By Michael W. Harris
It is strange to me, when I think about too much, that I am one move away from living in all four continental US time zones. This strikes me as odd because I am, at my very core, a person who loathes to move. And even more so, when I was younger, I considered myself to be someone who was going to probably die not far from where they lived most of their life (i.e. – Kansas City, Missouri). Or at the very least, be within driving distance. So, when I stop and really consider that it has been over a decade since I last had a Missouri address, have now called three different states in three different time zones home, and, if I am being honest, feel a strong urge to eventually move to the fourth (preferably Washington or Oregon), it seems like there is a disconnect between who I am now and who I think I am…or at least who I used to be.
With any major move inevitably comes change. Changing location usually means changing jobs, changing social circles, and changing habits and patterns. All of which invariably leads to a change of who you are in some way. With each of my moves—first from home to undergrad, and then undergrad back to my hometown during my masters, and then off to Colorado three years later—I can see how I subtly changed, and yet, somehow, my own view of who I am did not keep up. In the end, leaving for Colorado was the biggest shift, if only because I changed a lot during my ten years living in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains.
So much of who I am was broken and remade during that decade. So many aspects of myself were altered while also building a robust network of friends and colleagues. All of this is what made leaving Colorado the hardest thing I had ever done. Simply put, I had accumulated a lot of “stuff,” both mental and physical.
Ask anyone who knows me and they will say that I love nothing more than building a home and nesting, and in doing so, I tend to accumulate a lot of stuff. In my </cough> years on this planet, I have actually moved very little, barring my undergraduate years when I tended to move every year to a different dorm or off-campus apartment. But back then I tended not to have a lot of physical stuff at least because I was a poor college student.
However, part of my desire to not move is also because it takes a long time for me to build a community and am loathe to leave it behind—the mental “stuff.” And yet, I feel like, right now, at this stage of my life, I almost believe that if I could somehow figure out a good way to minimize the amount of physical stuff I would have to move, the idea of being a permanent-wandering-visiting-temporary-librarian holds a certain appeal. It would have to be exactly that, though: permanent and temporary. I could not stay in one place more than a year, two at most, because that is how long it usually takes me to put down communal roots in a new place and begin to accumulate mental “stuff.”
While this urge to become what is being called a “digital nomad” goes against almost every instinct I have, it has the appeal of giving cover for my hermit-like qualities: desire for alone time, desire to avoid dramatic entanglement, and desire to shut myself away at the end of the day. It gives me an excuse for not seeking out such things with the answer of “I won’t be here long, so I would rather not make friends.” It also keeps me from learning too much about people’s politics and other such “drama” that inevitably comes with being in one place for too long.
As Sartre wrote: “Hell is other people.”
And yet…and yet…I know that I am not at my best when I lock myself away. When I do, when I draw so completely inward, yes it does allow me the time to explore myself, my mind, and my thoughts, but it also causes me to regress to an earlier state of being. One that forgets how to interact with others. Which, when your job forces you to interact with other people on a daily basis, is not the best thing. And increasingly, libraries, and especially research and instruction librarians, are becoming more and more about “engagement.”
If I am being honest, that is part of the job I really like and find most fulfilling. I like working with faculty members and I like working with students. I like collaborating with my co-workers on projects. However, moving to someplace new, learning new systems and structures, learning how to work with new people is stressful. I get anxious talking to new people and co-workers because every interaction is like a relearning experience for me. And when I get stressed like this it makes me, paradoxically, want to run away to someplace new.
Side note: this is also why I don’t go out and try to meet new people, make new friends, or even attempt to find a “dating scene.” Just the thought of it makes me anxious and I just put on my pajamas and turn on Netflix.
In the end, it makes me feel like I would much rather be in a state of constant motion, moving from place to place, moving from job to job, rather than putting down roots. Become a permanently wandering librarian. A bookslinger. A ronin subject liaison. Have search strategies, will travel.
So where does that leave me?
Everything is so fresh right now since I am still only a few months into my new job and new city, but I feel like I am back where I was ten years ago after I moved to Colorado. This latest migration of my body has caused my soul to regress to its state before setting out West. I am not sure what the future holds, and that terrifies me because things are so out of my control.
When I left for Virginia, I was not the same person as when I left Missouri for Colorado, and I guess I expected things to be different this time. That I would be the more outgoing and confident person that I had become in Colorado, but instead I got to Virginia and it was like I was in shock and just shut down emotionally. I reverted to the hermit that I had been before Colorado. The soul, the person, I had cultivated at the foot of the Rockies seems to have stayed there. Or at least a part of him. The part that was trying to learn not to be a recluse. I have returned to the “flight” mode of wanting to get out of here before I screw everything up. Before the fraud that I am is uncovered.
Oh, hello imposter syndrome. I thought I had left you behind as well. It is amazing that when you strip me of the support network I had built up in Colorado how all of my insecurities come flooding back.
But I am certain that I am not the same person I was ten years ago, or even five years ago. One way I know this is that I am much more aware of my mental processes and can recognize when I get into unhealthy thought patterns. And while I may not know how exactly to combat them, I can at least see when I start to enter into them and try to “head them off at the pass.” (I hate that cliché!)
This is getting a bit rambling, so let’s try to get back on track.
I think the next place I want to move is Washington state, but I am not sure if the reason why is a desire to be in control more than I am right now, to be back among mountains, or a host of other reasons. But I think it really does come down to a simple fact: I’m scared. Scared of not having a clear vision of my future, the uncertainty of where my career is going, the lack of clarity in my current job, and fearful that I made a mistake by moving. And all of this feeds into my resurgent imposter syndrome and fuels a feedback loop of terror. And when I get this way, I fold up into myself and my thought processes become like a dog chasing his own tail. I have an overwhelming urge to run away or otherwise flee to something comfortable and familiar.
I had a similar moment when I realized that I was a semester away from finishing my library degree and started looking at graduate programs in subjects like Japanese Culture, Philosophy, and Media Studies. It was a desire to not only remain in an academic environment, but also to forestall the economics of my impending student loan repayments.
You see, when these feelings take over my thought processes, I also tend to latch onto weird/ludicrous ideas or simple strangenesses (such as living in three different time zones) and dive down a rabbit hole deeper than YouTube’s recommendations list in order to avoid facing the realities of the future. It isn’t productive, but it can be distracting.
I really am a vastly different person than I was ten years ago, but I am also the same. I know myself better than I did then, but I am still that scared twenty-something who left Missouri and everything he knew for Colorado. Uncertain of the future. Unsure of himself. Unwilling to take another big chance after uprooting his entire life. But if “Hell is other people,” then what is being trapped inside your own mind? What is worse than Hell? Purgatory?
Maybe. At least in Hell you know where you stand. Purgatory has always struck me as endless uncertainty, and that is infinitely worse. Right now, I feel like I am in Purgatory and moving to that fabled fourth time zone is my mind trying to reach a state of salvation: the final transmigration of my soul.