The Importance of Everyday Nostos for All of Us
Written by Zennie Trieu
For those leaving the safety of the higher education bubble after graduating this spring, the journey to find and create a place worthy of daily homecoming is just as crucial as the quest to secure a well-paying job, a worthwhile internship, or some sort of stability and structure out in the oft-feared “real world.”
After a tornado flings them to both into the magical Land of Oz and the wonderful world of Technicolor, Dorothy Gale and her dog Toto meet a number of whimsical characters to complete several missions with one underlying goal in mind: to get back home to the sepia-toned comforts of Kansas.
In the wake of witnessing his friend Johnny fatally stabbing a member of the rival gang in self-defense, Ponyboy Curtis and his liable comrade flee town. The two boys end up saving a group of children trapped in a church fire, but Johnny then suffers and dies from severe burns and a broken back. A judge clears Ponyboy’s name from crime, and he is allowed to go home to live with his older brothers. With the help of his family, a determined English teacher, and the memories of his heroic friend, Ponyboy commits to writing about the life-altering events of his recent life, knowing well that he is now back in a safe place to begin planning a better future for himself.
Ferris Bueller and his two best friends brilliantly skip classes in the enticing springtime, living it up in Chicago and having the time of their adolescent lives. But, as the eponymous title of the film tells us, the three teenagers only take one day off from school. Their thrill seeking is not a lifelong vacation from responsibilities, but only a daylong deviation from work, with the promise of dinner at home with their families by sunset.
Without a fundamental final destination of returning home, an adventure would simply be wandering: aimless, purposeless, and perhaps unending. The basic story of yearning to escape the confines of one’s house or crummy old town, having that wish granted (usually exceeding one’s already fantastic expectations from a wild imagination) for a finite period of time, and eventually returning to one’s home base is the most common plot in the genre Bildungsroman, a German term denoting a coming-of-age tale. Leaving the security of home—whether by intention or accident, whether by desire or by circumstances necessitating the voyage—is often the beginning of a character-defining arc. By the story’s end, the character will have metamorphosed into a different person, a result only possible by that leap of faith and by that first step out the front door. This formula is also a perfect metaphor for a normal person’s daily life: start at home, go outside and have life happen to you, then come back home as a changed person.
In planning and maintaining our postgraduate everyday existence, many of us are focused on the middle part of that blueprint: finding jobs and careers and internships and volunteering communities, cultivating social relationships by professional networking, and establishing a public life to be proud of. For some, this is all very daunting, exhausting, and tedious even to the point of soul sucking. But, when simplifying the situation into a big picture scenario (which is what we do as audience members, watchers, and readers), this uncertainty is the meat of a coming-of-age story, the exciting and risky part of the day, the daring moments that cannot be fully controlled or will not be the same every time or every day. How thrilling it is to not fully know but still try; how courageous it is venture out of soundness and protection into the unknown and unguaranteed. What a gift it is to be open enough to be affected by other people’s decisions and to allow yourself to be surprised by the results of your own choices.
And yet two-thirds of the Bildungsroman framework involves the home. It is simultaneously the starting point where you can prepare for the day’s outside events and the space that you strive to get back to. As such, it is vital to search for and preserve a home to which you would yearn to return each day—a place worthy of your daily homecoming. In literature, the Greek word nostos describes a homeward journey, usually a long one taken on by a hero. The definitive work of this trope is Homer’s Odyssey, tracing an Achaean’s ten-year homebound trek to Ithaca after having fought in the Trojan War for a decade already. Countless mishaps delay Odysseus’s homecoming and, at certain points, the Greek hero is offered the option of ditching his expedition to stay with women like Circe and Calypso. Yet, despite such catastrophe and temptation, Odysseus never stops dreaming of the familiar joys waiting for him back in his kingdom: his wife Penelope and the bed that they share, his son Telemachus, his fellow people, his palace, his home base. Trouble, of course, will await him upon his homecoming, but to our cunning hero, there’s no place like home, even if he can only stay for a short while before having to embark on another odyssey.
For us ordinary folk, our daily journeys out in the real world will probably not be as fantastical as those depicted in Homer’s epic. Yet the notion of a real home to continually come back to proves integral in establishing our post-graduate day-to-day structure. Perhaps your home will end up being the only place where you can express yourself via writing or dancing along to your favorite music videos without inhibition, where you can collapse on the floor in a whirlwind of tears after a particularly bad day, where you can simply not do anything productive without fear of being judged. Ideally, your home would be the foundational site where you can recharge your physical and mental batteries and, upon turning the key in the hole and opening the front door, you can drop your actual bags and emotional baggage and do whatever you like, however you want to.
But for some post-graduates, choosing where your home is located, what it looks like, and with whom you would share that residence with are luxuries that cannot be fully indulged for the time being. As such, compromises must, quite understandably, be made. Most of these self-settlements are economically based: you surrender location, comfort, certain perks, and even coveted potential roommates to pay a manageable rent and make ends meet. However, take into account the non-monetary costs of choosing a home that causes discomfort, apprehension, and more problems than you would otherwise encounter in your daily life outside the house or apartment: opportunity cost. While not blatantly delineated anywhere in dollar amounts, an unsafe area or toxic relationships with roommates can quickly add to an expensive sacrificing of the confidence, the self-love, and the overall contentment that could propel you to become a better employee, a more compelling artist, a more generous boyfriend or girlfriend, and an all around pleasure to be around. Consider how a bad living situation or anxiety-inducing location would mean having no place where you could drop those social pretenses and fully embrace the type of person that you are or want to be.
Moreover, note that, in our age of mass communication and interconnectedness, home does not necessarily have to be constricted to wherever your toothbrush resides. You may not always have the freedom to choose how and where and with whom you live, but you are fully in charge of the personal relationships that you yourself deem worthwhile and essential to your being. Keep, appreciate, and enrich the relationships that you can always fall back on with the people—your parents, your siblings, your soul mates or best friends, whomever—that feel like your homes away from home. They’re just a text, a phone call, a thought away. And for those that are returning to the homes of their childhood and/or adolescence after graduating, know that half the battle has already been won for you, but that there’s still the other fifty percent to take charge of: money handling and trustworthy relationships may be taken care of for the interim, but realize that you should work towards enjoying your idiosyncratic comforts of home without slipping into complacency, choosing incentive over laziness, and learning from your current situation in order to be more informed and better prepared for establishing your own home down the road.
Daily adventures are not reserved for just brave children and reckless teenagers. But, as you probably wouldn’t need to be reminded, there is already far too much out there that can be debilitating to deal with: the news, grumpy coworkers, insatiable clients, and any instance where other people try very hard to bring you down. Let your home be the antithesis to such chaos, even if it becomes the only place that provides stability and solace in your life. Of course, finding such a place takes time, and building on it to have it feel more like your space will take longer. Be patient. Eventually, you may find yourself feeling not just relieved during your homebound commute, but even excited—perhaps just as or even more enthusiastic as you were leaving your home that morning to experience whatever wonders the world had in store for you—to get to that special space, that private place, that paradise of TV and junk food where you can lie down and sing, laugh, cry, and cheer as loudly as you want. How lucky you are to be home, and how fortunate you are to wake up tomorrow in that same place that’s cozy, secure, sacred, and very much yours.
And then you get to leave, live your life in color, and come back—maybe still just as vibrant, radiant, and enlivened. A homebound journey—a bona fide nostros—is a trip towards you at your most you. Ride that wave.