“Man, you really have your routine” my roommate said earlier this year.
Jordan Peterson, who due to his new prominence and popularity now appears consistently in my YouTube side bar, says somewhere in his endearing Canadian accent; “You gotta have a routine!”
My routine at the time was to pace around the kitchen area of the apartment, barefoot on the green tiles while preparing my black tea and listening to some kind of podcast. I would usually use Soundcloud because I like the format. I would also sometimes use Duolingo, something I try not to do too much of given its inability to make the words stick in my head. How many hours did I spend trying to learn Russian? One needs tangible experiences to make the words stick.
The problem with such a routine is that the days sometimes appear to blend together. I need new images, sounds and smells to cut the weeks and months into memorable segments. I need new ideas and new arguments to keep the cognitive machine running smoothly. New things, new people, and new places result in greater productivity, so my thinking went.
But it must be counterbalanced. This year, I’ve been all over the place; by the end of 2017 I will have been in at least eleven countries. This has taken somewhat of a toll on my ability to do what I wanted to do; read more books, write more, draw more, learn languages.
As I write this, I’m in a hostel in Budapest, Hungary. I’ve gotten quite comfortable in this place and so have built up a mini-routine involving coffee and talking to the travelers and students with whom I share this space. I’m already attached in a small way to the table and bench at which I’m sitting, the books piled to my left by the lamp, the creaky stairs the hostel employees use to go up and down.
A Swedish girl I met a little over a month ago told me she prefers to stay in a place for a couple of months so she gets to know it. I think three weeks is a good limit. But to tour a foreign place for only a few days detracts from productivity.
I don’t imagine most people would choose to travel all the time even if they were able to. I imagine it can be emotionally taxing for most people to move around a lot. Normal people miss the reminders of home. They crave predictability. Why else do they go hundreds of miles away and eat McDonald’s?
A couple of years ago I used an image from my thirteen year-old mind in a short story. This is an image I had of looking down the white/green hallway we used in eighth grade and experiencing a melancholy realization; that the cycle of the seasons and corresponding school year was never going to play out like a linear story with a beginning, middle, and end. Life wasn’t going to work like a story with each chapter having a meaning that fit neatly. Years later a plethora of essays and books were available to explain the cyclical view of history.
My first college roommate liked to repeat the phrase “everything happens for a reason” (which felt to me like an oddly effeminate high-school-girl phrase for this big Italian guy who played rugby and lacrosse). What I think he meant was that everything that happens to us in our lives, no matter how disappointing or painful, is part of an overall order to things that ultimately works out for the best. It implies a kind of vague religious belief; I trust that everything that happens is ok in the end, because it was supposed to happen.
But this same phrase can be taken to mean the opposite when inflected differently: Causes simply have effects. But even that (and I have Will to Power to thank for clarifying this for me last year) isn’t quite right; There is no being, only becoming. In other words, there is just process, in which you and I are parts that are visible only here and now. A leads to B, and B leads to C. The reason the accident happened was because all the conditions were met. The reason the money got transferred was because the numbers added up, there was supply and demand. People had the means and will to do the thing, so the thing got done.
Travelling has done away with this childlike desire in me for there to be a story-like narrative. I don’t care about the story arch anymore. If I move to Y place, I don’t carry a sentimentality about X place. Maybe that’s like getting over a breakup, and each new location is the dopamine hit that overrides the negative feels from being uprooted. I’m a true millennial after all. After Generation Z, we are the most bored generation.
I remember being told at age fifteen that the world had gotten so much smaller during the twentieth century. I heard the words, but how could I process them when even the road and tall trees around me at the time felt like an infinite terrain with its own mysteries and ecosystem. But I get it now. Fewer people and places are intimidating. The guy who wants to steal my money or the Gypsie child who wants to sell me drugs aren’t these terrible things anymore. Just people who don’t have a better way to get by. Vast oceans are now just place rides. The Roman Empire is visible on Google Maps.
There’s a lot more writing coming. This routine of no routine finds coffee-filled breaks here and there.
(The kitchen of my Taiwan apartment in March)