On Being a Nomad at Home

People keep asking me how I’m finding it being back home. I’ve yet to come up with a succinct or even coherent answer. I’m all over the map on the subject. It’s great and weird, cold (weather) and warm (people), familiar and foreign. A lot of time I feel both ‘at home’ and like an alien. I’m gliding over past ruts, revisiting old haunts, and carving out new routines in well-known places. Every so often a memory of some past adventure explodes into my thoughts. And then I realize I’ve been smiling to myself on the train like a crazy person.

Sometimes it’s kind of unreal: last week, Alberta was the coldest place on the planet, and a little less than a year ago, I was in the hottest (January in the outback)*.

[*allegedly: weather networks are prone to hyperbole.] 

One of the things I miss the most is the ease of making friends on the road: the quick kindred-ships, the accelerated closeness (spending a week with someone on the road can be like spending a lifetime with them in ‘real life’); how you sometimes spend a whole day with a person and neither of you thinks to exchange names until the very end and you feel closer to them than to any acquaintance back home.

There are many upsides to being at home, too: long-standing friendships, family, the ease and comfort of familiar surroundings (even though I still manage to get myself lost more than I reasonably should). I miss being surrounded by unfamiliar landscapes and languages, but I feel the foreigner here, too, in a way. My experiences have created a gulf between the person the road has shaped me into and the roles I’m re-entering at home.

Sometimes, people seem to regard me differently than they did before, as though travel necessarily makes me certain kind of person. Events that occurred organically and felt natural in context sound outlandish here. I become an armchair entertainer recounting my adventures; there is the subtle but palpable distance between audience and performer. With my closest friends, we’ve picked up where we left off, but there is a section of separateness — a gap in the friendship resume, as it were — hanging between us. Or maybe it’s all in my head. It’s with a particular sadness and projected nostalgia that I note this sense of novelty will wear off and I’ll more fully re-integrate and acclimatize. So much of my identity is tied up in the feeling of ‘foreign-ness’.

There is also a mounting pressure, now that my twenties are coming to an end, to give up my nomadic lifestyle, and get on with the business of ‘settling down’. I have nary an intention to do so — not in the traditional sense, anyway. I worry that my personal eschewing of convention will come across as a broad denigration of it (it is not; different strokes for different folks and all that). Sometimes it feels like I’m telling people I’ve joined a cult. And I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. Reading all of those criticisms of the ‘millennial generation‘ doesn’t help either. But if we’re all shiftless lay-abouts I may as well be one on the road, I reckon.

For the time being, it will appear as though I am settling down — I’ve a job and a place to receive mail and everything. But, internally, I am scheming, dreaming, planning; still a nomad.

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