by Heidi Obermeyer
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” – Miriam Adeney
I’ve tried to write this post, or a version of it, every time I have come home in the last 3 years.
I am back in America, and feeling a little lost on most fronts. I have built two halves of myself, one on each side of the Atlantic. My core is in the States, but all of the extra things I have built around that have been in Europe, at least during the recent past. I’m just always missing somebody or somewhere; I’ve always got someone I want to be talking to; I’ve always got some street I’d rather be walking down.
An important part of Bath for me was remembering that it is always now [click for the relevant inspirational video]. I like to plan and think about what is coming next a great deal (which is, apparently, a large part of what makes you happy and satisfied, especially when it’s something fun like more traveling) and it often distracts me from the now. When you think ahead that much, I think you enjoyment of both parts of your life are diminished, and the great joy in the now- how vivid the things you are experiencing in the exact present are- is lost. And that is something that no computer, nor phone, nor Skype session will ever be able to recreate for you.
The internet makes things incredibly easy, and thereby also makes them so much more difficult. While I was in Bath I set a personal goal to not post any photos on Facebook, and I mostly succeeded. I didn’t hold myself too tightly to it, and did share some pictures among our group, but trying to be more aware of who I was having these experiences (and recording them) for helped me to try and enjoy things more for me. And I didn’t even think that I had let social media dictate my life before that! I had been pretty good about restricting my activity, but taking it one step further and posting fewer photos had a larger impact than I expected. The whole oversharing phenomena makes photography hard for me. I like taking pictures, and I like showing them to my friends. What makes me different from people posting hundreds of random images on Facebook every day? I, too am posting a bunch of random crap about myself on the internet. Hell, I’m even creating more of it right now! What gives me the right to criticize people living their life out through the web when I’m doing the same thing, in a sense?
A feeling that I love and hate is the physical act of getting between the two halves of me. I call this travel purgatory. It is the time when you have said hard goodbyes to one place and have not felt the warmth of greeting the other. In travel purgatory, I don’t have to miss any one thing, because I miss everything. I miss what I’m leaving, and I miss what I’m going to. In a way, it’s almost the most peaceful mental state, because at least the missing is uniform; it is everywhere. I wish that I could know when I was exactly halfway across the Atlantic- I could look one direction and know quiet vividly exactly where I liked to bike in Munich, then look the other way and feel what it is like to look out over the Rockies in the winter.
I can not completely explain what it feels like to ride the ring in Berlin and look out at the graffiti-covered bits of the city in the cold to someone I did not know there, nor can I convey in a few words the peculiar sensation of driving for hours and hours and reaching nothing bigger than a small town in the American West to people who have not visited it. This is perhaps the greatest tragedy of having friends everywhere, but also the greatest reward, because it means that I get to see lots of different things.
Even though this sounds like a lot of lamenting of losses, I think it’s also good, because it means that I got to do something that made me very happy (mostly) over this period of time.
Things I have to do now: Write my thesis, find a job, be me, see all my U.S. people I’ve been ditching for the last few years, find a place to live, maintain my sense of adventure, and avoid not traveling.
On my thesis: It will hopefully be super interesting. I think I will, at the very least, have fun writing it. One great thing about political science students is that we all secretly think we will change the world, and since we aren’t actually working yet the place where that feels most real is in the pages of our academic writing. Political Science students’ favorite way to procrastinate is by reading the news. Our excuse is that we are “supplementing our education” and that it’s “an important part of our degree” and “crucial knowledge for class and our future.” Really, we just love learning about the world (or at least I do). Keeping up with the latest happenings makes me feel, at least for a few minutes, like the NYT is my own personal flow of cables in my imaginary Secretary of State world, and thinking through the decision making on those issues is a welcome respite from the what-does-it-all-mean attitudes of academia.
On my job hunt: Man, this is monotonous. I don’t think I have many more comments on that. I just want to work.
On seeing my U.S. people: That’s actually pretty exciting. 🙂
On finding a place to live: Watch out Denver/cities of America willing to employ me! Here comes Heidi.
On all the other stuff: I suppose those are the easy ones. I will probably just have to keep being me.