I was just rewatching a small scene in the TV show Boardwalk Empire, where one of the main characters, Chalky White, asks his mistress, Daughter Maitland, to sing him a song “like you’re tying up a secret inside”:
Maitland: “I don’t know any secrets, I just know how I feel.”
Chalky: “And how dat?”
Maitland: “You spend your life walking all over the world- but you never find your place… cause there isn’t one.”
I can’t explain why, but this snippet of dialogue struck me deeply when I heard it. I guess it’s because I feel like even though I’ve walked all over the world, I still can’t find my place either. Maybe it’s because I was born in one country, and then brought to another as a 10 year old- from the UK to the US.
I think your soul just gets divided between two different cultures when you’re an immigrant, and in the end you don’t quite belong to either one. When I live in the US, I don’t feel very American. When I go home to London to visit old friends and family, I definitely don’t feel British either- though my wife finds my habit of eating baked beans on toast coupled with milk in my tea nauseating.
Even after living most of my life in the Bay Area (discounting travel and living abroad), people almost automatically pick up on my mixed-up London accent and ask me where I’m from. “Oh, do you have an accent?” “Where are you from? Brooklyn? Australia? Ireland?” I must sound like some odd hybrid between Cockney and California surfer dude drawl. I guess it makes me unique and breaks the ice in conversations.
Even after moving with my family to Cali, I still went back to visit London in the summer, and then onwards to do some traveling on the Continent. I moved away for college, and then went further still to study in Scotland for a year. Then to come back.
Onwards to Tokyo, Japan to teach English to kids. Then more working and saving to go backpacking, take Spanish lessons and volunteer in Central America. The only thing that interested me in my Twenties was working my ass off, saving a bunch of money, and then using that for the next expedition to points unknown.
Then I met my wife at a friends wedding in Brazil. 3 years of long distance back and forth (and many miserable Skype conversations!), finally brought me to Sao Paulo, Brazil where I got married and lived and taught business English.
After 4 years, wanting to reconnect with family, I’m now back in the Bay Area again. But the San Francisco has become a place that I’m finding more and more difficult to recognize. As rising costs, obscene traffic and new people apparently obsessed only with money move in, I question whether my future is here at all…
Growing up in San Francisco, I never felt quite freakish or cool enough to fit into the counterculture weirdness of Haight Ashbury. I never quite fit into any defined subculture either; not Punk, nor the Deadheads, nor the Skaters etc etc.
I’m not gay, but I remember being on Castro Street on Halloween (it used to be a serious party before it got taken over by the knuckleheads and shut down), and thinking to myself: “Wow! No matter where you are in this world, if you’re gay: you can at least always call this neighborhood home. This is where you can come and walk down the street, and you’re not a freak, a deviant, a sinner, an outcast or a criminal. There’s always a refuge for you.”
I was actually quite envious of that to tell the truth. I always wished there was a street or neighborhood where everybody was just like me and understood my thoughts and experiences, but I just don’t think it exists. Maybe just online(?)
I like what Emilie Wapnick over at Puttylike.com writes about being what she calls “The In-Betweens”: Those who defy categorization and straddle many different worlds, cultures, identities and groups of friends- but never quite fitting into any one of them 100%. The only thing that unites them is a mutual life “in-between” everything else. Perhaps I’m just an “In-Betweener” then…
I’m not sure if there is a culture or home that truly represents me in the end. Maybe my life has just been too different from most people I meet. After living abroad, discovering new cultures and learning new languages and ways of life, “home” just isn’t quite the same. Your old friends haven’t changed much, they’re still doing the same things they were doing before you left. But YOU HAVE CHANGED in undefinable ways.
And then I also get caught in the trap that the grass is always greener on the other side: That the next romantic place, city or location will be always sound better/more exciting/more authentic/more “real”/more interesting: Dublin! Istanbul! Paris! The World Is My Oyster!
I think it’s important to notice these patterns in my own thoughts. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, or a concept that drives my passions to live an interesting and fulfilling life. But when I do get to that other place, I then find that it’s not really the utopia I imagined it was going to be. There’s always going to be Positives and Negatives, just like everywhere else.
I do try to remember the saying that “Home is Where The Heart Is”, wherever the people are that love me is the most important, but damn, if I still don’t get the bug to see what’s yonder over that hill in the distance…