the nomadic way

Since 1981, when my parents moved me and my brother to Chicago, I’ve moved no less than 21 times — almost once a year. Now, Toronto is where I live. Where is my home, though?

It certainly isn’t with my estranged biological family, though I have fond memories of my birthtown New Orleans. (Only my grandfather lives there now.) More often than not I think of Tokyo as somewhere I’ve felt relaxed and at ease: a city constantly in flux, not unlike myself. Occasionally I pine for the busy social life I lead in Manhattan, or the strength of the communities I’d explore in Pittsburgh.

But none of my experiences living in these places seem to me like what my colleagues and acquaintances mean when they call Toronto home, a place where they’ve lived most of their lives, or have deliberately chosen as a base of operations. I’m happy to have access to so much variety here; I’m too much of a city girl to feel comfortable in the suburbs. I need mixed-use neighborhoods, multiculturalism, and a good public transportation system to put me at ease. It’s just another place to live, though. I have only found a couple of people I really connect with, and I rarely if ever find myself going out and exploring the city on weeknights or weekends.

I can’t help but wonder: is it the city itself, my mindset, or the people here that lead to me feeling like such an alien? I felt more discrimination directed towards me in Tokyo, and more isolated on the whole in New York. On the other hand, people here seem to have known each other for many, many years. They’ve lived here most of their lives. Many have never even travelled outside of the province, let alone the country. (The only other place I’ve lived like this was Boston.) The locals have their established social activities, and don’t stray much from them. For lack of a better term, it feels terribly provincial.

As always, there’s a flip side. I acknowledge I haven’t tried really hard to find things to do here. It’s just been easier in other places. I’m not so focused on any one particular activity, so it’s not like I really want to go to a knitting circle, a pickup volleyball tourney, or a singles bar. I get bored way too quickly. I just don’t have any ideas. And I’m turning into a bit of a recluse because of it (and because of my job.)

5 thoughts on “the nomadic way

  1. “Having lost our home, we have no place to go or, what is worse, too many places to go. We are lost not only in the depths of our universe, but in the depths of our minds as well. […] now, even when we think we know where we are, we still are lost; for there is either no path to lead us home, or, in many cases, we have no home to which it is worth our while returning.
    No matter where home may be, men today, at least intellectually, are footloose wanderers. […] We, as a race, are impatient with the past, and many of us with the present and we have only one direction, futureward, which takes us ever farther from the concept of home. As a race, we are incurable wanderers and we want nothing that will tie us down and nothing to hang onto — until that day which must come at some time to each of us, when we realize we’re not as free as we think we are, but, rather, lost. It is only when we try to recall, with our racial memory, where we’ve been and why we’ve been there, that we realize the full measure of our lostness.”

  2. Gee, Sherlock, how’d you do it? — I mean, how did you figure out who I am? I bow down before your amazing powers of perception. :)
    What was it that gave me away? Guess I shouldn’t’ve been so careless as to use my own handwriting when copying that quote. Or was it that I forgot to wipe my fingerprints off those IP packets?

    So tell me — how does one go about becoming “a bit of a recluse”? I need a little bit of advice, you see. I myself have been dabbling in that sport from time to time (albeit on a hopelessly amateur level) — so I was hoping to get some tips from a pro.

  3. “Boarding a long-distance train without any luggage gave me a feeling of exhilaration. It was as if while out taking a leisurely stroll, I was suddenly like a dive-bomber caught in a space-time warp. In which there is nothing: no dentist’s appointments, no pending issues in desk drawers, no inextricably complicated human involvements, no favors demanded. I’d left that behind, temporarily. All I had with me were my tennis shoes with their misshapen rubber soles.
    […] What’s over for one person isn’t over for another. Simple as that. Beyond, the path goes in two different directions.
    From that point on there was no hometown for me. Nowhere to return to. What a relief! No one to want me, no one to want anything from me.”

    “[…] Meanwhile, I planted an elbow on the armrest of my chair, rested my head on my hand, and shut my eyes. Nothing came to mind. With my eyes closed, I could hear hundreds of elves sweeping out my head with their tiny brooms. They kept sweeping and sweeping. It never occurred to any of them to use a dustpan.
    When the beer finally arrived, I downed it in two gulps. Then I ate the whole dish of peanuts that came with it. The sweeping had all but stopped.
    I went over to the telephone booth by the register and tried calling my girlfriend, her with the gorgeous ears. But she wasn’t at her place and she wasn’t at mine. She’d probably stepped out to eat. She never ate at home.
    Next I tried my ex-wife. I reconsidered and hung up after the second ring. I didn’t have anything to say to her after all, and I didn’t want to come off like a jerk.
    After them, there was no one to call. Smack in the middle of a city with a million people out roaming the streets, and no one to talk to. I gave up, pocketed the ten-yen coin, and exited the booth. Then I put in an order with a passing waiter for two more Heinekens.
    And so the day came to an end.”

    ” ‘[…] people can generally be classified into two groups: the mediocre realists and the mediocre dreamers. You clearly belong to the latter. Your fate is and will always be the fate of a dreamer.’
    ‘I’ll remember that,’ I said.”

  4. I think I know what the problem is: Toronto is too young, for a city. Unlike humans, who gradually disintegrate with age and start losing their wits, cities just keep on maturing indefinitely as time goes by. And let’s face it: a mere two hundred years just doesn’t cut it, as far as maturity goes. Therefore, my advice is to wait another couple of hundred years or so. You’ll be surprised how much the social climate here will improve by the year, say, 2200.

    Another source of trouble is Toronto’s unenviable location. What I mean, specifically, is that it really sucks to live constantly in New York City’s shadow. Just go ask Boston what that’s like. However, while Boston has developed an effective passive-aggressive defence mechanism against its big neigbour down the coast, by cultivating a certain idiosyncratic mix of simmering resentment and a unique more-sophisticated-than-thou attitude, Toronto has failed to do so. The sad result is the latter’s perpetual inferiority complex. One solution might be to relocate T.O. from the shores of lake Ontario to a place far, far away from New York — say, the West Coast. Of course, Vancouver might not be happy about such development, and besides there are certain other difficulties involved (uprooting the CN Tower and reinstalling it on the Pacific coast, would likely be somewhat of a technical challenge, for one). However, the benefits, in terms of the city’s mental and social health, would undoubtedly outweigh the costs.

    The list of available options goes on, however. Suppose you don’t want to wait 200 years and you hate dealing with movers. Suppose you’d like to see some results real soon, with minimal expense. Think pharmaceuticals! I have a feeling that a reasonably good deal could be worked out between the city hall, on the one hand, and either Pfizer or Merck or GlaxoWellcome (or whatever it’s called now), on the other. It’s a real win-win situation: the mayor would get one happy constituency; and the lucky pharma conglomerate would finally get a handle on that fickle supply/demand problem, not to mention the cost savings resulting from delivering an appropriate cocktail of Ritalin/Prozac/Effexor/etc. directly through tap water and not bothering with all those tablets, pills and packaging.

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