One Word
Works: A One Word Podcast
WORKS #1: Homeblind by Wil Reide
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WORKS #1: Homeblind by Wil Reide

Wil shares a story; we talk about fatherhood and the power of memoir.
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Transcript

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Hey everyone.

Taegan here. I’m excited to welcome you to the first edition of Works. The concept behind this One Word project is simple: I share a piece of work from an artist I admire, and then we sit down and chat about it.

Below, you’ll find a short memoir piece by

, the writer behind one of my favourite ongoing projects: The Recovering Line Cook

Wil reached out to me about his idea for this project last July, and I loved the concept right away. He had been reflecting on his relationship with a word I had made into a film: Home.

He said:

For a lot of reasons, the idea of "home" has always been important to me.

For one thing, I write from an immigrant perspective nowadays. However, my understanding of home has been complex for much longer than the time I've been abroad. When I was young my family and I moved from house to house a great deal. A consequence of this was occasional periods during which we simply didn't have a home, living in holiday accomodation or staying with family. As a consequence, home has always meant more to me than place alone.

Homeblind is different than Wil’s usual recipes and retired cook musings. He takes us back to a few pivotal moments that span his entire life and assembles them into a story that’s equal parts heartbreaking, funny, and profound — I think you’ll enjoy it.

When you’re done with the piece, or before, whatever you decide, make sure to listen to the interview.

I’m really curious what you all think of this project.

Thanks for all your continued support.

Talk soon,

- T


by

I knew something was wrong because of the silence. The sound of my sisters tearing each other’s hair out. The television. The dog aggressively dry humping a sofa cushion. All silenced. Even the noisome smells my mother unleashed every night from the kitchen were gone. It was a Thursday. Overcooked salmon and chalky couscous night. As a ten-year-old, these were the things that told me I was home. 

I closed the front door behind me, hung up my school blazer and ever so gaudy little red felt cap, and looked to her. My mother. She was still wearing her jacket. It was a black, fake fur jacket and made her look twice the size she really was. A bit like Henry the Eighth if he’d taken fashion advice from Joan Collins. She was standing beside the hallway table staring at me. In her hands was a plain, brown envelope.

“Come here, William,” she said and bent to her knees. I walked to her, and her eyes came level with mine. The brown envelope now resting on her lap.

“What are you doing?” I said, smiling, curious as to what prank she was about to pull this time. She was such a joker. Such an incredible tease. I knew never to trust when she behaved as seriously as this. I remembered her most recent April Fools trick. She had driven me to the doctor’s surgery on the way home from school. We pulled into the car park, and she turned off the engine.

“William,” she said, her eyes focused dead ahead. “I’m very, very sorry.”

My guts felt like they were being run through a pasta machine.

She turned to me. “It’s your balls, I’m afraid, William. You’re nine years old now, a big boy, and it’s time we had them removed.”

Of course I believed her. No one had ever believed anyone of anything as much as I believed my mother in that moment. And what I believed was that my balls were about to be taken from me. And then, after what seemed like hours but was likely a matter of seconds, the engine was running, she was laughing, and we drove off home.

But she wasn’t laughing anymore. Her face was the colour of milky tea gone cold. She hated milky tea. The bright, made-up glow of the face I had kissed goodbye that morning was gone. I put my hand on her shoulder. The black fur of her coat was cold and smooth. I wanted to tell her to stop.

And then she passed me the envelope.

*

I spent much of my first year in Finland in a classroom taking turns massacring the Finnish language alongside a group of surly Russians, a Moroccan nuclear technician, and a Ukrainian twenty-something who had cheekbones you could slice cheese with. I’d moved here in my mid-thirties with my Finnish wife and our son, and had promised myself I’d be capable of more than asking if anyone spoke English by the end of my first year. Three years on and the sound I hear when thinking of that classroom remains heavily accented immigrants repeating to each other en ymmärrä (I don’t understand) and en tiedä (I don’t know).

To the benefit of all our sanities, there was a two-month break from the endless vocabulary tests and role play sessions halfway through the course. During these two months we were sent on work placements to experience a genuine Finnish workplace. I was a bit lucky and ended up at the local museum. Considering one of my fellow butchers of the Finnish language spent their placement cleaning tables at a sushi restaurant, I suppose I was more than just a bit lucky.

There was one exhibit at the museum that fascinated me above all others. More so even than the preserved bear’s head once thought by prehistoric Finnish shamans to have possessed magical qualities. It wasn’t, in fact, an interesting item at all but some text. This explanatory text, printed in a glass cabinet next to some excavated farming tools, described the relationship early communities in south-west Finland had with nature. It described the change in this relationship as they moved from hunter-gatherers to farmers. This behavioural change turned nature from provider into something to be controlled. Nature no longer gave but became the force that threatened to take away. 

Nature had remained the same, but the way people looked at it changed. 

And so nature changed as well.

*

My mother grasped my shoulders and let out a small breath from the O her mouth had formed.

“I found out today that your father, that Daddy, has made some very big mistakes.”

Mistakes? I thought. Had he tried cooking dinner again? The last time he made mash it turned out like potato soup. 

“He had a court case today, he thought everything would be fine. But he was wrong.” She paused to swallow. “Daddy is in prison now, William.”

I didn’t know what question to start with. And before I could find one, I lunged forward and put my arms around her. Her hairsprayed blonde waves crunched against my cheek. After a few moments, she drew away and gestured to the brown envelope in my hands.

“He has written us a letter,” she said. “I’d like you to look at it before we pick up your sisters.”

*

The person I bothered the most at the museum was the resident anthropologist, Leena. She, after all, had written that exhibit text about hunter-gatherers that so fascinated me. When I told her of my interest in it, she recommended a book called What is Anthropology by a Norwegian called Thomas Eriksen. It’s a short book, very readable, and clearly angled toward the person whose only real understanding of anthropology is that it’s something other than a women’s clothing store. There were a few things in the book I found particularly interesting. One of these was a concept called ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the misguided act of judging or understanding a different culture through one’s own customs and frames of reference. It is the anthropologist’s primary job, instead, to consider any subject through a “native point of view”. 

*

I opened the brown letter and removed a small piece of paper covered with my father’s spidery-scratched handwriting. It was written entirely in capitals and I could just make out what he was trying to say. 

I AM SORRY FOR BEING SO MISERABLE. I PROMISE WHEN I GET HOME IT WILL BE DIFFERENT. I WILL NEVER SHOUT AT YOU FOR KICKING YOUR BALL INSIDE AGAIN. I WISH I COULD WATCH YOU KICK YOUR BALL IN THE SITTING ROOM RIGHT NOW. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.

The silence of the house weighed upon me once again. I was silenced as well. The feeling of my mother looking at me, waiting for me to speak, sent a shiver down my back. But I couldn’t find anything to say. I could only hear, repeating in my head, the last words my father had said that morning. “I love you,” he had told me. I had told him I loved him as well.

*

Ethnocentric or not, I need to express how unusual my Finnish family seemed to me when we first met all those years ago. And there’s no better demonstration of this than Christmas here. For some indecipherable reason, for example, they choose not to open their presents the second they wake up. Nor are they content spending the day eating chocolate in their pyjamas, watching TV, and arguing about which of us was stupid enough to buy only a half-bottle of Baileys this year. So unusual is Christmas in Finland, in fact, that gift opening doesn’t only have to wait until after lunch, it must also wait until we’ve visited the local graveyard and left candles for long-departed loved ones. This being a Finnish custom that, in its remarkable selflessness, makes the Yuletide festival of indulgence I’m used to in England seem almost savage.

These oddities, however, are nothing compared to how differently they treat each other to what I was always used to. The way no one lavishes my mother-in-law with words of praise after a few bites of her Christmas cooking. The way so few words of hyperbolic gratitude are shared when they, finally, open gifts. If my own mother received as few compliments about her food as my mother-in-law does, she’d sulk until New Year’s. I’ll put it more bluntly, in the decade I’ve known them, I’ve not heard any of my Finnish family say I love you to each other. 

Not even once. 

*

Later that evening, I watched my sisters as they reacted to the news about my father. 

My eight-year-old twin sisters, Francesca and Charlotte, were cuddled up with my mother on the sofa.

“At least he isn’t sick,” Francesca said several times. Or was it Charlotte? Their faces, buried in my mother’s lap, were hidden from me. The tears from their eyes left my mother’s light blue skirt ever so slightly darker in patches. 

I love you, my father had said to me. He knew I loved him as well. I had told him. I had told him every day for as long as I could remember. And if he knew this, then how could he have not said anything? How could he have not let me say goodbye?

*

There is another word from Eriksen’s book that has stuck with me in the years since I read it. That word is homeblind. Homeblindness is much like the complementary mirroring of ethnocentrism. To be homeblind is to be so familiar with a place, a perspective, a way of being, that you just don’t see it anymore. You fail to appreciate its importance to you, the influence it has had on you. 

*

In the years that followed my father’s prison sentence, I would become used to bailiffs at the door, sudden house moves, even occasional stretches of homelessness. Uncertainty became something my sisters and I could rely on. I think this is why reassuring words became so necessary to me as I got older. I needed to hear words of love, I needed to know everything was going to be OK. I needed my mother and friends and even girlfriends to let me know I was safe. I needed to hear the words. I didn’t want any uncertainty anymore.

If I have managed to accept the shortage of such words from my Finnish family, I know this is because of my wife, Silja. Having built our love together in a country neither of us called home, Sweden, I think we fashioned a way of loving that was equally one part mine and one part hers. On moving to Finland, I suppose she became my Rosetta stone for love. 

*

My father visited us recently here for the first time. What I’m about to share happened in the shortest of moments, but it saddened me nonetheless. Having met him at the train station on his arrival, he went in for a hug, just for a moment, before shying away and making do with patting my arm. As though he were afraid to ask for such connection. As though he didn’t deserve it. An hour later he was playing with my son, Sam. He was asking him for kisses, giving him hugs. It made me so happy to see. 

I have comforted myself for a long time by admitting I simply don’t understand my father. That the way he lived his life makes no sense to me. Watching him play with Sam that weekend, I realised the endless things I didn’t have in common with him, were not endless after all.

Watching them together, my father and son, I realized I was Sam once. 

I hope my father comes to realise I always will be.

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One Word
Works: A One Word Podcast
I'm Taegan, the filmmaker behind One Word, a series that documents my life one word at a time. Every episode of Works, I share a work from an artist I admire, and then we sit down and talk about it. But our conversation can lead into topics such as: writing process, parenthood, being an artist in a digital world, and much more.
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Taegan MacLean