Small Homes in Large Spaces

There's this bit (I think it might be in Heretics but really just the entirety of Manalive while we're at it) where G. K. Chesterton criticizes Kipling for something like being a man who is so much thinking as a world traveler that he has never bothered to understand home. If you happen to have read Manalive, I'm drawing a connection with the idea of being actively, even aggressively content with your circumstances rather than endlessly pursuing others, that is, occupying your own small world rather than always seeking something out in the bigger one.

I have this conundrum where I don't like small spaces, but I don't want to take the whole world for granted either.

It can be stifling, after all--the small space, that is. I was just reading this New Yorker article called "Life in the Nineties" by Roger Angell, and he talks about the comfort of a serene almost-boredom, when one has had the same friends for decades, the same haunts, the same daily patterns. The predictability is no longer a threat, but rather has become a friend itself. I sympathize with that sort of sentiment--I do, after all, go to the same coffee shop every morning around the same time to order the same thing and do more or less the same sort of work for the same amount of time--but still, it sounds like a gradual slide into claustrophobia. If you have to ask yourself whether you're doing something because you want to or because you have to, then maybe it's time to rethink your routine.

Coffee shops aren't the only things that become fixtures. The way we think. The way we choose to communicate. Our relationships that don't really go anywhere, but are what we know, so we stagnate in a back and forth between appreciation for loyalty, or at least longevity, and aggravation over those quirks that we have learned to live around without ever quite resigning ourselves to them. We put off ambitions until tomorrow, because what we're doing right now seems to be working for us, if we just ignore five, ten, fifteen years of duct tape and krazy glue. And slowly the world shrinks into an infinity of circles.

I loved the moment this morning when I was, yes, drinking my usual morning americano while eavesdropping on the accent of an American supervisor meeting with his English supervisee and reading the aforementioned New Yorker article. There are many things I could say in Cambridge's favor, but one thing is for sure, I never quite get to feel like the world is small here. I am perpetually reminded, whether from overhearing French, German, Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, Japanese, so on, so forth or from brushing the tips of my fingers lightly along the disconnected connectedness of home ever presently but impotently invading the here and other, that though Cambridge is small, the world is huge, vibrant, complex, and not as far away as it seems.

How long, though, until that feeling too becomes commonplace?

It's so easy to get addicted to a feeling without even noticing it. I became so accustomed to moving at one point that it felt wrong to stay anywhere longer than ten months. I didn't know how to live past the introduction, familiarization, beyond the strangeness into acculturation. Selective vulnerability comes cheap and easy when you know it doesn't have to last for very long. It was the thrill of newness coupled with re-creation--just move on before the gaps show through, and you have to deal with what's behind them. It's like the illusion of freedom that comes from skinny dipping. Like if I just take all my clothes off, all of the expectations, constraints, failures, whatever, somehow I will be liberated from all of the hurt and the pressure.

Where to suspend oneself between wanderer in the broad world, at risk of jaded cynicism, and occupant of a self-sufficient yet tiny space, at risk of suffocation? Not a question I'll pretend to have an answer to - nor do I think there is any particularly objective one. As usual, they both have their place, somehow, in the bigger picture. So perhaps, for now, to embrace the time but remembering to look it full in the face, every now and again, to trace its peculiarity and recall its fragility, and at last to go home without protest, relinquishing what is no longer right nor life-giving.