Last year, when we began the process of applying for my husband’s green card and I realized that, after eight years of living abroad, I would finally be moving back to America, I was surprisingly (to me) anxious about it. It’s not the prospect of America that concerns me (though this may change if Jeb Bush manages to get elected president), but rather the prospect of settling down.
Over the past decade I’ve lived in seven cities in four different countries. I was a starving artist in L.A. and a receptionist in New York (and, ok, still an artist, but I wasn’t making any money at it). Eventually I decided to get a degree in something useful (not that art and medieval studies weren’t useful, but the job market is decidedly small) and ended up with a masters in biology. I’ve worked in coral conservation in Seychelles and canine cognition in Boston. I had a painting exhibition in Dublin and I joined an art collective in Oxford. I was a microbiologist in Reading and an aquarium biologist in London. And although I sometimes have lamented the lack of permanence in my life, I have greatly appreciated the freedom.
I do not doubt that it is time to settle down. If we want children it has to happen soon, and I would dearly love to be able to plant a garden and be around to see it grow the next year. I’d like to be able to hang pictures on the walls of my house without worrying about losing my security deposit. I want to work at the same place for a while and have a career where one job actually builds on the one before it. And I want to see my family, to be around to help babysit my niece and nephews, and talk to my sisters without an eight-hour time difference getting in the way.
But being in America means we can’t just take off to Spain or Belgium for a weekend (not on our budget anyway). Having kids means I’m not going to be trekking through the jungles of Brazil or doing a stint as a research assistant in the Bahamas. I know how incredibly lucky I am to have had the experiences I’ve had, to have been able to travel and work and meet people from all over the world. Most people do not get to do those things. But I can’t help being a little bit wistful at the prospect of my adventuring days being over. There is definitely a part of me that doesn’t want to stop, that wants to keep on knocking around the world until I collapse under the weight of my backpack. And that’s where the books come in.
It’s a way of traveling without moving. There are so many places in the world that I’ll never get the chance to experience first-hand, but at least I can experience them vicariously. I can read the words of people who lived there, and hopefully grow to understand something about a culture that I didn’t know before. And if it doesn’t work out that way–if all that happens is I read a bunch of books that I might otherwise never have heard of–well, that’s ok too.