This is a misleading title, because it makes it sound like I have some wisdom to impart about other people having fun in America. I do not. Instead, the title is what I’ve decided to use as a journaling technique for myself. Let’s dive in!
I’ve been living in New Zealand for about half and a half years with my family. We have no intention to live in America agin. We’re permanent residents of New Zealand, we have roots, and those roots are growing. This makes America a novelty for us. “Oh,” we think to ourselves when looking at Aurora in Seattle or “American-style diners”, as the rest of the world calls them. “I remember this.” Sometimes we miss a detail, sometimes we’re happy to be done with it, but it always feels a bit removed. Like tapping your teeth after a Novocaine shot. I can sense that I’m touching something, but the two-way feeling is gone.
I took this same business trip last year, and went big on nostalgia. I walked by the apartment I used to live in, then the local Main Street. I chased down old haunts to see what was still open and what had closed. Nearly everything had closed, in some cases only a few months prior. It was the same old thing as before, sometimes with new stores, sometimes just empty storefronts. I spent days doing this in various towns, and the feeling was always the same. Like walking down the now-small corridors of your old high school and hearing that your homeroom teacher had died.
I took a wide drive out to Pt Reyes at night to hear the frogs and the next day went out to Bolinas. I listened to audiobooks and felt the warmth of the Bay Area in June. In New Zealand, June is December cold. It feels like cheating to experience sweat, and swimming pools, and ice cream in June again. “I remember this,” I kept saying to myself. Did I like it? Did I like the idea of it? Did I like the memory of it? Was the whole thing just sad and desperate? I couldn’t quite tell, but I kept flicking my tongue against my Novocained memories.
So I think the way forward, not only for this trip but any trips I take to America in the future, is to find more ways to look forward. It was fun aimlessly walking down the streets I used to know, and I wouldn’t be opposed to doing it again. But it’s better for those moments to be incidental, not sought-out. I need to figure out what the United States of America means to me today and build from there.
I’ll be landing at 6am on Saturday, and by 9am I have a visit planned with a close friend’s family. I have another visit scheduled in the early afternoon, and then I have nothing planned for the rest of the day. Sandra Bernhardt has a show, the San Francisco Giants have a game, and there are plenty of other things going on. I could take part in those, and I probably will. I have a little bit of shopping to do, but not a lot. I could see a movie, which is something I could do in any country, and that would be a big part of the appeal.
I think I have an opportunity to make meals into tentpoles for the whole trip. Maybe I can set up lunch and dinner for myself ahead of time, then allow the remaining time to be casual and unhurried. That sounds nice.
The next day, Sunday, is gonna be a lot. I have three separate social events planned, all with people important to me. All the reason to make sure Saturday is calm and nourishing. Familiar. Forward-looking.
Then I have a week of corporate offsite stuff. That’s going to take a lot out of me, then I have another Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I’ll be staying with close family friends at their place, and absolutely nothing is planned. I’ll just be at their house, as a roommate, with nothing at all planned. Like David Byrne pointed out once, heaven is a place where nothing happens.
Then late on Sunday night, I’ll get on a plane, travel far across the Pacific, and appreciate the time to decompress. That’s how I’ll have fun in America, by being who I am rather than who I was. That’s how I’ll keep my head straight, by doing nothing rather than doing everything. In many ways, this might be the first trip I experience as a New Zealander rather than an American. The idea of that makes me feel calmer already.