Life is a Trip Where are You Going

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“Every Day Do One Thing That Will Take Your Breath Away”, Hamilton, Montana.

I am no longer moving, so the ‘bound’ of my blog title is more about being bound ‘to’ something rather than bound ‘for’ something.

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Cowgirl’s Corner, Corvallis, Montana

I am no longer thinking about having moved to Missoula, but am starting to think about leaving. Why is it so hard to just be here now? This is the flaw in the plan to live somewhere for a year. It takes a few months to get used to your new surroundings and a few months to prepare to leave it, which means you only have a small window of time in which to simply ‘be’. As a result of this, we may stay for two years.

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A leaf-strewn front lawn around the corner from our house in Missoula.

Missoula has a lot to offer me right now. For one, the writers in this town are so good, and so open. Missoula, and Montana in general, seems to attract a certain type of very honest writer. There are readings every week in one of the two independent bookshops or at the university. There is no sense at these readings that the author you have come to hear has more important people to talk to than the people who buy and love their books (i.e. those of us in the audience), although I am sure they do. The after parties here in Missoula are inclusive events. They are invariably at another writer’s house and you will often find yourself sitting around a campfire talking books and smoking cigars.

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A window in Ford’s Department Store, Hamilton, Montana

Simply being somewhere new opens up the parts of one’s mind and soul that allow newness in. Last night I went to see Gary Ferguson read from his recently published book “The Carry Home”. He talked about love, loss and wilderness in such a way that I actually cried. Yup. Sitting there in my folding chair with a Kleenex held to my face. I have also seen Pete Fromm, Walter Kirn, Chris Dombrowski, Malcolm Brooks, Gwen Florio, David Allen Cates, Bernard Cooper, Rick Bass, Bruce Holbert, Carrie LaSeur … these are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head. Google any of them and read their books. They are all true and honest writers, doing interesting and wonderful things with words. So Missoula is good for writers (I can see the bumper sticker) and for me now, that is important. Being surrounded by writers is a huge shove towards finishing what I have set out to do here: write. Despite this, I still find myself missing London and I cannot really understand why.

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The view from my window after a snowfall in Missoula.

I recently came across the word “Hiraeth”, which is a Welsh word with no English equivalent. The closest word to it is the Portuguese “Saudade” which is the wellspring for Fado music. Hiraeth means a longing or a homesickness for a place one has lived which no longer exists or which one can no longer return to. Sometimes people compare it to nostalgia but it is much deeper than that. I don’t know if I have ever had this longing. I certainly haven’t had it for my home town or my home country. I have never felt a longing for Ottawa or Canada. But I have had it for a place I am not from.

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A wedding shop in Missoula, Montana.

Since first stepping foot in London in 1990, I have left it twice with the thought of perhaps living somewhere else. The first time was to return to a boyfriend in Toronto. When I got to Toronto a friend said to me “I feel your London chapter isn’t over”. He was right and ten months after signing a lease in the Annex, I was heading back to Heathrow. My boyfriend followed and took up a scholarship to Oxford. Unlike me, he didn’t click with the British. So he accepted another scholarship to Harvard. I followed. But Cambridge, Massachusetts was not for me. I had tried New York too, and although I loved it, the pull of London was too strong to resist. I have lived in London pretty solidly from 1992 to 2014 (with one more short New York stint in 2002) and it feels like home. Even when I knew not one soul there, it felt like home. The reasons for this are not things I can wrap up neatly in a list. My love of the city is irrational. There is much I don’t like about it, and yet, there is an ingredient x, like a lover’s smell, that keeps me wanting it.

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The road to Missoula from Hamilton, Montana.

In October of 1990 I got a room at the top of a huge house owned by Sir Arthur and Lady Rachel Drew across the road from Kew Gardens. They were as improbable as they sound. Sir Arthur was happy to share his wine cellar with me and nights in his club on the Mall (the Athenaeum) where he went to eat steak out of sight of the vegetarian Lady Rachel. My room cost an improbably 20 quid a week but had no heating and hot water came on for an hour in the morning only in the shower, not in the sink. I got chilblains. Even those seemed romantic. I was free and searching. London accepted me as I was.

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A neighbour’s bird house in Missoula.

Is there room in one’s life for more than one ‘home’? Maybe one’s heart can only be in one place at a time, much like one can only really give oneself to one lover at a time. Perhaps one can be unfaithful to a city as much as to a person.

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Valley Bible in the Bitteroot Valley, near Lolo, Montana

For me being ‘home’ is simply a state in which I don’t question whether I am home or not. When I am in London, I no longer question whether it is my home. The same way I no longer question whether I will spend my life with J. Of course, things change, people move on, J could fall in love with the proverbial ‘younger model’ and I could be brutally mugged in London and find myself longing to live somewhere less violent. Life is fluid.

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God’s Healing Hands Ministry, near Lolo, Montana.

Home. I have always felt guilty for not loving where I am from. Maybe this is why I have taken to my surrogate home with such fervor. Like an orphan, I am terribly defensive about my adoptive city. I have been living under London’s grey skies for two decades now. I have seen my neighbourhood go from a cheap, gritty part of town to a hipster parody of itself. I have seen rents soar and people shoved out. I have seen the country go from the Tories, to Labour and back again. And I have put up with the class system and despise it for being the invisible boa constrictor in the room, squeezing out any equality with its scaly muscular body. There is much to dislike about London. And yet. And yet. I cannot dislike it.

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Hamilton, Montana.

Maybe part of why I am withholding my love for Missoula is because I know I am leaving. In Russian there is a separate verb for ‘to go, with the intention of returning’. I feel perhaps this is where I am getting stuck in allowing an unbridled acceptance of Missoula. Maybe, simply because I have one metaphorical foot still in London, I can’t fully embrace being here. Which brings me back to just ‘being’. If I could only be in the moment more and not compare Missoula to Ottawa or to London and not think about returning ‘home’ to my adoptive city, I think I would find myself living a much richer experience. I will try and live one moment at a time and see if that erodes some of my paralyzing analysis of place. Life is good here, now at this moment. And the moment is all there is.

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