Where did the glitter go?
There is something privileging, yet immensely diminishing about reaching the day when you no longer find the glitter in packing for a holiday, boarding a plane and anxiously scanning the different pamphlets in your seat pocket, even though you’ve seen the same copies at least 10 other times before. That was me once. Not too long ago, actually, until I began a search for novel and newer experiences, squeezing the world for more sparkle, and eventually deciding that I was done. This was it folks, I have wrung the world dry.
I used to call myself a traveler, growing comfortably acquainted with the title after I made the first Big Move of my life to the Bay Area. There is a ring to the title that almost makes me hold my breath, purse my lips and try to conceal the grin that actually forms beneath my cheeks every time. I thought that I sounded terribly classy and legitimate. There I was, wading in the perfect assurance that I was born with a DNA strand that would always urge me back onto the road and into more adventure. I am different; I was made for this!
But then a few more semesters at college passed, and Lake Tahoe and Yosemite happened. New states like Hawaii and Nevada came and went. Getting robbed and living through my first spring break made me feel like I moved up the ranks in the Nomad Travelers’ Alliance. Met with a calamity? Check. Living abroad in a foreign city without speaking its language? Check. Backpacking across a new continent with elementary Spanish grammar? Check. And then weekend trips became the standard, and truancy the new normal. Somewhere in and out of the endless customs and immigrations, something also happened.
I was no longer a starry-eyed Freshman living abroad and independently for the first time. The same girl that often grew homesick, nostalgic and longed for home and familial comfort changed into a restless and fatigued soul. I thought that the world was running out of novelties for me. “It’s a small world after all,” they said. Within 2 years of college, I had already joined 3 different clubs, and was on schedule to complete college an entire year early. I still felt dissatisfied at this suffocation I could not ease. I started leaving my college town more to wander around San Francisco on my own, secretly hoping that I would get lost and stumble into a new favorite place; I always ended back up on Market Street. I started traveling to more national parks, hoping I would re-experience the awe that once had the magic of putting all my problems into perspective. It still didn’t work. I did not even notice my own sense of entitlement and overflowing privilege until I was returning from Tokyo and got upgraded on one leg of the flight, and had an entire three-seat row all to myself on the second half of the journey. Wait, how come I wasn’t jumping for joy? Who gets two lucky strikes in a single day? Besides, who goes all the way to Tokyo for a week-long spring break anyway?!
I had inadvertently become addicted to moving — a state that promised transience, change and renewal (not in the eat-pray-love kind of way, but in the state of my environment). It wasn’t so much the leaving or returning that thrilled me, as much as it was purely the experience of getting on a plane for 2 or 6 or 18 hours that made me content. People who usually quoted “the only constant in life is change” often attached some sort of negative connotation to the unstable nature of their lives. But this state of changing landscapes, prospects and plans became my antidote to a world that had grown stale to me. It wasn’t the means, but an end in itself. But because I remember me, I also know that this was an evolution and not my inherent nature. I am a homesick creature, conventional in habits and comfortable in familiarity, delighting in detailed plans and trusting of few. Change was always turbulence for me. It wasn’t the good shedding of skin, but an attack on my fortresses. As prestigious as it sounded, I was never made for traveling.
Now, I almost wonder if this “love” for traveling, over time, just became a veneer of my fast and over attachment to people and places. Instead of savoring every step of this expedition, it overcompensated for how un-independent, unadventurous and unsociable I really was. I became hooked onto the habit of tapping into lives, but making sure to leave before they became flesh to my heart; I would often glance long enough at places to remember, but not stay long enough to let myself mistake it for another home. So goodbyes became easier and jetlag became shorter. And at the end of 3 years, what can I confidently say that I have gained? An experience? An identity?
Or perhaps, a new home?
It was neither San Francisco nor Berkeley, nor Portland or Seattle. It was not up in the Yosemite falls or beneath the Zion valleys either. None of these were for me to keep because I never really owned them. Even if I could, I don’t think I would want to have to choose, either. Like my visa confirms, I was simply a visitor all this while. This was the identity that would remain for as long as my stay was underscored by one fundamental difference: I always had the choice of leaving.
So I’m just a journeyer. Someone who is growing up, like everyone does; someone who is trying to take in the world, like everyone else. The only difference was that my young adulthood took place somewhere between two or more timezones. So I gained some, and I lost some, but I’m still more normal than novel. Adolescents may grow out of their toys, but my father found his love for Meccano (read: Lego for adults) as he approached retirement. Like him, I hope to one day rekindle my unrestrained excitement towards traveling again, with or without palm beaches. In the meantime, I’ll make do with calling the journey my second home. It’s a little less stable and a little less familiar than I would’ve liked, but I’m not complaining.