Long term concrete commitments often impose a routine and structure that many people will moan about on occasion, but actually find highly comforting. It would be a lie to say I’m not the same, but by choosing to use the extra freedom in my life, I’ve managed to make many of these restrictions rather more malleable. I no longer have a set abode, or a car. Even my phone bill is an irregular expense. Instead, I play a game of constant adaption as I move from one home to another.
My meal times change. In some places eating quickly is the norm. In others a three-course meal for lunch happens instead. Maybe the household leaps into life early in the morning. Or perhaps the morning happens before eyes are fully open. The kids are herded into a car in a trance. Some houses exhibit long periods of stillness where everyone is out at work. Others are always vibrant with activity. People chat in the kitchen, gather in the living room. Dinner parties take place with an extravagant barbecue, fried shrimps or roast potatoes and a glazed roast ham as the centrepiece. Perhaps there’s a long pause in the dark of the night in which people gather to quietly share a bottle of wine, watch television or simply reflect on the day whilst sorting the laundry.
Each arrangement dictates a different rhythm. To enjoy living in somebody else’s house you need to be in harmony with their routine. Sometimes this means letting go of the attachment you’ve made to your own habits and comforts.
Travelling often feels like the wrong word to describe what I do. Its connotations of trains, planes and lost luggage emphasise movement. Whereas, for me at least, the important part of travel is the process of adjustment that comes as you settle into a place. In this adjustment phase you’re faced with accepting that the baby is always going to be screaming at half past seven in the morning. You might as well wake up. Furthermore, your morning run isn’t plausible at 30 degrees Celsius. At lunch you learn the correct response to octopus is ‘gracias’. Even if it’s purple. And then you’re hungry at 7 but dinner’s at 9. You make a snack and treat the inconveniences as they truly are: all in your mind.
If you looking at the challenges of travel with this perspective, they’re not so different to the challenges of temporarily returning home. Here, there’s no screaming baby, but I still need to adapt. I have to accept that there’s no point trying to understand the location of the compost bucket, that the to-do list has nothing to do with what is achievable in a timely fashion, and that the best solution to avoid damp washing up gloves is to steal, hide and guard a pair for yourself. It’s not personal, it’s cultural.
The downside to all this is that my life suffers from a lack of routine and structure. This isn’t a complaint, it is an observation and a recognition of something I need to work on.
Part of this is simply me. The tedium of routine and the restrictions of structure terrify me. For whatever reason, I’ve swayed towards the side of the scale that prefers freedom and curiosity to certainty and stability.
Travelling and returning home are both great educators. The challenge now is to balance the variety I cherish with actually getting stuff done. Whilst my first priority is happiness – happiness I’m convinced comes through strong dynamic loving relationships and you can’t create them sitting alone – it’s not my only priority. Life isn’t just about sharing a pot of tea and having a good chat. When it comes to the other things I do, such as writing or painting, I must pull away from the social allure of belonging. I need space to be creative. I must switch of the phone, close the door and work.