n roll.
JP: I like the mountains, I guess.
AY: But also the sea.
What’s one to do?
JP: I think Greece.
But I have not been to Greece for 25 years. So probably not there.
AY: Greece is too many people’s spiritual homes. Too many spirits there.
JP: Ah, yes.
I think my spirit has multiple families, it’s not a faithful spirit.
It’s a homewrecker.
Or it’s one of those spirits that fixes up homes and sells them and moves on. A renovating spirit.
AY: Other spirits appreciate that kind of thing.
I think my spirit is quite flighty and flaky too.
JP: It is our curse.
AY: Tree houses, cabins, tents …
JP: Cairo rental rootop flats …
AY: It’s annoying, because you can’t ever get “on the ladder” – the spiritual property ladder.
To “climb the ladder”, you have to get “on the ladder”.
You have to start somewhere, before you can go large.
It gives me the willies.