I take a transatlantic flight tomorrow, again. I am writing from a starchy hotel bed, rough white sheets over my legs – a position more and more familiar to me all the time. Laptop in lap. Working from a foreign room, in sterile light. I have been travelling for a month now, tagging along on my husband’s business trips this time, rather than being a nomad writer giving panels or workshops in places far from my home. The last two years have unmoored me, unmoored the pair of us, with this particular kind of work-travel. Our suitcases are stickered, decorated by experience. Our clothes-folding abilities? Not as military as you’d expect, if I’m being honest. Our heads, by this stage, firmly wrecked.
I am still compiling notes and thoughts about our time in Tokyo, as I am absolutely convinced it adjusted something deep inside of me that had clicked out of function at some point, due to overwork, or depression, or some bad, jaded cocktail of the two. In absence of any public Wifi here in San Francisco, I find myself on public transport thumbing through photographs from our trip to Japan two weeks ago. Revisiting the sensations of the place, the details I managed to capture with my iPhone camera, hundreds and hundreds of images. The newness of the place was staggering and delightful – I felt incredibly free in my absolute inability to read a single sign or packet, but I still photographed signs, and packets anyway.
Here, in San Francisco, I have not taken so many photos. Some of friends, to mark the years passing, but none of the city. Like my eyes can’t catch anything they want to keep. I am not trying to be pessimistic, but I am not in love with this place like I was with Tokyo – or perhaps the love just has a different gradient. This is a home that is no longer home but it is still something, though I don’t have a name for that something yet. The juxtaposition of places is strange, a kind of whiplash. Maybe because Japan was new, and exciting, it felt like my eyes couldn’t take in enough of the place – though at least once a week I dream I live in San Francisco still, the only parts of it I want to take with me are my friends. The rest is a city I could not settle in, a place I wrote a book about trying to belong to – a place that turned me in some respects into who I am today but I still ran away from. This two-ness is complicated, this sense of multiple homes.
One afternoon I walked with an old friend, Whitney, and her two year old son through Golden Gate Park, my phone dead, and every time they dashed ahead of me or ran into some grass to chase a bird or look for apples in a tree, I thought how lovely they looked together. Him, Moe, so small in his pea coat and beanie hat, her mad curly hair and green jacket, they were gorgeous. Last year when I was here, we explored the botanical gardens together, though barely anything was in bloom in the early February cold. I snapped photos of the pair of them playing then, and would have loved to steal just a fragment of that lovely energy this year, but I couldn’t take a photo, not this time. Still the image of them clambering up steps to big blue slides will live in my heart, beyond any pixel.
This is a home that is no longer home but it is still something, though I don’t have a name for that something yet.
Social media has kept me tethered, neatly, to my loved ones here in California and that is a deep luxury, a utopian thing. How you can forge a community of weirdos and artists and witches and somehow, though everyone grows up and away in eight years, still see their children as they grow. Watch their businesses thrive, their literary careers take flight, their bellies swell as they become pregnant, their hair growing out, their one-man-show getting rave reviews. I can remain a spectator, cheering at the sidelines of their lives, hyping their selfies, sliding into their DMs with news, or gossip. How there were so many moments this week where it felt like no time had passed at all, like somehow it was still 2012, or 13, or 14. I walked into the bookshop I once worked in and, the last of my cohort, Camden pointed out that a post-it I had written with some oblique joke on it was still taped to the wall. I touched it with my hands, this print of who I was, this I was here, I belonged here.
I got an iPhone the day I moved to California, started an Instagram account the next day. I started to chronicle my life performatively, for others, for my family and friends back home. I have moved to the Americas as this is my story! And in some ways, in the big unpacking of Me and The Internet that this column examines, this is where much of my tricky relationship with social media started – where my reality became one that relied on social media to stay connected to the people I loved. Where a selfie was proof I was alive, doing well, doing something, anything in America. Look at what I am eating, I have emigrated. Look at my apartment, I am managing to get by. Look, I have hung a sign that says COURAGE above my desk to keep me going. Look, look, look. Once, after I uploaded a selfie, my mother called. It was early in Ireland, very early. She asked me if I was alright, because something in my expression scanned wrong to her, though the caption was normal and to the casual spectator nothing was awry. However, I wasn’t alright, not by that stage. Even if I had been, her call reverberated.
When I moved home, the look, look, look reversed. The people who had kept me buoyant in San Francisco became the ones to stay in touch with, the ones to exchange the story of my life with from a distance, but close digital proximity. Look, Ireland is real. Look, here’s my family. Look, I found a place to live. Look, the cat is still huge, still hilarious.
And he’s waiting for us, in the house now, to arrive home to him, after this strange month rushing all over the planet. I have tried to take more slices of it than it took of me, but I am ready for my own sheets, my own kitchen, the sound of springtime storms at my window. I am ready for any strange duality I feel to settle back into a one-ness and to let the memories, both old and brand new, grow warmer and more lovely as I rest.
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