At times, I feel writing about nomadism is a gross absurdity. Who am I to call myself a nomad?
I finished my work for the day early - would’ve been done by noon, if I had woken at 5:30 when my alarm went off. I was two hours delayed, but still made the 8:00 call with a developer in Edinburgh, who I’m working with since I picked up a small contract job when I was there last month. By the time I finished my work, at two, I was in a cafe near my apartment. I closed my laptop, reopened it, fired off another email. Closed it again, reopened it, messaged someone on Slack. Closed it again, decided that was enough for the day. Let’s get to the real work, as Snyder calls it - the writing. I wave to the baseball-capped guy behind the counter. He smiles back.
I start to walk home. In the park next to my house, named after islands in the mid-Atlantic I visited last year, I stop, drop my bag, and begin slow, thoughtful motions - my tai chi practice. Last week, a woman yelled at me from the sidewalk, “I alway see you!” I kept going, heard her repeat to her friend, “I always see him.” At the time, I smiled. Having finished today, I drop off my larger computer at my apartment, grab a book of poetry and $20, and head back out again, walk down the block. There, on the corner, Chez Jose, a small family run restaurant, with Brazilian flare and music. The table I’m writing on could be a reimagining of a phoenix or a Chinese dragon, the orange is so vibrant, vortices of color unloosed on the lacquer. The burst is comforting, on a gray day like today. I read some blue, watery poetry, a friend’s writing that I picked up at her reading at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. While I wait, the server brings me my usual dish - a breakfast sandwich, with jambon and cheddar, and an americano. I practice my Quebecois, fall back to English when my pronunciation of lait chaud fails.
Are you nomadic, if you have a restaurant where they know your face? If strangers recognize you on the street? If the baristas at the coffee shop know your mother tongue, apologize for the flies this week?
Technically, I don’t live here. I leave for months at a time - January, it’s Buenos Aires. June, July - Berlin and Scotland. Last October - Japan. Sometimes, I stop by home, check the mail from my PO Box in Cambridge, say hi to my cousins. Today, I called my senators in Massachusetts, gave them my zip code, asked them to keep the net neutral. I depend on it, for my livelihood - without the internet as it is, I wouldn’t be able to work from anywhere. I’d have to get a real job, a tie, fold up and store my hoodie for good. God forbid.
But what is living, if not existing in a place for a time? Is it having your name on an telephone bill? My girlfriend pays extra for the wifi, here, so that I can have faster internet at home (and I subsidize this, of course). Is it having a place to receive packages? Every month, I scour Craigslist for puerile trading cards, to play over wine in the evenings. I get them shipped here. Is it a tax identity? If so, I live in Delaware, not Massachusetts, as most of my income goes through my LLC there. Is it patriotism? I ignored Canada Day, just as much as the fourth of July.
In French, the word for border is frontier. I’m watching Star Trek a few nights a week this month, lying on the couch with my girlfriend, drinking earl grey tea. Every time Picard starts the opening monologue, I think of the festival I gave a workshop in, in France, years ago. Everyone there was talking about cafes, full of Frenchmen, Germans, Walloons and Flemings, about languages swapped over coffee as casually as names. My workshop was on Na’vi, the invented language from the movie Avatar, which I was an expert in. As far as I know, I was the only person in the festival for whom ‘frontier’ was inextricable with space. This gave me a different perspective - borders don’t lock you in, they open you up. They point to an open-ended other. A border is the beginning of possibility, not a fence between two fields. Like the American frontier, the other side seem to go on forever (until it doesn’t).
Being nomadic is being ambiguous. It’s adding complexity to your life. You live in a liminal zones, always crossing a border, never quite reaching the next one.
I meant to write this post months ago, when I first started visiting Montreal. But I was never here long enough to start, to know where I was. I was just passing through. I kept putting it off, waiting for some solidity.
And now, I’m realizing that that may never come. This is it, as solid as it gets. And for now, my sandwich eaten, my coffee growing cold, I’m OK with that.
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