Where The Hell Is Everyone Going?

I have always preferred to stay in one place. I enjoy the comforts and security of home. I enjoy travel books about going nowhere. Like an eel in a small fish tank I roam around all the various corners of my small home and seem to be quite content not going much further. Sure I walk into downtown or occasionally go on various excursions with my wife to areas within a 50 or so mile range from my house, but for the most part I remain in one place. There are lots to do at home. Boredom is not an affliction that effects me (although I have plenty of afflictions). During the course of a day when I do not have to leave my home and go to work, my greatest dilemma is often where to sit. Whether it is in the backyard, the front yard or someplace inside, my home is filled with wonderful areas to sit. Each seating area has been carefully curated by my wife and I. Often I will spend the entire day trying to spend an hour or so sitting in the various spaces around my house.

Everyone I know or hear about seems to be always going somewhere. I notice airplanes continually traversing through the sky. There is an Amtrak train station not far from my house that seems to be spiting out more trains every hour than I am able to keep track of. Continually I will talk with a friend or an acquaintance and hear about how they are traveling to some far off place. My parents and my wife’s parents are continually on the go between their various homes. When I go for long walks around my neighborhood it seems like no one is ever home. The homes have landscaped yards, which appear to have taken a lot of time to create yet I never see anyone passing the day in them. The neighborhood around my house is moderately affluent yet there is this empty feeling all around (sometimes the only life forms that I see in this neighborhood are the various animals and birds hanging out in the trees). It is as if the people who live in these houses are too busy going places to spend the day hanging out in their yard. But where the hell is everyone going?

I appreciated reading in Gaston Bachelard’s “The Poetics Of Space” the discussion about the primacy of space. Bachelard talks about how in order to thoroughly know oneself, one needs to be very familiar with the spaces in their immediate environment. The problem of modernity for Bachelard is that human beings are continually going away from the spaces in which they live and pursuing places outside of themselves. This he said leads to a kind of inner fracturing where the individual never feels comfortable in any one place for an extended period of time. When I read Bachelard’s book I was reminded of a particular Aborigine community I visited in Australia many, many years ago. These particular Aboriginal people believed in the sacredness of the place in which they lived and felt so connected with the place that they had no need to venture out unless various survival needs took them away. As one Aboriginal man said to me “there is so much to see and investigate in my own backyard, a hundred years would not be enough time to become familiar with everything there is to meet here.”

In our Western culture it seems as if we are obsessed with being someplace else. We are always on the go.  If we stay at home for too long of a period of time we become irritable and feel like we are missing out. There are so many places to go, things to do and sights to see. Massive advertising campaigns waged by various companies in the travel industry bombard us with images of various places in the world that we are told will make life more interesting if we just hop on board. The quiet life of desperation can be remedied if we just get up and go someplace new. I even notice this tendency in myself. Often times I will see an airplane fly overhead or hear a train in the distance and be filled with a longing to travel to some exotic place. Suddenly I will feel like where I am is not good enough. It is too stressful- if I just go away for a week or so I will be able to relax, explore and have fun. I will feel fulfilled. “What a blast it would be to wonder the beaches of Hawaii or travel around Spain,” my mind tells me. All over the television and internet are photos and videos of celebrities traveling. They are hanging out in Hawaii, wondering the streets of some European country or on a boat in a place where the water is blue enough to reflect the clear sky above. Wherever the place where these celebrities are hanging out, all the rest of us see these photos and think, “we should travel like them, why should they have all the fun?” “Honey book a flight for Rome.” “I am tired of hanging out at home. Lets go somewhere new.”

Granted in our “modern world” speed is king. If you spend a day just sitting on your front porch or in your backyard you cannot help escape from the sound of speed going on all around you. Even if you live in the remote woods eventually you will hear the sounds of an airplane engine racing through the sky. Living in a more urban area exposes you more to this continual flurry of people on the go. Cars speeding to get someplace. Neighbors always on the go. Fire engines and ambulances racing by. Garbage trucks roaring. Airplanes jetting across the sky. Being surrounded by all of this transportation makes trying to achieve some stillness very challenging. Often times I will want to spend my afternoon sitting in my study or on my front porch but after a half hour or so I notice that I become restless. I can hear the sounds of cars and busses driving pass. In the distance I can hear the hummmmm of the freeway. I tell myself to just remain still but something seems to be going on at a psychic level. Everyone around me seems to be on the go. As I try and stay put just reading my book I notice that the restlessness grows more and more. My mind begins to suggest various places that I can go. Suddenly I notice that I am seized by this uncomfortable need to get up and do something else. To join the rest of the world and go somewhere.