Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Settling Down: A Reflection

My blogging buddy Valerie and I decided we would both share our thoughts on settling down. Read Val's thoughts on her blog.

I'm leaving again. I haven't lived in the same place or had the same job for more than a year since 2007. The next few months promise to be especially unsettled as I try to cobble together a temporary existence while I wait to be invited to a Foreign Service A-100 class.

Despite the city-hopping, short-term contract, itinerant life I lead (and enjoy), I've thought about settling down. The question is - what exactly does settling down mean? A 9-5 with a retirement plan? A wife and kids? A mortgage? A mini-van? Given the highly mobile life that I and many of my peers live, some of these things seems very far off, if not impossible.

Believe it or not, I've had times that I've felt very settled in the past six years. I've managed to use two weapons to fight against the feeling that I'm perpetually in a temporary situation: knick-knacks and routines.

Knick-knacks. Those useless pieces of junk that belong in a garage sale. Yes. A bathroom is just a bathroom until I put my toothbrush, razor and comb in my UNHCR coffee mug. Then it's my bathroom. Above my door, no matter if I'm living in Madrid, Redwood City, Bratislava or Washington DC, you'll find my Australian boomerang, a souvenir and reminder of the first time I ever really left the country. On my desk at Banco Santander I kept a Nalgene bottle from grad school. It was a small gesture, but every morning I came in and rather than seeing a hunk of metal that was used before I came and would be used after I left, I saw my space. Knick-knacks help create a space. And no matter how long you're in that space, you can call it home if you make it yours.

Do you notice how when you're on vacation, you never feel completely settled? Instead, you almost feel more relaxed when you get home, pull out your laundry to wash it and do some errands? For me, it's the daily routines that turn a vacation into a life. The menial quotidian tasks that take away some excitement but also add a level of comfort. When you move from place to place, it's best to find routines you can do anywhere. Going for a long run is tiring whether you're in Oakland or Bologna. Cooking dinner every evening takes away the exotic edge of living abroad. Last of all, the routine of keeping in touch with my family and friends through Skype and phone calls adds perspective to life that can sometimes seem overwhelming.

Nevertheless, as I commented to Valerie, I would love to have a bookshelf with books on it. That's a level of settled-down-ness that I haven't yet reached. So for now, I have my boomerang and my mug.