I am a terrible visitor.
I don’t mean in the hotel room trasher sense. I mean I am terrible at being a visitor. At passing through. I can’t spend two days in a place without trying to fantastize how it would feel to live there forever. Where could I work, what would the seasons feel like, would I need a car. What are the ties that would bind me there.
Maybe it sounds harmless on the surface, but it’s not a particularly bright move. Because it means I can’t go anywhere and be content with merely being a tourist. I want to belong. I want to be recognized and to stop having to introduce myself or explain what brought me to this point. I want people simply to know and to treat me accordingly. This is foolish. The world is too large, and our places in it too fluid, to want this kind of anchoring. But I want it, everywhere I go.
I read this article for example, and think: “Ah yes! my ancestors were from that part of the world! Perhaps it would feel good. Perhaps I’m related to some people in the area still.” Unlikely to discover, and impossible to ascertain, within the constraints of an outsider. But I want to. For as long as that article lingers in my memory, I want to buy a boat and head north and disappear into the wilderness — and likely drown doing it; I have no boat knowledge.
I know that this is terribly predictable. I know that this is conceivably why I prefer MMOs and vast open-world games as opposed to narrowly-scoped vignette games: they offer places you spend so long in you feel a part of them. I know how shallowly, predictably American it is to want to belong somewhere and to, in all likelihood, not belong anywhere particularly meaningful. Just as I can’t reinvent these sentiments into something unique and moving, I can’t reinvent myself into someone who belongs anywhere other than some suburb somewhere.
I know that what we gain from uprootedness makes up, more often than not, for what we lose. No mob with pitchforks is going to come to my house for violating some social norm; there are few norms left and no one knows enough about each other to notice a violation. No community will shun me for some petty misunderstanding or personal political tiff, if I am part of no community. Uprootedness means, in a very personal, day-to-day sense, freedom. Less judgment.
But it also means less support. My parents lived the way I do, and no one gave a shit when my mom got sick and died. Their friends ebbed away. Friends were all they had — no family nearby, no domineering religious group rewarding a lifetime of penitence with assistance at the end — so they were alone at the end. I take the measures I can to try and make sure life will be easier for my husband when that time comes — a house paid off, in a location where he likes the people and the climate — but I’m not dumb enough to convince myself it will be much easier. It isn’t, ever. I know that.
And when I visit or read about far-off places; about putting down roots there, it isn’t just the quaint stone cottages or the rugged mountain vistas or wide-armed seascapes I fantasize about — it’s about people actually feeling a social responsibility to look in on those in need, and following through on that impulse. It’s community I fantasize about, even when I know perfectly well that so many communities are built upon the idea of “us” and “them,” where you only get to be part of “us” by birth. Communities define themselves as much now as they always have by exclusion. It sucks. I know that.
So I have little patience with myself when encountering stories of place; with how much I want to be a part of whatever place is in question. I know what I gain from being a part of nowhere. But I greedily want to be part of somewhere.
It’s stupid. I don’t note it as such hoping to be told I’m wrong — I know it for what it is. But it’s stupid all the same. The sort of thing you hope you’ll discard with age, and which you realize too late you’re saddled with for eternity. It’s disappointing.