Note No. 60

March 31, 2010

I was in the middle of a Speed Scrabble game yesterday, when I distracted myself to the point of nearly losing the round. I let two turns go by, for lack of being able to concentrate on the seven tiles in front of my face.

The offending thought? That I had unintentionally made a judgmental comment earlier in the day, when I posted my Note and included this list of things that I supposedly don’t miss from being home:

** Rushing around
** Looking at my watch
** Being on a schedule
** Self-checkout at the store
** Driving everywhere
** The logistics of owning things, like cars
** Understanding politics
** Not being able to so easily tune out the Angry Disgruntled Person behind me in line
** Talking about cell phone plans at parties
** Talking about work at parties
** Talking about Kroger Plus Card specials at parties
** Super duper turbocharged efficiency
** Planning, planning, planning and planning for more planning
** All English, all the time
** Boring predictability

I guess the thing that bothered me about it is that I said that the list came from the several visits I have made home in the last year. But the thing is, every single one of my trips home since moving here has been nothing short of fantastic.

Obviously. Because until yesterday, I had been unable to come up with the list. And the truth is, I should have left it under construction, as it was, because I will not know what I do not miss until I am there, living it again, which I have not done since 2005. Since then, I have changed. You have changed. The country has changed. So, to be afraid of going back and having all my complaints be the same is almost like wishful thinking—as if it would somehow be easier to deal with the expected.

I suppose I am just scared. It’s that same fear I felt last summer, before I went back to Barcelona for my first visit in a year and a half. I was afraid of how different the city would be, as well as how different I would be. In the end, it was a silly worry, just like I already know that this is a silly worry. Because seriously. Not once in my travels home have I found myself in a conversation about weekend minutes and 2-for-1 Cheerios. Not a single time.

Nope. Maybe I did years ago but I was fresh out of college and blindly following a path to somewhere, and all of us at the paper were doing the same thing, finding ourselves on our own, watching our paychecks come in every two weeks, looking at the amount taken off for healthcare and taxes, paying the bills and filling our fridges afterward, meanwhile entertaining each other with house parties, trying to start our journalism careers and talking about all of it constantly.

Don’t get me wrong. They were great times—the kind you probably can’t ever duplicate. We were extended family, a support group for each other, because it was the first time we had bylines and thus, it was the first time people were reading our work and commenting on our words, often without kindness, so we were all thickening our skins together, turning to each other for camaraderie.

Then, after two years of that, I gave up my adorable apartment, sold my car and some other favorite toys on eBay, put the rest of my stuff in my parents’ attic, packed everything I could into two suitcases, canceled my cell phone plan and got on a plane for Spain. Thus began a sort of nomadic existence, one that devalued belongings and included these pay-as-you-go phone deals that you have to use when you’re a foreigner and they won’t let you have a contract. So, I just remember at one point a few years ago realizing that I was no longer talking about possessions and work so much. I was talking about other things—not that I can remember what. I assure you it was not extremely intellectual, though, so to rank whatever it was as superior to debates about Nextel versus T-Mobile is silly.

These days, social dialogue revolves around plans for the future. I am surrounded by change at the moment. I am leaving the island. Friends are leaving the island. And we are all looking ahead, trying to figure out where to go from here.

I suppose I am rut-a-phobic. I am weary of things being too comfortable. That probably explains why I keep changing scenes every two years. And why I am going home again but on my terms. I am not going back to sit in an office all day and work on someone else’s clock. I am going back to tour the country where I was born, hopefully visiting people I have not seen in as many as 12 years and writing about it. It will be far from boring and predictable; I know that. It will be difficult even. And lonely. And sad. But also exciting and interesting and challenging and fun as hell. So there is absolutely no need to worry about anything that I listed in the list of things I do not miss from home.

What I should be conscious of is not being one of those snobby people who has lived abroad and then comes home with her nose in the air, because she has seen The Way and it does not involve ordering french fries in the McDonald’s drive-thru. For the record, McDonald’s still makes the best fries. Some of the worst I ever had were in a pub in England and they’re supposed to be the experts.

So, yeah. I really don’t want to be one of those elitist people. I don’t think I will be — not after going from Europe to Latin America. Still. I’m just sayin’.

One of my best friends moved off the island recently and before she left, she talked about making sure she kept the island in her heart. To the outside world, I imagine such a statement sounds New Age crazy but if you have been charmed by the island, you know what it means. I have written before about the funny place that this is. One minute, you are missing it before you have even left. The next, you’re ready to row yourself to Cuba. But to embrace this little rock is to realize that you have to slow down and take stock and to give thanks for what you have and what you manage to accomplish. It is also to recognize that you are neither in charge, nor in control. Things will happen as they are meant to; just make sure you’re paying attention.

You can do that anywhere, though. It’s just easier to do here, because everything moves slowly and because it invariably goes wrong, humbling you to the point that you realize that you’re getting red in the face for nothing. That said, I know it is time for me to go. Too much of this Mañana Culture and I’ll be as soft as a ripe avocado.

And I am excited about leaving, even though I know I will miss it like mad. But I also know after living various places that a place is what you make of it. If you are miserable, it is probably your own fault. I was miserable my first year here. Then I got the hang of it, made friends, and figured out how to let go and stop trying to control everything. Now I love it here. It’s home.

Same in Barcelona. My mom reminded me the other day that I spent the first year in a tumultuous state. I was wasting away to nothing, because I insisted on walking from one end of the city to the other, every single day, and I was constantly thinking about my next move, wondering when it was that I was finally going to go on to Greece, as I had planned all along. Then, in my second year, I finally made a commitment to stay and I started making a little nest, bonding with people and feeling like I had found a home.

Home is wherever I’m with you, according to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and you can be anyone, not just a true love or a soul mate.

It’s the people. It’s always the people, not the place. And that’s why my list yesterday bothered me. Because I did not want to upset the people that have been my home.

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