Home and escape

I have always loved Lorde’s song Mood Ring’. It’s airy and intriguing. But I only recently learnt it’s a satirical take on wellness culture in the Western world. At its heart, its main character is trying to feel a sense of spiritual fulfilment and connection to self via a wearable which tells her how she’s feeling. She conjures up crystals, starsigns, sun salutations, and other tropes of our efforts to lift our mood and find meaning. I probably should have noticed the satire - the lyrics and music video make it abundantly clear.

At one point, she sings Let’s fly somewhere eastern, they’ll have what I need”. The sound effects around the lyric evoke gap yahs in south east Asia, yoga retreats in Buddhist monasteries and the like. I find myself instantly transported to a classic beach hostel scene: waves crashing in the distance, shaggy characters lazing around in hammocks, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE DESTINATION emblazened on the wall.

Naturally, as I really heard this lyric for the first time, fresh in the knowledge of the song as a satire, tucked up in bed at 11pm on a Tuesday evening, I lay awake thinking about it.

The idea of staying in the UK all my life once seemed incredibly boring. I spent nine months in Lorde’s own New Zealand after graduating, and I returned with a determination to not live in Reading (where I’m from) or in London (where everyone goes). I loved the idea of learning a language, immersing myself in another culture and returning home every now and then with a sense of superiority, difference, maybe even distance. Oh, I picked up this shirt in a fantastic street market they do down the road from me in La Paz”. You must visit some time”.

I would also, hesitantly, say that I am part of a British generation which questions and criticises our culture more openly and fundamentally than it has been questioned or criticised before. I hesitate as I can’t speak across generations, and don’t really want to verify any right-wing rhetoric which complains of a tofu-eating, nation-hating wokerati. But one story of Britain which I could easily construct as a 22-year-old was of a country which had lost its way in the world, couldn’t come to terms with its history, and (like many others) couldn’t find its sense of the future. On some level I think I felt that, and the grass elsewhere did indeed look greener. Why settle for where you’re born, when there are so many remarkable places out there? Like many others, I put other countries and cultures on a pedestal, especially (to a slightly cringey extent) indigenous ones. Escape from Britain offered not only a more distinctive personal journey, but also a more enriching way of life - a mission, even - to lose myself in.

As it has turned out, I have lived in Reading and London since I came back. And, to my growing surprise, the last few years have seen me lose interest in job opportunities abroad, long travelling trips and opportunities to escape.

The reasons behind this are not exactly clear to me. I did genuinely feel homesick at points in New Zealand, and longed for friends and family to be there with me. I would talk with the Brits I met there about what we missed about home - sense of humour came up a lot. Maybe I had grown fonder of Britain than I had realised.

There’s also an undercurrent around losing belief in the usefulness of escape. That’s after a few years on the grind of 9 to 5 work, and a renewed sense of agency over my life. Life doesn’t give me school holidays anymore, nor should I necessarily want it to. If I’m searching for general life satisfaction, I don’t think I’ll find it in holidays or hostels. These feel better for losing myself, not finding myself. Instead, the route to satisfaction feels like it should sit in the everyday - in home, routine and the people around me. It means looking the world in the eye, complete with joys and sorrows, and engaging.

Understanding Lorde’s lyric marked the moment this crystallised for me: I don’t need to go anywhere to get what I need, or to search for what I need. That’s not to say that I’ll never work or live or holiday abroad again, and escapism still has its place. Just maybe, in the quest for wellness, the answers are - and should be - in and around me at home.

Once upon a time I could have easily been the subject of her satire, but now I’m glad to be just an appreciator of it. I’m glad, too, to have put down roots here.

June 12, 2024