My last day in New York: grey skies, rain, the Christmas lights throwing out a corona in the haze. I sit in a cafe, warming up: it’s cold here, the coldest part of my trip, and i’m ill prepared. Two jumpers, a thin coat and i’ve been shivering as i march along. Lessons learnt.
Tomorrow, i go home.
Home: both a place and a notion, an idea. Back to my community, my space, my friends and family, although, in the Social Age, i’m never far from any of them. Indeed, today i’ve had lunch with John on Wall Street: whilst we’ve never met in person before, it’s like meeting a friend. We’ve been connected in communities and spaces, #WorkingOutLoud for several years. Such is the nature of the Social Age, blurring boundaries, creating new spaces, shared spaces, which often have only a tentative root in the physical spaces we walk through in the rain.
Our shared spaces online are collaborative: often informal, often transient between different infrastructure technologies, but coherent in the thread of conversation. Shared values: shared purpose. Often a shared curiosity uniting us, bringing us together.
Home: a notion of navigation, of journeying coming to an end, an idea of endings, of circularity, of change, because the ‘me’ who comes home is never the ‘me’ who left. Travel changes us. Why? Because we learn, and to learn is to change.
The Faces in the cafe: all away from home, all co-located in this transient space. The girl with blonde hair and green wellington boots, hunched over a notebook (and actual paper notebook!), writing in furious bursts, part hidden behind her red coffee cup. College work? A poem? No, too furious for that. Maybe an assignment. Or love letter? Who writes love letters anymore? Love WhatsApp maybe, but letters? Letters from afar? Letters with mysterious stamps and postmarks, letters that arrive carrying tidings of foreign lands and distant travel?
The guys to my right, relaxed in armchairs, both gesturing widely in their woollen turtleneck and blue jeans: young, lattes and MacBooks, of course. It’s virtually the uniform. Maybe not that young after all: maybe here to escape the reality of life, mortgage and children whilst they share stories of past glories and shared adventures. Or maybe just moaning about work. Away from home, any story is a good story.
The girl behind, i think she’s Korean. I assume a language student, because her textbooks are foreign, but then remember this city of all cities is global. As likely she’s from the Bronx and studying for exams.
And me: writing, writing for my community, to capture my ideas, to reflect before homecoming.
Singapore seems a long time ago and, from here, a very long way. Probably twenty eight hours to fly. A different space, a different time. From Singapore to Thailand, my first time there: different in so many ways with it’s Asian bustle and smells, almost overwhelming. I always feel disjointed when i’m in Asia, for a few days, until i retune. I have to relax my ideas of home, adapt, find a new balance. Those busy cities are not my home, not my natural space. I feel like the stranger: walking compulsively as i try to build my mental map, as i try to attune to the new spaces and sensations.
Onwards: as the weeks unfurled like a sail, carrying me to Dubai: western, yet arabic. Capitalist, Islamic, rich, disjointed. Another period of adaptation: i started to get that sense of permanent transience you find when you lurch from one space to the next. A self fulfilling feeling of dislocation and orientation as you pass from hotel room to hotel room. The only familiarity my pack and the communities i carry with me.
Being thrown into Florida was relocation into a more familiar space: the States is always welcoming for me, easy to navigate. Not home, but familiar (although these days the brands on the high street carry familiarity to even the most far flung places). Five days in one space was longer than i normally endure: i am restless as best, impatient and uncomfortable when constrained at worst. But time enough to form a new community, make new friends, connect with old ones. Time for learning and reflection before my final few days in New York.
An old friend: when i was here last, i wrote the book about ‘Communities, Spaces and Performance’ and, in the process, fell fully in love with it. So a homecoming of sorts, but not my home. Sure, i wandered around 79th street until i found the cafe i loved, a familiar space to revisit. Indeed, this trip has been all about revisiting: at the end of five weeks on the road, i’m not about exploring today, but rather about trying to revisit roots, to anchor myself in one space and time. I’m jumping between familiar spaces, maybe trying to feel like i’m at home.
The Highline, one of my favourite urban spaces anywhere in the world, but this time, in the biting cold, something to be endured and conquered, not savoured and loitered over as when i was here before.
Maybe tonight a game at Madison Square Garden, or maybe i’ll let my feet carry me, through Times Square, over to Bryant Park, perhaps to the Rockefeller to see the ice rink, before a weary stomp up the west side of Central Park and back to the bar at my hotel.
Home to my own space: the point at which you walk in the door and the journey becomes the memory. No longer real but rather part of our journey. Something that we experienced, that changed us, but that lives in memory, not sound, sight and smell. Recollections: fragments, memories.
The journey is about discovery: the community is about sense making, the homecoming is about change. About what we bring back and what we leave behind.
The girl with blonde hair has finished, sat back now in her chair, reading. Relaxed after the intensity of writing. Maybe reflecting, maybe done. Maybe she’s told her story. Maybe a story that needed to be told.
Tomorrow: home. Tonight, a final chance to explore, to reach out, to get lost, to find new spaces, to delight in the sense of dislocation that comes from letting your feet take you ever further, take the wrong turns, get lost and, finally, welcome the embrace of going home.