The irony of my lifestyle, part 5

Allow me to perplex you with a seemingly disjointed introduction to a post about travel and home. 

These wet rocks where the tide has been, Barnacled white and weeded brown And slimed beneath to a beautiful green, These wet rocks where the tide went down Will show again when the tide is high Faint and perilous, far from shore, No place to dream, but a place to die,– The bottom of the sea once more. There was a child that wandered through A giant’s empty house all day,– House full of wonderful things and new, But no fit place for a child to play.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1921
Sand castle magic
Sand castle magic

Born a landlocked being, I am entranced by the ocean and great bodies of water, the moon's force on their water levels, the great winds that dishevel and free, the overwhelming sense of infinity in the sand, the salt, the facets of waves, and the way the coast transforms itself twice a day with the coming of the tide. When equipped with a car and an unchained week, I follow the coast in search of nothing but more of it. When afforded time in between to refresh, I flock to a part of the Earth that makes me feel so much, so simply.

Based on my first big trips in childhood, you'd think the coast is what sparked the wanderlust that dictates my entire lifestyle to date. But I'm starting to believe there's a more complex and ...how you say, "witch-esque" connection. I hope you're ready for this thick application of thought.

What keeps me traveling?

Golf-carting Water Island in the US Virgin Islands
Golf-carting Water Island in the US Virgin Islands

It seems implied through five years of lifestyle evidence that I first choose to be nomadic, that I prefer to live without a fixed base. And from this mental foundation, it seems I chose to snatch up this nomadic job, one that works like a perpetual travel-for-work scenario of paid transit, per diem, and accommodation. For a young professional with no immediate familial obligation, this seems like the sweetest deal.

Travel the world and get paid to do it. No roots. No obligation. No stress.

If we perceive a job to be only that which appears on the advertisement (and, for that matter, economic theory to be based on a world of rational beings), that perception is right on the money with my current living needs.

Instead of this perception being completely true, in this world we have air friction, hidden fees, ulterior motives, and conflicting forces out the wazoo. There is not only a chance of irrational thinking in the marketplace but an expectation of it for the majority of personal purchases. We do not live in a vacuum. And unfortunately in this scenario, I have a great job but also untamable human urges that can't be ignored because I'm on the road.

In short, regardless of what makes economic sense, having no base is not ideal for me right now.

The essence (and the opposite) of nomadism

Especially with the new structure of the TGS school year (with two larger semesters and an intersession), I feel very much like a nomad in the pastoral, seasonal sense. Biannually, at two changes in season, I alter my base. In the most poetic sense, I spend time constructing my nest in those two major bases per year, getting comfortable and building an informed mind about my surroundings in order to live the most fulfilling life I can...for a season or two. Flying "home" does not imply returning to a base. It means a stronger emphasis on bags unfortunately. In between the establishing of these two major bases, I graze and meander elsewhere, making sure not to kill the grass that sustains me for a while. I sleep on couches until things get weird, preemptively moving on if I can sense the rotting beforehand.

My view in Buenos Aires, bedroom
My view in Buenos Aires, bedroom

A step back from this lifestyle to analyze it more closely leads me to "Bing it on" and search madly for nomadism within the context of human existence. What's the opposite of nomadism? Type: nomadism vs ...(and wait for the auto-fill to provide) sedentarism. Either we have no fixed location and don't stop moving or we are so fixed, our muscles have atrophied. Shall we apply this understanding of the two extremes to the modern world and our societal norms? Either we travel all the time, actively pursuing what the world offers, or we stay anchored to one building, one diet, one neighborhood, one tiny community, possibly never moving at all.

If we understand lifestyles as these extreme definitions, I live an exciting lifestyle! Yipee! Look at me go! I'm always changing countries, living out of bags, redefining home and comfort (sometimes daily), and encountering new experiences regularly. I'm a perpetual traveler.

I'd like to take this moment to redefine travel for a page or two.

I'm a migrating nester

Waiting in line at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA, USA
Waiting in line at the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline, MA, USA

When I packed my bags in Buenos Aires to fly back to Indiana, I didn't stop living out of bags until I was done moving between Indianapolis, Wabash, New York City, Hong Kong, Bangkok, six cities in Bhutan, Tokyo, and Boston.

Upon arrival to my new apartment in Boston, I unpacked those bags, was finally reunited with other bags that traveled without me, hung up paintings from the previous location, stocked the kitchen with sustenance, and ultimately flopped on the couch with a book and a blanket, staring out onto a sub-zero city. I didn't move from that spot for two weekends, other than to work three blocks away.

Friends and colleagues went out to discover Boston, but I wanted to snuggle with the idea of a place for me. I missed reading, but I missed the idea of home more. I was finally done moving for a while and ready to invest in one place.

Taking shelter from snowstorm Nemo in Boston, MA, USA
Taking shelter from snowstorm Nemo in Boston, MA, USA

This reaction is scalable. When we traveled to Washington, D.C. for five days, I wanted to do very little for a night. When we returned from a week in New York City, I cleaned an already decent apartment and nuzzled into my pillows for days of TV time. When I leave my "home base," I nest for a time directly proportionate to the unfixed time.

The converse is also true, because with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? Going nowhere and doing nothing for a while makes me anxious to explore. This is true for almost everyone, and for some reason, those with a fixed home like to point to "nomads" as the only exhibitors of this reaction...or that its manifestation always involves as sporadic international jaunt.

Life abroad with TGS often involves lazy Sundays, outings with friends, uneventful coffee shop mornings, watching TV with a home-cooked meal, and many activities that mirror those of peers who are "based" in one place for most of the time. But that life can't mirror everything, most importantly the frequency and scale of activities with a fixed community, a friend base. Translated into practice, often while you're celebrating your college friend's bachelorette evening or watching the playoffs with your cousins, I'm at home streaming my favorite TV shows while Facebooking you and your good times. For every ten times you socialize with all your various friends, I'm eating at a restaurant with my roommate five times, talking and plotting about how we could make more friends (and the other five times I'm doing more work).

A lifestyle wholly framed by international travel does not always imply the most exciting day-to-day routine.

This isn't a pity party. I know I sacrifice time with my loved ones to reap other benefits. I also have made some wonderful friends over these years. The difference is I live roughly the same lifestyle as most people but then leave everything behind in a matter of months. The return on my investment in a community only comes from what can be successfully accomplished via digital communication with friends.

The investments we all value

Art projects in our apartment in Boston, MA, USA
Art projects in our apartment in Boston, MA, USA

What? You want to travel? It makes no fiscal sense. You're already paying for the roof over your head, the electricity that keeps you warm, the water that keeps you nourished and clean, the beautiful car that gets you places, the gas that fuels all endeavors, the cell phone that keeps you connected, the wireless internet that brings the world to you, your television that funnels and saves your custom playlist of entertainment, all the lawn maintenance that has resulted in your Eden, the comfy furniture that cradles you, and the flooring that gives your feet somewhere comforting to stand.

You have your friends here, whom you've already established that you like. There are restaurants you already know to be clean enough, delicious enough, and easy to find with a quick car ride. The experiences you have at home are priceless. You meet with your friends regularly, have a drink at your favorite watering hole, and build upon thousands of previous conversations to new levels of understanding. You are known, and your town knows you. Shall I go on, or have you come to your senses yet about travel?

Globalization has facilitated a different response to travel by our society today. I'm glad for this. Because my parents thought going to the beach would be a fun time, I got to see some places beyond my county, state, and nation. All those experiences elsewhere were worldview-molding. After many decades of vacations and five years of straight travel, I continue to feel thankful for the travel experiences I've had. I think and hope they have made me a better person.

Photo by Joann McPike
Photo by Joann McPike

It is socially acceptable to travel. I know plenty of people who don't prefer to travel broadly themselves, but never have I heard of someone scolding others for their poor financial choices to travel. We don't hear that previous rant from others, although some of those thoughts might cross your mind when cash-strapped and contemplating a flight purchase. In that case, though, hopefully the cost-benefit comparison ends in the favor of experience.

We have established it's a worthwhile investment, but how have we come to such an understanding of this nonsensical act called travel?

The majority of people have a base and value exploration away from their daily routine. Most people establish a base without ever contemplating the alternative of nomadism. But what if we are to consider an alternative reality. What if most people had no fixed home, had no physical or emotional investment in any one place. All connections and information become deciduous leaves, flourishing until the moment they fall from the tree and crumble into the chilled soil. Ya know, something similar to my job...

In this alternative norm, the opposite rant is far more likely to occur, and from experience, it goes a little something like this:

Golf cart in St. Thomas, Water Island, USVI, USA, travel, on the road
Golf cart in St. Thomas, Water Island, USVI, USA, travel, on the road

What? You want to invest in a home? It makes no fiscal sense. You have a job that doesn't require you to pay for the roof over your head, the electricity that keeps you warm, the water that keeps you nourished and clean, the various kinds of transportation that get you places, the gas that fuels any endeavor, the cell phone that keeps you connected globally, the wireless internet that brings the world to you, your technology that funnels your custom playlist of entertainment, any and all factors that affect your general setting, the furniture that cradles you, and the flooring that gives your feet somewhere comforting to stand.

You meet new and exciting people all the time, and in the event of souring relationships or connections, you can simply move onto the next group of people. There is an ever-changing plethora of restaurants that offer more options in cuisine than world cultures would indicate. The experiences you have on the road are priceless and enviable. You can still chat with your friends and family regularly (even see them on breaks). It must be because you see others experiencing what you can't have when you travel. You see stability and ownership. You see people building families and homes. That's where the desire to have a base comes from. You must be looking for things to throw your money at.

Comfort in balance with discovery

Max on the road in Southie, St. Patrick's Day parade, Boston, MA, USA, family, nephew
Max on the road in Southie, St. Patrick's Day parade, Boston, MA, USA, family, nephew

Over the last five years, I've established on my own, based on readings, musings, writings, and conversations that it's only human to invest in a base. The novelty of the lack of obligation is short-lived, and what is left is a desire (especially as a woman) to be a co-builder of something bigger. I believe we are required to be community members, and in my experience, those without obligation for long periods of time and later in their lives are those who have many things from which to hide or flee. I prefer to build value in the form of a place, a space, relationships, and intimate knowledge of a location. I don't believe this is something that "gets out of your system." Humans stopped moving and started settling for a reason.

I also believe that travel doesn't "get out of your system" in the true sense of the phrase. Travel is not the act of geographical repositioning but an approach to a day. Travel is just the word we created to clearly conceptualize exploration and discovery. Often that comes with experiencing a different continent or state. But foreign or domestic, mental or physical, travel currently wears the cloak of an action that fulfills the needs of exploration and discovery. This is how we fit such needs into the context of our lives.

The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust

History, story, and experience lend to the point that humans need both comfort and discovery to be sustained and fulfilled. I enjoy a great travel experience if I choose to approach my days abroad with inquiry, but if I don't have this approach, I'm just living the same life elsewhere...except in this transient life, very little built in the location (other than memories, and even those are fleeting) is a worthwhile investment. What I make in friendships, I stand to see wither upon departure. Facebooking, Skyping, or texting do little to replace or substitute the in-person experience.

And because I'm a human, a woman, and a sentimental soul, when I say investment, I'm often thinking about people.

Building sand castles at low tide

My most life-changing moment last summer happened in my hometown over cocktails. I was chatting with my oldest friends about the usual topics. I mentioned a weird phenomenon where I regularly experience the same thing with every full moon. I have years of data backing up this correlation, to which my friend Chelsea said:

Well, Lindsay, that makes sense. One of the few constants in your lifestyle is the moon.

This was an epiphany, experienced all the more dramatically in a Bourbon haze. This was the first time that I explicitly made the connection between this lifestyle and the moon. I recently concluded a second aspect of this correlation. Each term abroad, I'm beginning to view the short-term investment in a place as building gorgeous, labor-intensive sand castles at the mercy of the high tide's licks. Allow me to flesh out this analogy.

Nomadism infographic, Nomadderwhere.com
Nomadism infographic, Nomadderwhere.com

And of course, because I like to make sense of my world with analogy and a touch of poetic zest, I round out this description with a vision of the aftermath as a castle mound, rounded or mostly fallen dependent on how often or well I connect with those people who shared the castle with me.

I will note here that I absolutely see life experience building me up over time, that memories can last forever, and that regular maintenance of friendships or frequent trips to a location doesn't solely determine whether I reaped anything from that place. But at some point we want our efforts to be long-term...for the times when we no longer have the energy to build castles.

If I flesh out the moon correlation, it can take me down a hairy path:

  1. I was born on the Autumnal Equinox, when the Earth and Sun axises are parallel, when day and night are relatively equal where I am.
  2. Looking at mythology, if I share a connection with the moon goddess (here's that witch talk I warned you about), my odds with the sun god can be accounted for in how hard mornings hit me.
  3. Luna (meaning moon) is at the root of the word lunatic, someone who shows periodic insanity; a term I could be called for the musings above.

A true nomad, trailing the moon

...These wet rocks where the tide went down Will show again when the tide is high Faint and perilous, far from shore, No place to dream, but a place to die,– The bottom of the sea once more. There was a child that wandered through A giant’s empty house all day,– House full of wonderful things and new, But no fit place for a child to play.

I was stunned to find a poem by an American woman that connected high and low tide to the idea of where to exist. Ms. Millay's words paint a picture for me of that sand castle at low tide, the one I've built in every location for the last five years, when this personal moon correlation came to be. Every six hours, the tide switches from low to high or high to low, both levels occurring twice a day depending on the location of the moon to that point on the Earth. To me this almost signifies a year: two low tides (of building, growth, and calm) and two high tides (to change or dissolve what once existed in plain sight). When the moon is directly above or opposite where I am, change occurs, and I had better be ready for or welcome to it.

I am an investor in the ephemeral, that which could be gone tomorrow. This could be deemed true of everyone, but I feel arguably more conscious of the inevitable with the existence of my outbound flight. This ticket away from a nest makes me anxious, makes me analyze my underlying emotions, makes me draw connections to patterns, and makes me look at how those few constants affect me. The moon signifies change; it moves me away from an even keel of emotion and routine.

I'm moving toward a base, toward a more equal balance between comfort and exploration, toward the ability to answer a simple question by a taxi driver as opposed to experiencing an existential crisis at the utterance of, "Heading home?"

Um...I sort of...well...this is difficult...yes and no. I sound nuts. Sorry...eventually. To the airport, please.

The ideas in this post are mine and do not represent those of THINK Global School.