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e.t. in front of the moon

I’ve been home from my overseas trip for a week now and I haven’t really stopped moving. Seeing all my friends again has been awesome, and I’m so happy to have more than four shirts to choose from. I have my beautiful car again, and my pillowtop queen is more welcoming than all of the eighty-some beds I toured abroad, combined.

But I have to say I don’t really feel home yet.

Right now, Canada feels foreign to me compared to New Zealand. I fumble with our slender coins when I’m paying for things, I forget that sales tax isn’t included, and I bump into people because I’m always walking on the left-hand side of sidewalks and hallways. I lose track of my possessions because I no longer have to collect them all into my backpack every few days.

I’m noticing a real difference in the behavior of people in public here too. There is a certain North American aloofness that I never really noticed before. People seem to be less comfortable engaging with strangers than back in Oz or NZ. They just want to go about their business unbothered. Most clerks don’t smile or (really) look at you. People drive slower and more relaxedly here, but at the same time they seem to be less aware of what’s around them.

I don’t mean any of this to be criticism — after all, while away I learned that Canada is definitely where I want to live most of my life — only comparisons I can’t help but make after looking at the planet from two very different angles.

Last post I reported a laptop catastrophe that may have cost me nearly all of my photos. Even though the laptop didn’t make it, I was able to recover all the files, fortunately. Once I got the pictures back I was surprised to find that I’m a little hesitant to share them with people. I guess my reluctance is because I don’t think the photos are capable of conveying the full gravity of such a trip. They’re pictures of pretty places I’ve been, but nobody will understand what those places made me feel when I was there. I had such a profound experience abroad that I was really eager to share it when I got home, only to realize that it cannot be shared at all. The trip itself is over and cannot be revisited by me or anyone else. I guess that caught me off guard.

I am really tired. My jet lag was severe. After a week, I still find myself reaching my peak alertness at about 2am, and during the day my disposition ranges from cranky-pants to full-on zombie. Just yesterday it was starting to lift, but a late wedding reception last night has me feeling a real deficit today. Even my dreams have been weird. They’re full of deceitful strangers, lost possessions and missed deadlines.

I’m not at the top of my game in any department right now. I’m sure my fatigue has something to do with it, but conversations require a lot more energy from me these days. I lose the point easily. I haven’t been smiling as much.

And because I will need to stay with family until I get my own apartment — which requires that I get my last ever job in order to be approved for a lease — I have also temporarily lost my independence, and that’s really getting me down.

So my mind is still quite scattered and things feel unsettled. This week has been a flurry of visits, parties and errands, and I’ve been deferring some of my regular obligations until a routine emerges. Experiment 7 is still on hold. I haven’t written all week. I haven’t even done a load of laundry yet, or even properly unpacked.

Whoever said, “You can’t go home again” was right. Nothing has really changed here in Winnipeg, but it is striking me as a completely different place than I remember. Things will undoubtedly settle down soon, but at the moment I feel quite a bit less “at home” than I have at any time since I first arrived in New Zealand last November. “Home” isn’t a place, it’s a feeling. And I’m not there right now.

Other than seeing my friends again, stability was what I was most looking forward to whenever I thought about my return. More than anything, I fantasized about plunging back into the blogging world, suddenly free of spotty internet and the perpetual lack of privacy I experienced living in hostels. But it will take a while before “stable” is a decent way to describe my living situation.

I picked up loads of new readers while I was away, and I’m happy to have you all here. I hope you will bear with me while I make myself at home.


Photo by Flowery Luza

Rosa July 5, 2010 at 12:15 am

You’ll get there, relax.

Ken July 5, 2010 at 1:28 am

It’s funny how relative our perceptions are, regarding cultural differences. Living in Edmonton, Alberta, I’ve always felt the same kind of aloofness that you speak of. A friend of mine from Arizona came up to visit, and she said with amazement, “Oh my god, I can’t believe how friendly and polite people are here!”

David July 5, 2010 at 8:55 pm

I didn’t notice it until I was away from it for a while. It may be milder in Canada than in Arizona though.

Tim July 5, 2010 at 1:55 am

I wouldn’t call it criticism so much as I would call it constructive criticism. Stupid is as stupid does, not that anybody here in Canada is stupid. Rather nice, if I do say so myself.

Katie July 5, 2010 at 2:24 am

What you’re describing sounds so familiar. I think that disconnect and re-adjustment period is an essential and inevitable part of the extended-trip-away-and-then-returning process. Reverse culture shock – I think it’s fascinating. It’s not comfortable, but it is a unique lens on your home culture and how you fit into it, that will fade away really really soon. Make the most of it, relish the weird new insights you have on the little details of ordinary life in Canada, record how it makes you feel. I didn’t enjoy them at the time, but I do cherish my own varied experiences of returning home after long periods abroad. I just wish I’d written more of it down.

David July 5, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Good advice Katie. I’m trying to look at it through an anthropological sort of lens. Reverse culture shock, that’s exactly it.

Suzanne July 5, 2010 at 10:54 am

Give yourself time; this will once again feel like home, normal and predictable. Though, you may have grown yourself past the person that once accepted that and will just become a different David, who’s here (in your home country) and no longer just existing.

As for the part about your photos and the moments they represented to you, it reminds me of some wise words I once read:
“When I arrived home, I ended up not telling my friends either. It was over, and was just a story now. They would never be able to appreciate it how magical it was. They would probably say, “Oh, cool,” and somehow the whole experience would become that much less cool to me. So I kept the experience all to myself.”

Terry F July 5, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I keep thinking that each post of Suzanne’s I read is the best yet. It is the best until I read the next one. This one is no exception, it full of so many wonderful thoughts and and observations.
Keep up the great work and I can’t wait to read your next post.

David July 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm

Yes Suzanne is right on. The photos are still worthwhile, but they can only ever be reminders to me, and tiny windows to other people. But that’s better than nothing. I guess it’s just a little sad that my trip is over. It was everyday reality for so long.

Lisis July 5, 2010 at 7:33 pm

This reminds me of my favorite Nelson Mandela quote:

“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”

I expect great things from this new and improved David. :)

David July 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm

I’ll do you proud, Lis.

Lisis July 6, 2010 at 8:13 am

You saw what Mandela did when he returned to an unchanged South Africa… I’m expecting something along those lines, if you don’t mind.


Jay July 5, 2010 at 10:42 pm

It just takes a little time for the dust to settle. Once it does, you’ll be right as rain. Just take some time, and like Journey once sang: “Be good to yourself.” :)

I’m really glad that you got your photos back. Even if you never share them with anyone else, they’ll be there for *you*, and that’s the most important thing.

Sasa July 6, 2010 at 8:29 am

When I got home to New Zealand after the first time I went away to Japan and Thailand for 2 years, I couldn’t even bring myself to phone my very best friends to let them know I was back, for a week. Going home is a strange strange thing but like everyone says, give it time and we’ll be waiting here when you get back ^_^

JoyChristin July 6, 2010 at 1:43 pm

I read this post yesterday; I *hear* you, but I couldn’t think of anything to contribute beyond that…
So, I took your thoughts kayaking with me..waiting for some insightful wisdom to share…and then as happens, the lesson was for *me*…
You were so excited to share about your trip…and you will be sharing, just not through stories and photos as you originally thought, but through your now changed perspective and in how you relate to the world and those around you…*that* is how you will share best…and all that you’ve learned will impact those you interact with…
By living our best..even in times of doubt or confusion..we share our best..and Energy flows…
Be kind to yourself as you transition..love yourself as generously and genuinely as you would any of those close to you…*this* is as awesome as your entire trip, just in a different way that you cannot yet See….

Hilary July 6, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Hi David .. you’ll never feel quite settled .. I haven’t travelled that much or for long .. but I have lived in South Africa for 14 years and I truly don’t feel settled 18 years after my return
.. it changes you – travelling, living away, experiencing different cultures and traditions .. life is simply different – our approach to things etc .. people don’t understand they haven’t been through what you’ve been through .. and I know from being home!

You’ll adjust – but you’ll never be the same! Enjoy your memories and now via the net the friends you’ve made in those far distant places .. let alone us lot!!

Enjoy being home .. Hilary

michi July 6, 2010 at 7:44 pm

I’ve also just come back to North America from being down under, though for me it’s moving back from 6 years in Australia home again to Wisconsin. But pretty similar!

I don’t generally take pictures when I travel because remembering isn’t the point for me. It’s more about being there. Sometimes I take photos because I’m asked to, but as you note, they don’t at all convey the experience! What is the point, I wonder.

Best of luck with jetlag. I’m in precisely the same boat. 3am is a great time to be awake!!! Hahaha all in due time, eh?

I think it is moments like these where creativity is really important, in the sense of creatively looking for ways to enjoy a seeming discord or discontent. And also in the sense of needing that same open-mindedness involved in writing/music/art, in order to allow ourselves to relax and sink into the cultures we’re thrust back into. It almost takes a sly cleverness to discover the nuggets of ways and viewpoints through which the Canadian/American culture is truly enjoyable. It’s like: I feel devious and cunning when I let myself revel in something here that my Australian self would despise.

I look forward to more posts!

David July 7, 2010 at 10:01 am

Welcome back. Creativity will be a big part of my recovery — more posts on the way. :)

Amanda July 6, 2010 at 11:32 pm

I’ve been reading your posts for a while now but this marks my first comment. I fear it will be a mini essay…

I returned to Saskatoon from 6 months abroad in March. I refused to tell anyone other than my family when I was getting in – I didn’t want lots of people to meet me at the airport, greasy and exhausted from 24 hours travel. I didn’t call anyone for two days and when I did it was only two very specific friends. I remained in relative seclusion for about 10 days. When people asked how it felt to be home I could only describe it as “comfortable.” Comfortable like that one pair of extremely old jeans you refuse to throw out and sneak on every now and again because they feel SO GOOD but that you could never bring yourself to wear out of the house. In hindsight, that level of comfort was a bit unsettling, I was too keenly aware of it. Suddenly everything was easy.

Slowly the differences became apparent – a silly fight with my sister over how clean a bathroom should be, a purging of the astonishing amount of stuff I discovered myself to own, the realization that I don’t actually enjoy driving, and the longing for the more frequent physical contact I’d grown accustomed to while abroad. Mostly they were changes in me. Within a month I was itching to hit the road again.

It’s been about 3 months now and I’ve adapted again, reintegrated into Canadiana, but my perspective is changed and I fear I may now be forever a nomad. My definition of home has definitely become more fluid. All in all it’s an experience I’m still learning from and one I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Best of luck with this last leg of your journey!

P.S. I grew up in Winnipeg and lived there until a few years ago. Last summer on a visit I found myself saying goodbye – I realized that I will always visit but that the city and I no longer fit. It will always contain many special places for me, though.

David July 7, 2010 at 9:59 am

That’s pretty much how I feel. My jet lag is gone but I don’t feel any more like I fit in in this city. I am comfortable at the moment. I do like the stability I have back here, but I miss so much about living out of a backpack.

Karo July 7, 2010 at 12:22 am

I told you, man. It’s always a rough transition. But yanno what? You have to admit… Isn’t it at least SLIGHTLY comforting? Think about it. Back when we thought home WAS a place, it was so conflicting and confusing, with so much pressure to go ‘here’ and do ‘that’. And now you have that enlightenment of knowing that you’re not in a cage. Home is where the heart is. And the heart is… well… wherever you feel like putting it. People like you, who live for exploration, NEED that knowledge.

David July 7, 2010 at 10:04 am

You said it. I busted the cage by being away so long, and now I have trouble just staying put. Maybe I always will.

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