January 2005 Reflection

Perhaps a place first becomes your home when you return there from afar. I flew into Dublin this week from Chicago. Thanks to the windstorms and the jet stream, it only took six hours; thanks to my excitement and the Real New York Times (as opposed to that nomad rag, the International Herald Tribune) I couldn’t possibly sleep. I felt the twinge of this word, Home, as soon as I heard the voices of the people in the Aer Lingus line. Tones of the old country, as they say. Or perhaps the twinge was the word Nomad. Words put me in a muddle, especially those I have deprived of special meaning through overuse. Maybe it was the jetlag.

We cut through the morning fog somewhere over west County Dublin, and I devoured the irregular trapezoids that make up the austere aerial landscape of this island. Nowhere else I’ve seen is quite like it, carved as it is into a bizarre geometry of stones and untrod pathways. It is at once organic and mortal, ancient and rigid. My fascination will drive me, when winter is over, on foot across the island. I have begun to plan a path from Dublin to Galway. My swollen feet on the plane, even as I had this thought, were pressing into the new boots I had bought with weak dollars. I was thinking about puns: these shoes will have their souls tested.

Perhaps home is not a place at all, and this is where I went wrong.

Home could be a feeling, or a person, or a family. The clouds over Dublin are not the only place I’ve felt the twinge before. How many cities have there been in this psychotic connect-the-dots over thousands of miles? Even in the last month, old haunts in New York City, new haunts in Alabama, my family in El Paso, old friends in Chicago, each place has had a special pull on me. It is as though home is a mental sphere which I carry with me. It expands to take in the person across the coffee table from me, or to fill the room full of acting students at Northwestern, or to encompass the entire South Side as I ride the el into town from Midway. The unique grin of recognition cannot be wiped off my face, whether it’s over the first Guinness or the last airport or the best friend.

Increasingly I find that I recognize myself, that I feel most at home, when I am in motion. Back in November I took the bus to Belfast, and though it was my first time there, I felt an enormous comfort. Belfast is not widely known for producing this reaction. One part of it was the phenomenon I mentioned, that it felt nice to have Dublin rendered a base, a place to which I could now come back. But another, perhaps more significant reason, is that Belfast itself is in transition. It is a city that today exemplifies mobility and change; in this way it reminds me strongly of Berlin. Both cities are on the cusp of something unknown and unnamable, at the crossroads of infinite possible futures. They are like train station switchyards, or the trains themselves, infinitely capable of variation and drift, dauntingly multiple. I too, I think, aspire to this condition.

One certainty to which I can still cling is that I have a home, anywhere I may be, in the theatre. I was in my first play in Dublin. It was a short one, a small and low-key affair, but with dedicated collaborators and a full house. For all the disorganization, worry, and rush that inevitably surrounded the process, I could not have been happier. As we loaded in and had our only technical rehearsal on the day of the show, as curses and commands whizzed by our heads like so many bullets, I noticed that old grin, irrepressible, signalling my arrival at a place where, even if I can’t settle down, I can rejoice in freedom and mobility. I can rename movement, and call it rest.

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