This is the last installment of the Windiad, my epic journey back to the West Coast of the US, with thick references to Homer’s The Odyssey, another story about a man going home. To read the whole thing, all out of order but conveniently numbered for the linearly-minded, click on this sentence.
At the End of the World
It’s been a few weeks since we returned from the US. It took two weeks just to finish unpacking because I was so busy with work. And three weeks to write the rest of the Windiad. America already seems like a dream. Except when I follow the election and then it’s a bit of a nightmare.
I’m back among the busy, hard-working, sleep-deprived Japanese. The cicadas have already gone underground. Typhoon season has begun, with a huge monster of a storm coming this way.
The first week back, there were nonstop thunderstorms. Twice, the boom of thunder woke me up and I thought Tokyo was being attacked or there was a terrorist bomb that exploded nearby. It was apocalyptic. There’s no other way to describe it. If the world ends, that’s how it would go. It’s since calmed down and now the weather is balmy, cool. I feel like I can think again, without the weight of humidity pressed against my brain.
Where is Ithaca?
I’ve been able to contemplate once again, what home is to me. Is it America? Most certainly. I felt comfortable and at ease. My family is there, most of my friends. Large swathes of my past.
And what part of America is my home? I haven’t been to my hometown in Southern California since 1999, and I haven’t lived there since 1988. I felt a disconnect in Eugene, where I lived for a decade. Aside from many good friends who still live there, the town was full of faces I vaguely recognized. Santa Cruz, where I attended university isn’t recognizable at all since it’s been rebuilt after the ’89 earthquake. And I’ve never lived in Portland, where I most felt at home.
Now when people ask me where I’m from, I just say, The West Coast. It encompasses the Pacific Ocean, the Coast Mountain Range, the Cascades, the conifer forests, the oak hills, and Interstate Highway 5. It covers all the small college towns that I’ve lived in all up and down the coast. Most of my family and many of my friends are there. So the West Coast, that’ll do.
And what about Tokyo, my home for the last 3 years. Is this the Ithaca (Odysseus’ home) that I’ve been sailing to? Or is this just another of the many islands that I’ll be stopping at on the way back ‘home’? It certainly is home. I have a blast with T’s sizable big-hearted, fun-loving family. They really make it feel like home.
Odysseus criss-crossed across the Aegean Sea trying to get back to his kingdom and his wife, Penelope. But in my odyssey, my wife traveled with me. So in a way, I was already ‘home’, yet on my way home.
On My Way, Never Arriving
One of my favorite books, that’s almost impossible to find now, is Ursula K LeGuin’s ‘anthropology of the future’, Always Coming Home. This work of fiction imagined a future, post-industrial California. The title refers to a song sung by members, of this imagined culture, who are best described as the tribe’s adventurers and explorers. I was finally able to write down this song from the copy that I’ve kept at my parents’ home.
The idea is that these explorers are always on their way back home, even if they are on their way to other lands. At the same time, wherever they are, they are at home. They are always coming home. I relate to this sense of never having arrived, never feeling like I’m home yet. But I have also always felt that wherever I was living at the moment, I could stay there for a long time. I felt both at home and not at home.
That’s how I feel about Tokyo too. Our plan, my Penelope and I, is to stay a couple more years. But it doesn’t really matter where we go. Our home is wherever we are together. Maybe when people ask where I’m from, I should just say, “I don’t know quite where my home is, but I do know that I’m here.”
Initiation Song from the Finders Lodge by Ursula K LeGuin
Please bring strange things.
Please come bringing new things.
Let very old things come into your hands.
Let what you do not know come into your eyes.
Let desert sand harden your feet.
Let the arch of your feet be your mountains.
Let the paths of your fingertips be your maps
and the ways you go be the lines on your palms.
Let there be deep snow in your inbreathing
and your outbreath be the shining of ice.
May your mouth contain the shapes of strange words.
May you smell food cooking you have not eaten.
May the spring of a foreign river be your navel.
May your soul be at home where there are no houses.
Walk carefully, well loved one,
walk mindfully, well loved one,
walk fearlessly, well loved one.
Return with us, return to us,
be always coming home.