I’ve been MIA lately in everything regarding the internet and my computer. I haven’t written, I haven’t tweeted, I’ve barely perused Facebook. I’ve worked, I’ve spent evenings reading in bed, I’ve seen old friends, I’ve daytripped around Southwestern Ontario, I’ve had dinners out, given up coffee temporarily (and replaced it with large quantities of herbal tea), tasted regional wine and beer, eaten a large pizza, and seen a play. And contracted a particularly nasty cold.
So now, as the summer ends, I’m curled up on the couch with a blanket, nursing my cold with plenty of liquids and ibuprofen, and getting back to blogging. It’s been a nice break away from my cyberlife and into my real life, but the wanderlust is nagging again, and for now, my only real outlet is this blog.
There’s something delightful about being sick. I’d always rather be healthy, but you can’t deny that a non-life-threatening cold can be a nice excuse to stay home, drink tea, and relax. Watch those movies you’ve been meaning to, finish that book you’ve been meaning to, catch up on personal e-mails and all those blog posts and articles you’ve tagged to read. Nap in the middle of the day. Drink orange juice. Eat comforting food. It can be nice to stay at home.
Home. For those who are born, raised, settled, and will probably die in the same place, it’s not hard to know what home is. I myself have hardly been very nomadic throughout my life. I spent my first 18 years of life in my hometown, and then began a string of two-year stays around Southwestern Ontario and a one-year stint in the UK. I’ve never moved much, and my hometown will always be one definition of home, but when people ask “Where are you from?” I still feel weird answering “Waterloo,” because when I talk about my recent life, it hasn’t happened in Waterloo. It’s happened in two different Londons and a Hamilton. Most people, I’ve noticed, don’t seem to really understand this. Being and not being from a place. So where, as an adult, do I call home?
My apartment feels like home. My husband feels like home. My bed, with Christoph and Leonard close by; my couch with the blanket WB gave me for Christmas. But when I look out the window, I don’t feel at home. I forget why I’m here, what brought me to this place. I’m homesick. The only problem is, I don’t know where my real home is.
London is okay. It has parks and festivals, and I really like my job. But I just don’t fit in. There’s something about it that feels off to me. In my travels about Southwestern Ontario these past few weeks, I have felt more at home in just about every place than I feel in London. Industrial but eccentric Hamilton; lush and wine-blushed Niagara region; thespian Stratford; big-city Toronto. Every one I feel a kinship to. But not London. London is not home, despite it being where I live. I feel more like a tourist – a transient – in London than I have ever felt anywhere, including on my travels (besides maybe Brantford, where I spent two confusing years of my undergrad).
I’m probably too hard on London. Coming from The Other London has raised my expectations too much on what a London should be, perhaps? So I decided to go to a third-party source, and found my views confirmed. Lonely Planet says of London:
The Thames, Covent Garden, Pall Mall and Oxford St – that’s London, right? You betcha, but beyond nomenclature, this version has nothing in common with its namesake. Midway between Toronto and Detroit, London Ontario is a staid, functional student town that seems hell-bent on trying to be something more than it really is. Take the students out of the picture (they remove themselves every summer) and London seems little more than a loose affiliation of tattoo parlors, homeless strugglers and Anglo street signs. Still, the music scene is rockin’, there are some cool local festivals, and one thing they do better here than in the UK is food – enough to keep you distracted for a few days.
(Though I can’t say I agree with the jab at UK food – at least if we’re comparing Londons, rather than Canada versus UK as a whole, you’d have to be an idiot to think our little London could compete gastronomically with the jaggernaut and cosmopoliton Other London)
Rough Guides is a bit more generous:
The citizens of LONDON, 125km west of Hamilton, are justifiably proud of their clean streets, efficient transport system and neat suburbs, but to the outsider the main attractions are the leafiness of the centre and two of the city’s music festivals – the three-day Bluesfest [...] and the three-day Home County Folk Music Festival [...] both held in mid- to late July.
Anyway, it’s not as if one should measure the validity of their home by the judgements of travel guides. If you feel comfortable, happy, and inspired, that’s great. And there are plenty of people who feel that passionately about London, and it isn’t a bad city at all. It does have a nice market, leafy parks, a beautiful bike path along the Thames, and plenty of festivals to keep you busy nearly every weekend in the summer. It just isn’t my home.
So where is?
Often, WB and I talk about the places we’ve been and list where we would and would not like to live. We have many more in column A than column B (see Appendix B). And most of these places, I’ve felt more at home than any place I’ve actually lived.
I remember when I went to New York with my family. It was my first time to the city, but I had big plans to live there one day. It already felt like a familiar place, much like London did. I had read about it, watched movies about it, heard writers and Woody Allen and Carrie Bradshaw wax poetic about it. It was a place with energy and personality. The people who love New York (or Paris or London or any major metropolis) speak about it as if it is their best friend. I wanted to experience that.
And when I arrived, I did. It was like New York was a long lost sibling. Someone you never knew, except through photographs, stories, and your imagination – but once you see them, you instantly recognize yourself in them. I felt home.
At this stage, I was just leaving high school and entering university. I planned my glorious return to the city. I was slowly shedding my teenage angst, ready to escape my childhood into a loud, bustling, gritty city. I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to shatter everyone’s ideas about life. I wanted to rub shoulders with movers and shakers and underground punk rockers.
And then, over time, I lost interest and started focusing on London. Probably because of doing a degree largely in English literature.
Part of me thinks I’ve just changed as a person, so I’ve lost that sense of kinship with New York, though it would certainly be an interesting place to live for a time. But when I did finally move to London, there was homesickness by the bucketful. It wasn’t what I expected, because I certainly didn’t want to move back to Waterloo, or back in with my parents (no offense, Wanderparents).
I still wanted to be out in the world. I still wanted to be an (semi) adult. But unlike my four-day visit to New York or my previous few-days visit to London, I didn’t immediately feel as though I had found my place in the world. The homesickness was not necessarily for actual home (that really only hit me at times like Christmas, or when my cat died), it was for the feeling I was so certain I would feel – that long lost sibling feeling.
The months went by and the feeling grew, and then, just as we planned to return to Canada, I felt like there wasn’t anywhere else in the world besides London I could possibly live.
I’m still harbouring that feeling – that homesickness for London – but I wonder if it’s just like New York. I’ll plot my return and, upon arrival, remember things weren’t as great as I though they were.
Maybe it’s that feeling I love. And maybe it’s a feeling that can only come from being transient, from wandering energy, from seeing a place from the outside. Maybe that’s why it suddenly burst from me only as we were about to leave London. Maybe that’s why my New York dreams fizzled out before they were realised. Maybe that’s why I love to travel.
I can’t tell if this is a good feeling, or a bad one. It promotes exploration, travel, learning, experimenting. But it also promotes unmet expectations, disappointments, restlessness.
Should I blame This London for not providing the hole to my awkwardly-shaped peg? Should I revere the Other London for my retrospective homesickness? Is it homesickness that I feel, or is it wanderlust? Is home a place or is it a feeling? Is it both?
Is the ibuprofen and lack of caffeine is making me too philosophical?
But I’m sure one day I’ll find my “home”: whether it’s in me, or in a place I find myself, or on the proverbial open road.