All roads lead to…

This week my post has been inspired by a short street-side questionnaire published in one of the local magazines, delivered free, in my letterbox. Often, if I allow the junk mail to make it through my front door before it reaches the bin, it is these types of things I sift through it for – small character studies that urge me to write. 

I sit writing this in my new house, finally unpacked and recovered (mostly) from moving. Even though my bank account has not quite caught up with me and I’m still working out the subtleties of my new living arrangements, I’m starting to feel more and more at home as the days progress. I’m comfortable; happy and all that. The only problem with my recent settling is that I think I might be somewhat mad. Ask any one of my family members about this and they’ll tell you that it’s not exactly news (it’ hard being surrounded by such a cruel bunch of people 😉 ), but I am seriously starting to get concerned.

You see, I already want to move again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my new place. I love the people I live with. But at the same time, I’m restless. My mind has regained speed and my eyes are hungry again, too keen to devour other houses with “For Lease” signs out the front and wondering what stories their walls hold. Imagining what stories they could draw out of me. Perhaps it’s a form of hangover-stress from moving—like some part of my mind is telling the rest of me that I should still be filling out rental applications; that I shouldn’t like having all my things out of boxes and that, really, how can I call any of my time productive if it’s not filled up with calling agents and transferring large sums of money away!?  If it’s not moving stress though, I don’t know what’s going on. All I know is that I’ve rediscovered a part of me that I ‘d forgotten about. The part of me that loves impermanence.

I realised all this, not while I was looking up realestate.com for the thousandth time in a week, and not when I pointed out the rental signs that litter the roads I travel to get to work. Instead it was when I succumbed to reading the junk mail—either B Mag, or MAP Magazine, or something.  I came across the questionnaire section, the one where they pull “randomly selected” people over on the street and ask them a series of quite boring, quite typical questions,  usually about their hopes for the future and what they’re wearing etc.  I think the purpose of these kinds of articles is to inspire people about Brisbane—to reassure them that yes, we do have people who can dress well and care about “big” issues and culture…we’re not all bogans up here. That kind of thing. I don’t buy it, but I do like reading them for the reasons I listed before.

Anyway, in this particular interview, a woman had been asked where her most favourite place in the world was. Her answer was simple. Expected. Something about Hawaii or somewhere; because of the laid back lifestyle and, no doubt, the bragging points it won her next time she met for brunch with “The Girls”. Her answer gave me little hope about the human race in general, but it did get me to thinking about how I would answer the question…and that’s where I got stuck. I realised my answer wouldn’t be simple; it wouldn’t be short or typical. In fact, I didn’t even know how to put it in words—it was just a blurry picture in my head. I decided to instead think of how my mother and my boyfriend would answer it.

For Mum, her favourite place would be the beach—any beach, every beach. It wouldn’t matter. Or maybe it would. Her favourite beach would have to have the right amount of quiet and action. It would be close enough to the city that she could go before and after work, but far enough away that she could pretend she was no longer anywhere near the city. It would also not be in a town filled up with dying, retired people. It’s a beach that doesn’t really exist. My boyfriend’s answer was easier, as he had just told me earlier that day.

‘My favourite place is right next to you.’ (please don’t vomit…he was being serious and I happen to think it was a perfect answer!)

I know, though, from previous conversations with him that “next to me” isn’t the full extent of his favourite place. For him to be truly happy there’d also have to be some sort of “country” around—a farm, cliffs, some hinterland or something. There would need to be snow, or at least near-deathly cold (ironically the exact climate of a place where I would never go thus ruling out his first definition of a favourite place). And of course it’d have to have room for, Avey, his dog. Simple and well thought out.

After figuring out all of this, the image of my favourite place became a lot clearer. Clear enough to realise where it was or, more specifically, what it was. Viewed through a blurry, rain-splattered window, my favourite place—in the whole world—was the black stretch of the Bruce Highway. I thought at first that I was just playing mind games with myself; that I’d only thought of the road because of a story I’d written and recently re-read (this one). But then I started thinking it through more. Started picturing, more clearly, what part of the highway I was seeing in my head. It was the stretch leading to the airport (possibly it’s technically called “Southern Cross Way” or something now, I’m not sure). The name of my favourite place, I decided, was not overly important. If you’ve seen one road to an airport, you’ve seen them all. Long, wide, and very out of the way—don’t worry, it’s not the appearance that appeals to me. It’s the intention that travels along that road. The possibility and the excitement. If you’re travelling on the road to the airport you could be going anywhere…you could meet up with anyone.

When I still lived with Mum we would travel the stretch to the airport quite often at times. Occasionally it was to go somewhere ourselves, but more often than not it was to pick someone up, or drop them off. It didn’t matter who and it didn’t matter when. We’d offer to taxi anyone travelling that road, desperate to hear their stories and hold their suitcases. It was thrilling; an adventure. Cheap fun, I guess.

My realisation that this road was favourite place, reminds me of Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus, outlined to me most clearly in a book edited by Michael Grenfell (“Pierre Bourdieu: Key Concepts, 2008”). In this book Bourdieu’s habitus is described as a concept used to explain, or discover, how one’s behaviour can be regulated without them having to be obedient to rules (specifically rules placed onto them because of their standing in a certain social structure, their family history, their beliefs etc). It works to examine how one’s inner self and the social structures around them can work together, shaping how they experience the world and contribute to it. Undoubtedly, such a rushed explanation does the concept, and the book as a whole, no justice but, considering I’m paraphrasing from a sixteen page chapter, I’ve hopefully done an alright job.

The importance of the habitus in regards to my favourite place, is how it suggests, to me at least, that a stretch of highway is actually an acceptable answer to the interviewer’s question. Instead of viewing my answer as abstract; as confusing and not really a proper answer, I can view it as an answer which reflects my personal habitus. The fact that my answer reveals my favourite place not as a fixed destination, but the possibility of infinite destinations—a promise or hope rather than a place –indicates something about my past. It shows how I’ve been taught to think (outside the box) and what I’ve been taught to believe (that, in my future, I can achieve anything…can travel to anywhere…as long as I have the faith that I will get there some way or another).

Bourdieu states that a person’s habitus is structured by their past and present circumstances and it also works to shape their present and future practices. Therefore, if my favourite place in the world is the stretch of road that leads to the airport, and if that is also my habitus as it seems like it may be, I can have confidence that my life is sure to hold immense, uncertain and exciting possibilities, always. By answering the question in this way, I can overcome social expectations placed on me by my society, but I can conform to them at the same time. I can prove my individuality while still fitting in.

I guess this shows how important belonging is really. How, even though it is in our nature to stick out, we want to stand out in a way that doesn’t cause too many waves. I don’t know – maybe that’s just me. Perhaps you can let me know?

To close this week I want to leave you with this; my thoughts on what this all might mean:

All roads lead to Rome, as the saying suggests, but what if all roads lead to an airport? To something that is everything and nothing all at once. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful world to live in? I sure think it would be at least.

Cheers,xx