Made and Remade Continually

In Florence, The Art of Travel Spring 2018, 15. Farewells by Tia3 Comments

“To say that I came from a country was to say that a country was an absolute, a fixed point in place and time.”  This is what writer-photographer Taiye Selasi argues in a 2015 TED talkDon’t ask me where I’m from, ask me where I’m local.   Selasi argues that our notion of statehood is constructed, and our attachment to a country for our identity does not address the multiplicity of human experiences that form our composite identities.

Since the fall of 2016, I have lived in four countries, each with very unique and different cultural outlooks and living arrangements.  I’ve been in Toronto (where I am from) to live with my family and work over winter and summer holidays, in New York for my freshman year of school, in London for the fall of 2017, and now in Florence for the spring.  In June, I will go back to Canada, and then back to New York in August.  As such, travel has become my permanent state and the idea of being static or in one place – even for a week – seems like a way of living that I have forgotten how to navigate.  I am never in one place long enough to decorate a “bedroom,” to qualify for a grocery store points card, to bother with buying spices that I won’t ever finish.  I have lived out of a medium-sized suitcase for four months and only a backpack for the past two.  I have made a new group of friends every season, and then said good-bye just as it felt as though we had gotten over the initial “bonding” phase.

The stress of living in flux is real, and at times I’ve questioned why I put myself through a lifestyle riddled with so many inconsistencies.  But the human evolutionary capacity for adaptation is truly a miracle, and over time I have come to understand and accept that “change” is my new notion of “constant.”  Now, the idea of getting on a plane and throwing myself into a different language or culture feels more familiar and fixed than the idea of going back to my childhood home does.

I turned 20 this week and it was a big deal for me.  Although 18 and 19 grant you access to different legal privileges, like voting, drinking, and being an official ‘adult,’ 20 is more evocative of a new period in life, in which one’s future and identity (we are told) begin to crystallise.  In the lead-up to my birthday, I considered how I have changed – not just in terms of my surroundings and my achievements – but in terms of who I am and what I want, over my 20th year.  Coincidentally (or maybe not), a lot of these meditations took place in one of my favourite places in the world – Hampstead Heath in London, where I went for a quick getaway last weekend (thanks, 6:00am Ryanair flights), to visit my old haunts and friends; returning to a meaningful place that I had said good-bye to only 5 months ago was cathartic and eye-opening.  I thought that I hadn’t grown as much as I had hoped during my time abroad, but I returned to London with a sense of self that wasn’t really there when I had left in December.  I feel more curious, more confident, more self-aware, in ways that being alone, travelling, getting off of technology, or taking risks prompt us to become.

While in Hampstead, I stopped in at my favourite bookstore and picked up a novel to take with me as I backpack for 2 weeks at the end of the semester.  I chose Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, and as I turned it over, I noticed a quotation on the back that seemed to sum up everything I was ruminating on: “I am made and remade continually.”

Toronto. New York. London. Italy. Everywhere I have visited in between.  All of these places are parts of the composite, evolving identity and sense of self that I occupy.  Change is not a specific event to be precious about or to fear, but something constant, and something that I have learned to embrace this year more than ever.


(Image: Fotoautomatica strips from every month in Florence (January-May); Source: Tia)

Comments

  1. Your life is so exciting! I can’t imagine jumping from place to place and living out of a suitcase, but your writing conveyed a lot of the emotion that must accompany that lifestyle. The Woolf quote is beautiful, and it’s well suited to your story so far. Novelists tend to be experts on travel, whether they’re writing about foreign lands or trying to transport us to fictional ones. For Paris, I think of writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway who weren’t from here but became local, the clever distinction you brought up. As many people have said in past posts, you can make anywhere feel like home; in your case, it sounds like you’ve made a home in the idea of constant change, which sounds daring, difficult, and just plain fun.

  2. I can imagine it would be difficult to constantly jump from city to city, country to country. While exciting, the constant reinvention takes a lot out of you (while of course building up a character even stronger than before). I think it’s really cool that you took those Fotoautomatica pictures each month while in Florence; with constant change, I’m sure you need at least one stable thing to hold on to, or even just document what’s going on. I’m curious––do you think you’re going to keep traveling and shifting your locality, or finally settle on one permanent home? Either way, I wish you luck, and keep writing!

  3. You have such a unique perspective on this semester seeing as you’ve already spent so much unrooting your life and moving to new places. I really like how you made the connection of how you’ve never been in one place long enough to qualify for a grocery store points card or decorate a bedroom. A semester abroad is definitely a time where you feel like you’re being remade. The dual impact of being our age and moving to a foreign environment really affects how we’re developing as people, so I appreciate your commentary of how your 20th birthday coincided with this semester.

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