The Homing Instinct


NOTES ON TRAVEL IN GENERAL

Compared to Nicaragua, I haven’t yet traveled as much in Thailand, because once I found Chiang Mai I stopped looking. I imagine there are all sorts of wonderful places to live and to visit, but I’ll just have to find them one at a time, because I find drifting around to be slightly exhausting. I enjoy living in one place and knowing how to navigate my surroundings. Little victories, like knowing where to buy the best estate grown coffee, or who sells the best pineapples within fifty yards of my house are a lot more meaningful to me than reading a travel guide and then checking out yet another tourist site.

I think there’s a powerful homing instinct in all people, and it becomes magnified the farther you are from home. I’ve met backpackers who have roamed the world for more than a year, but they seem dizzy and listless. They can’t invest too much energy into talking to you, because for them, you won’t be here tomorrow. They’ll have moved on. I remember feeling the same way once when I was on a five-week tour with my comedy troupe.

We were playing a state college somewhere in Nebraska or the Dakotas, and I was at the party after the show, making small talk with a student, when I realized that I couldn’t remember where we were. As I feigned interest in the conversation, I worried this could be seen as a serious symptom of existential angst, that my life was way out of whack. After all, I didn’t even know what state I was in, much less who this person was! That thought was soon countered by another…who cares, tomorrow you’ll be somewhere else entirely.

There is a time in your life when that might seem more exciting than depressing, but for this geezer abroad, that time has passed. Even if I get the itch to go somewhere else, I’ll make a conscious choice to find a specific place and fit in as best I can.

SHOPPING FOR PLACES TO LIVE IS LIKE SHOPPING FOR ANYTHING, THE SHOPPING ITSELF BECOMES ADDICTIVE

As soon as I moved to Thailand, I saw a travel site lauding Uruguay, and wondered if I should have moved there. When I’m shopping for anything, shoes, motorcycles, houses, as soon as I make a choice and actually buy something, I become sad. Now I only have one of these things, whereas before I had the promise of all of them!

Magazines and websites are mostly designed to appeal to the broadest possible audience, and they do this by trumpeting the widest possible array of things that might lure readers. But you can’t buy all the things, just one. They keep telling you that this is a service they’re providing, helping you express your personality and individuality by making shopping choices, but I think more likely they’re playing on the addictive and superficial nature of shopping, and helping you justify your addiction.

When I was in high school, I first started looking at popular photography magazines. It soon became apparent that they were allowing their advertisers to dictate the magazine content, and that the magazine itself was just sort of a joint catalog for the camera companies. The fact that they were able to charge for this whorish behavior seemed laughable.

But today, those magazines still thrive, and somewhere, somebody is still plunking down five bucks for Popular Photography. Some writer is being paid to write a content-free article called “The Best Top Ten Zoom Lenses!” Nonsense sells.

And there an even greater number of web sites which promise the moon and deliver next to nothing. All the author did was tabulate keywords for which many people are searching, and link to those. But when you arrive at the promised page, there’s nothing there but a few lines of general prose that could have been written by a semi-literate Martian. Maybe it will include a stock photo borrowed from the web, a photo which may or may not have anything to do with the purported subject matter. 

IF YOU’RE GOING TO ACTUALLY MOVE SOMEWHERE, EITHER SELLING ALL YOU HAVE LEFT BEHIND OR PUTTING IT INTO STORAGE, THEN IT MAKES SENSE TO APPROACH THE DECISION WHICH AS MUCH RIGOR AS YOU CAN MUSTER.

Remember, after a certain point, not making a decision is making a decision. As anyone who’s tried it knows, sitting on a fence hurts. So once you start the process, you might as well set yourself a deadline for taking action, or you’ll spend a lot of time in between a rock and a hard place. And that can get expensive.

Like most people, I left the remainder of my belongings in plastic tubs and cardboard boxes, in storage back in the States. After a few years I’ll go home and decide what to do with it. I’ll find tub after tub of paper, my children’s drawings, old tax forms, to-do lists from twenty five years ago. Although I went to great pains to winnow all this down before I left, there are still plenty of pieces of paper that passed the first test, but will fail this last one. Likewise, the tubs of VHS cassettes, audio cassettes, LP’s, moldy books and fungus-spotted shoes will all have to be taken to the dump, because Goodwill won’t want them.

And then I’ll be left with ten plastic tubs of things I still can’t let go of, one-of-a-kind photos that I can’t imagine destroying but don’t know who else would want them, a few things too odd to be sold at a garage sale, but too precious to discard. These I will put in the smallest storage unit I can find, and dutifully pay rent on tor, say five more years, probably paying as much in rent for storage as I will on house rent where I’m living abroad.

IN YOUR TRAVELS YOU WILL MEET SEVERAL UNHAPPY SOULS WHO CAN’T STOP HOPING AND BELIEIVING THAT A BETTER PLACE IS JUST OVER THE HORIZON.

These people are afraid to set down roots of any kind, because they’re convinced that Shangri-La is just over the next mountain range. There, the prices are even lower, the girls even prettier and sweeter, the air cleaner.

Having identified these tendencies in myself, I don’t want to fall victim to their siren call. Here in Thailand, I have met several middle-aged men whom I would have to call sex-addicts. If they were fifteen years old, I could more easily forgive the greedy kid in the candy store, with eyes both burning and glazed, grabbing for all he can grasp.

Although these types exist everywhere, here in this exotic setting they seem more concentrated and starkly delineated. I once saw a poster that read “Some people’s whole purpose in life is to serve as a warning for others.”


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