The surprising thing about being home

After a year living around the world I’m invariably asked two questions. The first, and most ubiquitous question as any alumni of Remote Year can tell you is:

What’s your favorite city?

It’s inevitable. It’s asked by complete strangers who overhear conversations at brunch. Every member of my family has asked it twice. First when I was home for Christmas and again now that I’m officially back — just in case the answer had changed in the past few months. My favorite city hasn’t changed, the answer is and will always be Cape Town, the most epic side trip.

The second question should be easier to answer, but it isn’t.

How are you?

This isn’t supposed to be a difficult question. The scripted replies would be “fine” or “great”, followed by an anecdote with a dash of self deprecation or seasoning of realism. Something like — “Fine, just getting used to traffic again.” would suffice.

But with everything going on, it wouldn’t be the full answer.

Now dear reader, before you begin to worry, I assure you it’s nothing unfortunate or tragic. This is my way of saying that any answer I can provide right now is half baked. Or rather, the proverbial cake isn’t in the oven yet and I’m standing baffled by the shear variety of available ingredients in the aisle at my local Safeway.

Living out of a suitcase at the mercy of whatever local ingredients were available and what my accommodations could provide — I got used to making the best of what was available. On the rare occasions I had access to things like brownie mix, gas stoves, and Toll House Chocolate Chips I took full advantage. Every night becomes a mini Iron Chef challenge when you only have access to a few pans and whatever produce the guy is selling from the back of his truck today.

As they say, constraints force creativity.

Coming home to a fully stocked kitchen, clothing choices free of the constraints of a suitcase and 20+ aisles of familiar things was overwhelming to say the least. I’d completely forgotten there were three different Oreo cookie to cream ratios: thins, double-stuffed, originals. Let alone which ones were my favorite. My life became a constant internal monologue debating, quite frankly, meaningless choices.

What foods to get was only the start.

The paralysis of choice and having the available resources to make those choices is by definition a very fortunate place to be. But I’d still be hard pressed to describe it with the word “great”.

For all the mini challenges and cooking constraints of being a nomad, the problem of too many options was reserved for the big stuff. At the end of my trip, I was between jobs. I explored creative options with writing. I had literally zero obligations for an entire month, save a plane ticket home. Until my trip home, the world was my oyster — My future, a veritable Costco of choice and bounty.

To say the month forced a lot of introspection would be an understatement.

These days all the pieces are falling into place. I have a new job that starts on June 11th (don’t worry, it’s 100% remote!). I’ve signed up for a drawing class at my local community center. I have a detailed to-do list complete with calendar events forwarded by Dan. I average about 75 words before my puppy, Kiki, formally requests… (read: demands) my attention to play with her or release her to frolic in the yard.

It’s the culmination of a series of an intentional choices I’ve made based on my 2018 goals and month of introspection. My life has been a whirlwind of evil genius planning that I’d desperately hoped for when I visualized what my life would be like after Remote Year ended.

Still. The structure terrifies me. However carefully selected my choices are, it feels like shelves of fruit preserves are disappearing. Sure, I will never need fifty kinds of jellies, jam and marmalade, sorry Mr. Beauregard.

But, there was a comfort in knowing that the perfect spread was readily available should the need arise. Replaced by the nagging feeling I could have changed careers. I could have picked a different flavor. I could catch up with my fellow Kaizens in Europe for choice weekends this summer.

When someone asks “How are you?”, I feel like Schrodinger's Cat when the box is finally opened. Torn between being here and at the same time very far away. At once deeply excited for the home I’m building and pining for the road not taken. A contradiction of familiar strawberry jam contrasted against exotic guava preserve.

I know it will take some time to adjust. To get my footing. After all, it’s a sticky situation, I’ve only been back for a few weeks and in that time I’ve left the state twice. Geographically, I’m still a nomad.

This afternoon running errands with my mother I kept opening Foursquare to scout cafes with good WiFi for when my new remote job starts. Professionally, I’m still a nomad.

Typing this, I’m wearing a tank-top, a scarf and my one pair of blue jeans. I donated 70% of my clothes when I came home. I couldn’t handle the clutter. Style-wise, I’m still a nomad.

Being a nomad is an essential part of who I am.

My phone is filled with videos of Kiki running circles around my shoulders, sleeping next to her sister MoMo and I’ve developed that sense where if I don’t hear her collar jingle I realize something is going terribly awry. Becoming a puppy dad, I’m a homebody.

I spent the weekend planting bulbs, cleaning the pool and learned how to reinstall a screen today. I caught myself muttering at the dishes in the sink, just like my father, and started washing them. Becoming my father, I’m a homebody.

Every night I’ve joined my family at the kitchen table for a home cooked meal, talking about our days, how to the Caps are doing and debating whose going to make the next round of drinks and what we’re all going to watch tonight in the living room. Surrounded by family, I’m a homebody.

Bringing a movie projector, a 10 inch copper frying pan and cuddling every dog I saw this past year. Being a homebody has always been an essential part of who I am.

Maybe, the answer to “How are you” will always be somewhere between that great contradiction. At once filled with wanderlust and thrilled to explore the great unknown and simultaneously waiting for everyone to return to the ranch so we can watch the next episode of WestWorld with a batch of blackberry jam cookies in the oven.