Whenever I feel what my mother used to call “wobbly”, I reach for a stack of magazines, glue stick and paper, turn on some relaxing music, light a candle, make a cup of tea and then I begin. I find that new meaning emerges without too much effort. As storytellers we can create a new story, a new way forward, at least for today.
Right now I am in Sydney awaiting the birth of my first grandchild: such a strange and wondrous event. I did not think I would be a mother, then had four children. Thirty two years later, in the same town, I am now about to be a grandmother. I did not realise, before this, that this momentous occasion means renegotiating who I am becoming.
I believe (as do many other postmodern thinkers) that our identity is made up of multiple selves, multiple people, and we are different with whoever we are with and wherever we are at the time. Each time new roles (such as grandmother) are incorporated into our identity, everything shifts and changes. Because I am not in my working studio I do not have a pile of magazines to ask The Question (what I am wanting to understand), or wait for The Question to ask me. But I have devised other ways of accessing my unknown,the wise one, the one who guides me, ways that do not require magazines. I pay attention to whatever draws my eye: I have a pile of books next to my bed and on the coffee table that I want to read, some are mine, some are borrowed, and I pay attention to the ones that attract my eye right now.
One of these books is called “The Soul of Place”, A creative writing workbook that I picked up recently in my constant exploration of the theme Belonging. Written by Linda Lappin (2015), it is a small book, an easy one to slip into a bag on the way to a coffee shop. Her first line mentions one of my favourite authors, D.H. Lawrence. He wrote that views are not only beautiful, but they have meaning. He believed in the soul of place… places have impact, places pull us back again and again.
I love Brisbane: when I am there I feel I belong. Yet at the same time, I have always been pulled back to Sydney, where I spent most of my impressionable years. Sydney holds the memories of my younger artist, when I first decided to become an actor, where I created my first show, where I left the Catholic Church, where I met my husband, where I was married, where I birthed my first and third child, where my mother and father died.
I moved to Brisbane, “kicking and screaming for the first ten years” (a line from my play HOME) but gently grew to love the place. It has become my “…manuscript [that some of us] have lost the skill to read” (John Montague in his poem “A Lost Tradition”, in Lappin, 2015,1). Reading the landscape of Brisbane can be difficult at times. We in Brisbane are a conservative, careful community, sometimes afraid to risk and push the boundaries. Perhaps we can become ‘self satisfied’ a dangerous thing to be. But there is enormous beauty: the colour of the sky, the smell of the air, the wide fields around our home and multiple opportunities if we have eyes to see them. The air in Sydney’s inner west is not as clean, but there are still beautiful blue skies and a vast harbour to walk along each day. The harbour changes colour depending on the time of day but the boats continue to bob and the sun continues to shine, until it doesn’t.
So the question arises: is Home wherever you find yourself? And is it the things we notice that makes our environment of belonging? As I sit in my rented Sydney studio, I notice the sun coming through the window. I notice the Really Russian Caravan Tea on my kitchen bench. I notice my teapot, orange and green and blue. I notice the radio… Irish music playing (my dad was Irish). I notice the books around me: there are three books on my table: “Composing a Life” by Mary Catherine Bateson, “The Snow Child” by Lowyn Ivey and “The Soul of Place”.
So I play with these titles and I realise that I am composing a new way of being as I wait for Sybella, my new grandchild, born in the first week of our Australian Winter. I am composing a new life as I indwell the concept that the soul of place beckons us to become something more than we thought we were. The soul of place continues to grow and enrich us if we let it. We belong where we choose to belong: we belong walking along the harbour shore, we belong sipping Really Russian Caravan Tea, we belong listening to the radio, we belong in a rented studio waiting for new life.
We belong wherever we wish to belong.