A friend gave me a writing challenge this weekend: To go somewhere I’ve never been before, even if it was simply a new café or restaurant, and write about it. The challenge itself got me thinking about the difference between what is known and what is unknown, and about the duality of human nature.
The duality is this: We thrive from new experiences and old comforts. We’re excited to watch movies we’ve never seen before, yet we have favorites we’ll watch over and over again. We like meeting new people and expanding our social circle, yet we seek solace in conversation with those we know intimately. We like traveling to new locations, yet we like having a place to call home. New restaurants verses old haunts, new dishes verses comfort food, new music verses nostalgic playlists.
Seinfeld even has a riff on it: When we’re home, we can’t wait to go out. When we’re out, we can’t wait to get home.
I think everyone has both drives buried in their genes. In fact, this dueling nature may even be DNA-specific, a part of natural selection and survival that keeps mammals coming and going and stewing and screwing. Time to eat, time to nap; time to play, or sit on a lap. Animals are no different. Striking a balance between activity and rest, discovery and familiarity, runs deep in our evolution.
But most people tend to lean more one way or the other. Personality types. Partiers verses homebodies. Extroverts verses introverts. Vagabonds verses cabin dwellers. And let’s face it: In these dichotomies, the latter are usually considered the more boring of the two. Such people are thought to have a little less life in them. They are told they need to get out more. They are told they should break out of their bubble.
Fiction is rife with stories thematically driven in this regard. A new kid in town, a fish out of water, a rebel in society. Most stories are about shaking up the status quo. They’re about fresh experiences and unusual predicaments. Most of all, they’re about change. Fantasy novels are rarely about the blacksmith who works day and night crafting weapons; they’re about the party of adventurers passing through town who stop by to purchase one of his swords. And if the novel begins with the humble blacksmith? He won’t be one much longer. As it turns out, the guy’s a latent prince, and he’s needed elsewhere, in a kingdom he’s only heard about from wandering gypsies and wayward street urchins. Because let’s face it, who wants to read a story about a guy who works nine to five? We want to read about there and back again.
Despite fiction, I don’t believe either lifestyle holds more inherent value than the other. But I do believe it’s possible to go too far in either direction. I’ve known vagabonds who vagg their bonds so vaggishly, they never find a home. They’re always looking for a place to call home, a place with greener grass, but the irony is, their perpetual search is what prevents them from ever finding it. In fact, there’s an ancient eastern concept, recently repackaged in western self-help media, that claims those who seek happiness will only find it when they stop looking.
Conversely, those who never go out, who avoid fresh experiences, or who entirely dismiss new points of view can bury themselves in a world of ignorance and obstinacy. One has to look no further than Tara Westover’s recent memoir, Educated, to experience this extreme in debilitating detail. That woman needed to get the hell out of Idaho.
Balance in all things.
I have to admit, I lean toward the latter lifestyle. The cabin dweller. Don’t get me wrong, I do get out, and I do enjoy visiting places. I’ve been to the East Coast, the Midwest, the Hawaiian Islands. I’ve even been to another country, an enormous country, known as Texas. I’m not entirely holed up in a junkyard with a twenty-two fending off neighbors. But my heart thrives more on the familiar. I like re-watching my favorite shows, I enjoy running along my favorite waterfront, I love eating my favorite ice cream. Change is hard for me. I’ve lived in the same community for twenty-six years, and frankly, the idea of moving away is daunting. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of my nature, but I am certainly cognizant of it, and I have to admit, I often suffer the extreme. So when my friend recommended I try going to a new place and writing something about it, I was willing to give it a try.
And here I am: Dune Coffee on Anacapa Street rather than Starbucks Coffee in Montecito. Nothing too dramatic, mind you, but a shift in routine, all the same. So here goes! I’m going to write something about it, now.
On second thought, I suppose I just did.