why dorothy left kansas & jack climbed the bean stalk

i have never been accused of taking things too lightly. never. i love depth and intensity and crave meaningful experiences. i hear patterns, themes, and the unconscious and have an active imagination. it’s who/how i am. sometimes it’s all a bit much inside my head. 

when i played dorothy in my college’s production of wizard of oz i spent a lot of time wondering why dorothy would leave kansas. if it was her unconscious mind that took her to oz in her dreams, what existed in her conscious experience that drove her away? i looked for answers in her dialogue and read a variety of versions of the story to master the character. sure there were solos to perfect, dances to learn, fellow actors in tin and fur and straw to create chemistry with but what really interested me was why dorothy left “home.” especially a settled, peaceful, kansas home which smacks of security and warmth

recently i saw ashland shakespeare company’s production of into the woods which is an all time favorite theater piece for me. in it, stephen sondheim has created a world in which the capricious wishes of fairy tale characters are carried beyond mere fulfillment to places of reality and consequence. cinderella finds the prince’s charming ways to have a narcissistic edge previously unnoticed. rapunzel pays a horrific price for escaping the tower her mother has locked her within. the baker loses it all to find a role he has no idea how to fill and the tidy, familiar home under jack’s beanstalk becomes much less compelling once he’s met the “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful giants in the sky.” wishes, it seems, come complete with entire sets of experiences that we can never anticipate.

if elements of truth can be culled from insightful fiction, it seems worthwhile to wonder, why dorothy might long to leave the warm home of auntie em and fairy tale characters make wishes that ultimately alienate them from their light hearted stories? why do they, and so many of us, long to leave the security of the familiar for the world of the unknown? if civilization provides us structure, what is it about the woods that calls to us all?

there is so much at stake in departures from the familiar. so many “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful” possibilities in departing the homes (both real and symbolic) that we have built for ourselves and stepping into the unknown. so often the new, bright, adventures bring with them heart ache and longing and sometimes even death. even if “only” the death of innocence. and yet, we still take the risk.

at our core, i believe, is a curiosity about the worlds that exist outside of our familiar ones, the “woods” on the outskirts of our comfortable “homes” (selves). the spaces we inhabit in our embodied lives grow black and white, mundane, ordinary, or harmful over time and we long for the color, redemption, and grace of new places. we want fresh starts, adventure, release, healing or freedom. we crave something “more.” or at least “different.” we flirt with the unknown, the slightly edgy for us, possibly dangerous, usually enticing, brighter colors of the unfamiliar. sometimes we idealize these places of newness. sometimes we see them just as they are and choose them anyway. we are all suckers for experience. we were made that way. we want, at root, to feel, to experience goose bumps, and to escape the dull flat lands of our lives. even if only for a while.

with the amazing transporting capabilities of the internet and near constant access we have to it, we have more opportunities for escape than ever. wish for something to look at that’s more colorful than your embodied “black and white” reality? find it online. wish for relationships not bound by the constraints of how you look (or don’t look), your communication anxieties or shortcomings, or the limits of time and space? find them in digital spaces. feeling bored? watch something. surf the web. escape into video games. scour facebook. feeling sexually deprived? find some porn. want to eat out? use the web to find exactly what you want/expect/have had a million times before. unmotivated to set goals to get you out of the slump you’re in? don’t worry, there’s an app for that.

i have come to believe that there is a digital oz for every embodied kansas, a “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, wonderful” cyber woods for every tangible (small) space we inhabit.

we escape when we are bored, tired, and lonely. hungry for god knows what we look to the internet to fill us up. there is a youtube video, a reddit article, a website, a game, an app, an instagram/tumblr/etsy feed waiting to transport each of us out of the known spaces we inhabit and into the world of our wishes. we seek relationships, self improvement, possessions, experiences, and places online like famished athletes after a race. we’re so tired of the ordinary (the ruts, pitfalls, mundane, predictable) and so desirous of something anything different and it’s so easy to find in spaces where accountability means nothing. 

the trouble is that in the finding we sometimes stumble across places, images, behaviors, and people that may not be healthy for us. titillating? yes. life affirming? no. captivating? no doubt. emotionally and intellectually “nutritious?” not so much. and all the while our embody-able spaces go un-explored and under-tended. while we are developing empty habits, we are also neglecting the physical spaces we live in. if kansas is good for family and wheat fields but neither are looked after, why spend time there? especially when there’s so much life in oz.

far be it from me to say digital spaces should be avoided. moderation, not abstinence, is my gig. mindless consumption and overuse, however, are a different story. i know these places and ways. i’ve been there. after seasons of ridiculously late nights resulting from boredom or worry (or any other number of emotional states) i’ve received packages in the mail from half.com that i don’t remember ordering. i’ve “stumbled upon” long past the five or ten minutes i’ve budgeted to do so. i’ve binge watched netflix and indulged stupid curiosities that have not contributed to happiness (if only i were taller and thinner and not every single way that i am). while oz is exciting, it comes with risks and consequences and some of them aren’t easily undone in the kansas’ in which we live.

so let’s explore the woods...take a trip to oz. let’s just do this with our eyes wide open and with a plan in place that is driven by life-nurturing norms not empty habits. let’s visit the embodied places of awkward, unknown, “big, tall, terrible, awesome, scary, [and] wonderful” at least as often as we do the digital ones. let’s dip our toes in the water we can sensually feel every time we take a shower in cyber space and as our digital lives become increasingly a part of our real lives may we never lose touch with what it means to embody our selves.