This is a week traditionally known for time with family, friends, and home cooking. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, and every year I look forward to hanging with my peeps. Nonetheless, I must make a confession. During the rest of the year I’m thankful for occasional opportunities to go away.
Heavy stuff, right? Sounds like I’m saying what many people privately joke about at the holidays, namely that tightly confined family time around the holidays can make even stable people squirley. Sounds like I’m dissing my own kin.
No. I’m not saying that.
What I am saying is that sojourns out into the world make me appreciate my time at home all the more. When I leave home with tricked out camera bags and a fully charged laptop, I find myself compartmentalizing my private identity. Life in the field generally means life in the metaphoric jungle. There is no sense of a work day. Work days run while I’m conscious and sometimes even when I’m not.
It extends deeper than that. Getting to see the world is a privilege, and something I never take for granted. It isn’t the travel, per se, that transforms me. It’s the return home after the travel. Creativity comes from experience. It comes from stimulation and invigoration, and it comes from a desire to make something that didn’t exist a moment before it appeared. But it also comes from stability. Even in the most unstable artistic lives (there are many throughout history), the work itself generally happened in the focused interstitial moments, rare though they may have been for some of our greatest creators. Emotions may have raged and chemicals been abused and self destructive torments shaken the foundations, but when paintings and guitar riffs and poems began to take shape, they took place on islands of focus.
Confidence that your home base is stable and secure enables risks when you’re out in the world. That said, simple reliance on stability is not enough. Reliance on others without reciprocal obligation ultimately degrades relationships. I count on myself to be best brother or father or son or husband I can be when I’m home. (At least, I try. My success is for others to determine.) I set the same standards for my non-traveling life that I do when I’m on the road.
Some may think that’s an inverted philosophy, that I ought to orient my ethical frame at home and expect as much from myself when I’m out in the world. I disagree. Many people become complacent when they get home, when they think they can “turn it all off” the moment they get in the door. They think home is where they can let it all hang out. I’ve come to believe otherwise. Home is where one hopes they can be their least guarded self, but unless living alone, home is a place where others want to share that sense of unguarded ease. To achieve that, it’s essential for co-habitants to want to facilitate such a space. Taking that idea to its logical, inevitably reciprocal conclusion, we can see how “turning it all off” when we get home fundamentally denies what we must create for the people around us. To be successful with others we obligate ourselves to create worlds of civility an sensitivity. We obligate ourselves to tune in to others in our space, even as we desire to let our own guards down so that others can tune in to us.
Home for Thanksgiving this week, my adventures turn to more interior pursuits, to listening to stories and laughing effusively and preparing a perfectly brined turkey with the help of my school aged sous chefs. Am I aware of a relentlessly ticking clock, eternally flicking me about movies I want to make and poems I want to write? Yes. That never goes away. But I’m home now with the people who matter most to me, and as much as possible I want to be as present for these moments as I am when I’m doing my best creative work. After all, what we create is the only thing of value that outlives us, and we have opportunities to create just as much of lasting value with the people we love as we do in our most ambitious creative endeavors.