Regenerations

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Regenerations

Tomorrow, along with my wife and cat, I’ll be getting on a plane on a one-way trip to Los Angeles, where I will be living for at least a year. As I mentioned in passing last week, it’s for a year-long fellowship with the Berggruen Institute (details in this Twitter thread). I’ll hopefully be working on a second book. But as big geographic moves always are for me, this move is also a convenient excuse and opportunity to regenerate.

And for the first time in my life, I find a part of me doesn’t want to regenerate (which is of course the best reason to do so).

It is that part of me that wants this particular Seattle chapter of my life to continue uninterrupted. I have been happy here for 7 years, the longest I’ve lived in one place as an adult, and I suppose I don’t want to interrupt a stream of consciousness that appears to be working.

I’m not certain what we’ll do after the year. Perhaps we’ll return to the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps we’ll like SoCal enough to stay. Perhaps we’ll head off in a new direction.

What is certain though, is that there is no coming back as such. One can only go back to a place (and only sort of), not to a time. Which is why moving with big jumps in space is so valuable. It forces you to catch up with time.

To interrupt continuous spatial presence is to end a chapter. One can only return to a place to begin a new chapter, not to continue an interrupted one. To move geographies significantly is to force a regeneration, whether or not you feel psychologically ready. To attempt to return is to discover that either you have changed, or the place you left behind has changed, or both.

The only worse feeling is discovering that either or both have not changed, which means one or both are dead. That’s ghosts haunting memories of dreams.

This will be my twentieth long-term move in 22 years of post-college adult life, my eighth city, and the fourth move I am writing about on this blog (I retconned the previous three into an eponymous blogchain reflecting on moves in 2009, 2011, and 2012).

I’m writing this in a cleaned-out, empty, apartment with nothing but some luggage and a lot of memories in it. Most of our stuff is in a 16-foot container on its way to Los Angeles.

Today is something like the eye of a storm in personal time. I spent much of the last week engaged in the physical labor of packing and lifting, fully present in aching joints and sore muscles. Starting tomorrow, I’ll be in the other side of the storm, the arrival side, clawing my way back into my own head, where I like to live.

On my last evening here, I went on the same walk I’ve been on hundreds of time in the last 7 years: from downtown to Myrtle Edwards park and back, along the waterfront. At the point where I usually turn back — the 1.25 mile mark for a 2.5 mile walk or run — there is a bench I’ve often paused at for a few minutes. If my walk is a ritual visit to a headcanon Seattle found temple, that bench is my sanctum sanctorum.

So I did that again today, and took a picture. One not very different from the dozens of other pictures I’ve taken from that bench, yet completely unique, just like the others.

It feels like an appropriate moment to consciously mark and remember at the close of this chapter of my life. In the 44th year of my life, at 7 PM on this day, I have walked about as far as I have left to walk back. In more ways than one.

If I do end up returning to Seattle next year or later, this waterfront walk will be drastically different. The Alaskan Way viaduct has been torn down, and ambitious and exciting new developments are underway. In a very literal, material sense, this is the last time I’ll do this particular walk in even an approximate way. It isn’t only humans who regenerate (though some of us do it via grandiose associations with science fiction characters). Cities do too. And Seattle is changing in smooth and sudden ways the same as me. And I’ll be moving to another city that’s regenerating rapidly as well: Los Angeles.

Change is the only constant. A cheap sentiment to espouse, an expensive truth to embody with a life, whether one is a jumped-up ape putting on poetic airs, or a city with dreams and histories.

I’ve been doing this for a long time. 22 years, 20 moves, 8 cities. Tens of thousands of miles of driving long distances in awkwardly packed cars. A dozen significant one-way flights with too much luggage. Almost a thousand boxes made, packed, unmade, and recycled.

I’ve been doing this longer than I care to remember sometimes.

But on days like this, in the liminal passage between chapters, when I’m in the stillness of an empty apartment, my stuff temporarily unavailable, hanging with Aion, the god of regenerations and renewals, there is a sense of felt deep time I can access that I really want to hold on to, and make permanent. And of course, that’s a yearning that is by definition and construction impossible to satisfy, and incoherent to even hold, since it is the emergent feel of directly experienced whole-life transience.

The Greeks chose to symbolize Aion sometimes as a young man, sometimes as an old man. For a human, to walk with Aion during a liminal passage is to inhabit two selves: an old man looking back, a young man looking forward. And at 44, for the first time, the contest feels unsettlingly even.

In a day, I’ll be back in the chaos of yet another new beginning, in a different empty apartment with only some baggage in it, and more potentialities than memories, more temptations to ambition than invitations to sentimentality. In a week or two (the gods of shipping containers willing) boxes will arrive, and a dormant, packed-away life, walking with Chronos and Kairos, will be reanimated. That feeling of fundamental liminality I’m luxuriating in today will dissipate. Aion will recede once more to the liminal interstices of chapterized memory. And life will go on.

But however irrational the sentiment, there’s something about the feeling of this kind of day I want to hold on to, and learn to rediscover and revisit at will, rather than only every several years or so. I want to learn to hold that visceral feeling of regenerative change flowing through my life. Freeze that moment of atemporal stillness in an empty apartment into an eternity. And without going to the trouble of learning to meditate and stuff.

A part of me doesn’t want to return from the fleeting liminality of transition to the unboxed, unpacked, mundane life of chapterhood, with both inner and outer clocks ticking. In a different sense than a thousand words and half an aeon ago, I don’t want to go.

Series Navigation<< At Home, in a Car

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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter

Comments

  1. Thank you for this one. I am also moving, not as far in distance or career, but you expressed how I am feeling and reminded me how precious the liminal period is, how important and vital. My inclination was to just speed through it, but now I will be more in it.

  2. Io lightning says

    Beautiful and provoking. I’m at a liminality in changing jobs (without the next thing lined up). Your essay encourages me to view it as a precious point of potentiality.

  3. phdinfunk says

    Venkat,

    I’ve read you for years, I think you’re a good man. One thing for sure, you cannot hold onto a place when it’s time to leave. Trying to do that accounts for one of the three worst mistakes I ever made in life. At least one of the other two amounted to trying to hold onto a person, which was very similar.

    The thing is, I had to be ready to let it go. I just wasn’t. At that point, the whole thing changed and I found out I had already left anyway. If it’s any consolation, I guess the truth of the matter is, as soon as you are feeling “I don’t want to go!” you’re already gone. So, everyone should at least know there’s not much to wrestle with. LOL, this is from the perspective of a person who didn’t do the sane thing you’re doing.

    “To interrupt continuous spatial presence is to end a chapter. One can only return to a place to begin a new chapter, not to continue an interrupted one. To move geographies significantly is to force a regeneration, whether or not you feel psychologically ready. To attempt to return is to discover that either you have changed, or the place you left behind has changed, or both.”

    You’re dropping a lot of wisdom on here lately. Actually, some of it is obvious (like Newton’s laws of physics obvious, so you should take this as a compliment). It makes it weird, you still don’t want to go, but letting it go and knowing what you’re doing is valuable.

    I am glad you have enough commitments to go ahead and leave physically, because the not wanting to go is weirder if you don’t leave physically and you discover you left the place anyway. And I think a lot of people are living in a place like that.

    Strange to talk about all this. I hope you don’t mind. I wish you all the best.

  4. I think this piece, of all the ones I have read by you, is the most beautifully written, others are packed with excellent information, new ideas, etc.

    But this: I can feel that which you are feeling; I remember asking a blogger a few years ago, who had the custom of changing cities constantly, he’s one of the very minimalist type of guys, whether or not he felt any kind of sadness, melancholy about the connections made and constantly lost, he just said that, “sometimes”.

    That hurt, losing contact is the thing that hurts to me the most. Hope you make new, fulfilling ones

  5. Caro Venk in italy we say “partire è un po morire”. Yes i understand you deeply, indeed i have done such changes several time and everytime and every time I thought of leaving my heart to find myself loving another place more strongly than before. It will be the same also for you, I am sure of this! Enjoyt it my friend ;) https://medium.com/@antoniomannocap/re%C3%B1aca-chile-i-love-you-too-5fa387a3688d

  6. Ravi Daithankar says

    “But however irrational the sentiment, there’s something about the feeling of this kind of day I want to hold on to, and learn to rediscover and revisit at will, rather than only every several years or so. I want to learn to hold that visceral feeling of regenerative change flowing through my life. Freeze that moment of atemporal stillness in an empty apartment into an eternity. And without going to the trouble of learning to meditate and stuff.”

    Very relatable and beautifully written piece, but this right here is a cognitive booby trap; your chemicals have laid seige around your synapses and your neural circuit is playing second fiddle. And what an absolutely beautiful feeling that is! Totally worth freezing! It’s like being high and thinking to yourself “I want to feel this way all the time”. Which your balanced self knows can never happen, of course, but that’s what a deluge of chemicals can do.

    Interestingly though, I have always felt like that is different from, or rather more than, just atemporal stillness. You talk about Aion, but this feeling to me has always felt like a slightly orthogonal idea…almost like Observed-Aion time. Where you are sort of out-of-body, closely observing yourself experience Aion time deeply and are actually appreciating the purity of that experience…of how delicately and poignantly everything in your universe has come together in that one moment, in time and in space. Not sure that is articulating it too well, but it’s something like getting deeply invested in a character in a movie, just infinitely more visceral. It is so intimately and inextricably entangled in a multi-dimensional context that it is sort of absurd to even wish that you could freeze it and relive it in a different frame is reference. In fact, I wouldn’t bet against you actually thinking of this at a different time/place in your life and absurdly wondering if you truly even felt these emotions!

    You just cannot step in that river twice.

    Wish you all the best and thanks for sharing this.

  7. Philipp Kistler says

    There is a german poem by Hermann Hesse called ‘Stufen’ that has a line that losely translates to:
    In each beginning lives some magic, that protects you and aids you in living.
    (Und jedem Anfang wohnt ein Zauber inne,
    Der uns beschützt und der uns hilft, zu leben.)

    I wish you a good start on your next stage.

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