Iyer defines concept of home

Credit: Rachel Cohen/Pillbox Editor Credit: Rachel Cohen/Pillbox Editor

Travel writer Pico Iyer spoke at Carnegie Mellon last Tuesday as part of the ongoing Adamson Writers Series. A writer for Time magazine since 1986, Iyer has authored multiple fiction and nonfiction books, with his latest being The Man Within My Head.

The title of the lecture was “Moving and Sitting Still in Our New Global Order” and primarily discussed how, in today’s internationally minded society, many people straddle different cultures and places they can accurately call home. Iyer had much insight on the subject: He traced his family roots to India, split his youth between boarding schools in England and his parents’ home in Santa Barbara, and talked about how he now spends seven months of the year in Japan.

While billed as a lecture, the event was anything but. Iyer opened by saying he wished to have a conversation instead of just talking, and that kind of informal mood pervaded the event. Iyer didn’t use a PowerPoint presentation and didn’t speak as if he were carefully arguing a point. He shared humorous anecdotes about friends such as the Dalai Lama, of whom Iyer is a close companion; in fact, Iyer wrote an account of his travels with His Holiness in his book The Open Road. Iyer also spoke charismatically and energetically about events in his life and the lessons he took from them, which kept his modest audience very much engaged and hanging on to his every word.

While his talk was somewhat disappointing in that it lacked focused points, Iyer made many interesting small points about where people come from in today’s society, eloquently spinning them into phrases such as “stained-glass homes,” and saying that, “Home is where you become yourself.” As his own globe-hopping proves, he doesn’t see “home” as an exact place; instead, he sees “home” as a state of mind and a definition of the self. He says that the greatest pressure of the modern moment is “to figure out where we belong both physically and internally” — a relevant idea at a place so full of different nationalities as Carnegie Mellon.

Iyer also expressed his excitement at how our increasingly globalized society introduces new sights, sounds, and smells into daily life that we often may not notice or take for granted. For example, how often do any of us eat cuisine from different areas of the world for each individual meal of the day? The fact that he was able to bring in these kinds of little details from our everyday lives and connect them to such grander themes helped make the talk extremely thought-provoking.

At the end of his talk, Iyer enthusiastically answered many questions from the audience, some in response to his talk and others that had clearly been rattling around in people’s heads for a while.

When asked why he chooses to spend so much of his time in Japan, he replied that it was a country with a “mix of energy and serenity,” and that being a foreigner in Japan allows one to enjoy a combination of familiarity and strangeness without the social pressures that natives feel. In response to an excited audience member holding up his interview with Leonard Cohen that had come out in Time earlier that day, he talked about his experience living in a monastery with the famed poet, singer, and songwriter. He also attributed the recent increase in interest in Cohen’s works to the idea that our increasingly complicated lives are losing the kind of simplicity and honesty that he embodies.

The final question asked whether Iyer had ever been to the Japanese region of Hokkaido, which is famed for its beauty. Iyer responded that he has yet to make it there and desperately wants to as well. It turns out that, for all the traveling that Iyer has done over the years, there are still places he wants to go.