The Turn in the Road

I have had such grand plans for what I would write to announce this site’s arrival in the world, to do justice to the scope of what we hope can fit under its roof. No wonder it’s taken so long to finally get here! For it’s obvious enough, in the end: to be homeward bound is not a grand condition. It’s not conducive to declarations about the state of the world and what is to be done.

In any case, making manifestoes is a young man’s business, and I am no longer young. With that thought, an old Welsh poem comes to mind, smuggled across the borders of our century by Martin Shaw and Tony Hoagland:

Past forty
a man can carry

the flush
of a tree in leaf,

or shoulder a
quiver of speech.

He can laugh quietly
over his scars.

But the sound of
a vault being opened

lets the
crow settle

on the soft acres
of his face.

from Cinderbiter

‘The Turn in the Road’ is what Martin and Tony call their version of the poem, and that title in itself might be a clue.

So let’s try this, as an opening claim: to be homeward bound is to have turned aside, to have left the big path, the one big path that was meant to lead to the future; no longer to be in service to its promises, and to ask what else is worth doing with the time we may have left.

Even as I put these words together, I know they raise more questions than they answer. In what sense can any of us truly turn aside? What does this way of talking bring into view, what does it invite and what could it obscure?

There will be time to think harder and feel deeper into all of this. For today, though, I’m happy to fall in alongside the questions, to walk together for a while and keep them company. I look forward to seeing where they lead us, to having this space as a travel journal, a public trace of the conversations and collaborations going on around our school, and a platform where it is possible to make room for other voices.

Homeward Bound is the commonplace book of a school called HOME: a site to share the lines of thought we are following, the voices we are learning from, and the places this is leading us. Like anything with life in it, this is a work in progress, and our understanding of what we are up to here will no doubt shift as we go along.

Homeward Bound is also the title of the live Zoom series we offer as a way to get to know the school. A new seven-week series of Homeward Bound Live begins on 9 & 10 November 2021. Read more about this invitation on the school website, or watch the video below.

To follow what we’re doing with Homeward Bound, sign up for Writing Home, a Substack where I’ll be sharing my writing for this site. You can also take out a paid subscription which will give you access to subscriber-only posts and discussions.

The Great Humbling S2E3: ‘State of Panic’

We start as is traditional with what’s been getting us thinking this week… Ed talks about the film My Octopus Teacher and Nick Cohen in the Observer on ‘Sweden as the right’s fantasy land’. This leads us onto some memorable Swedish expressions: ‘there is no cow on the ice’ (= don’t panic!); ‘Now you’ve really shat in the blue cupboard’ (another Swedish expression!).

Phoebe Tickell’s Medium post, ‘Hall of Mirrors’: 

You think you will find a magical “leverage point” that will magically change everything. You sound like those who became sick looking for the elixir of immortality. You are sick with how desperately you want to save the world. And it’s not a bizarre response at all. You have every right to feel desperate to make this world better… The systems of oppression you are complicit in by being alive are hellish. But this desperation is also what is leading you to be trapped in dissociated loops of pseudo-change.

Alastair McIntosh, Riders on the Storm: 

Nick Hayes’ ‘Book of Trespass’: 

“and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, [Mole] looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”

Wind in the Willows, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Kenneth Grahame

“Pan Demic” – From the Greek; Pan (All) Demos (People)

Indi Samarajiva from Sri Lanka

“If you’re trying to carry on while people around you die, your society is not collapsing. It’s already fallen down…Collapse is just a series of ordinary days in between extraordinary bullshit, most of it happening to someone else. That’s all it is.”

DEFINITION: Panic is a sudden sensation of fear, which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation consistent with an animalistic fight-or-flight reaction. Panic may occur singularly in individuals or manifest suddenly in large groups as mass panic (closely related to herd behavior).

Leonard J. Schmidt and Brooke Warner describe panic as “that terrible, profound emotion that stretches us beyond our ability to imagine any experience more horrible” adding that “physicians like to compare painful clinical conditions on some imagined ‘Richter scale’ of vicious, mean hurt … to the psychiatrist there is no more vicious, mean hurt than an exploding and personally disintegrating panic attack.”

“Don’t Panic” is a phrase on the cover of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The novel explains that this was partly because the device “looked insanely complicated” to operate, and partly to keep intergalactic travellers from panicking. “It is said that despite its many glaring (and occasionally fatal) inaccuracies, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy itself has outsold the Encyclopedia Galactica because it is slightly cheaper, and because it has the words ‘DON’T PANIC’ in large, friendly letters on the cover.”

Arthur C. Clarke said Douglas Adams’ use of “don’t panic” was perhaps the best advice that could be given to humanity.