A new pair of jeans, the reignited love for a city and an inevitable answer to a surprisingly surprising question. Just some of the artefacts collected during two weeks in America.
They all serve as a reminder that travel can be a means of reassessment and renewal; hopefully I’ve returned home a little wiser to the world than when I left it. That said, the notion of ‘home’ continues to be a puzzle. Is home where the heart is? Is it possible to have multiple homes?
Wherever I lay my hat…
San Francisco was my home once, although I’ve seen more of this small city since I left than during the entire year I lived there. Parts of it scare me, parts of it disgust me. It’s messy, complex and incredibly diverse. It has its problems, not least the level of homelessness amongst an otherwise wealthy populous. I find this hard to ignore. Many seemingly don’t.
Through the eyes of friends, I’m beginning to see a different image. The city is beautiful, it’s neighbourhoods even more so – it’s unlike any other city in the United States. Whether I could ever return to live there remains unknown, but the facts speak to how much I love visiting. Which of course makes it harder to ignore the inevitable; a disaster is coming and the only question is when. And that’s about as much as I want to think about that.
Lessons from the road
Regardless, visiting California is like therapy. Maybe the optimism of friends provides an alternative take on life, one typically set against more pessimistic attitudes. And I like being optimistic, believe it or not. Before the trip is entirely relegated to history, here are a few lessons I picked up along the way:
It’s easy to generalise and America often suffers from this in the eyes of the world. When everything is bigger, it’s easier to focus on the extremes, but the greys are numerous and assorted. Also: designing for scale is a hard problem.
People are complex. Dismissing people as inauthentic may be foolhardy without first knowing more about them. It’s easy to throw around terms like ‘douchebag’, but bravado can be compensating for a deeper insecurity. As Bruce Springsteen said during his keynote at SXSW:
Have iron-clad confidence, but doubt that keeps you awake and alert. It keeps you honest.
Every situation has differing perspectives but recognising that fact alone won’t necessarily mean you can see past your own. Assume nothing (except maybe success) and never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. There’s a place for subtly, but more often than not, it pays to be obvious.
Make mistakes. It’s a popular truism, but experience matters. You can learn from mistakes, but never from regrets. Regrets can be hard to disown, but it’s unlikely you’ll remember the blunders. If beautiful, hopeful and well intentioned, you may end up smiling a bit if you do! And yes, as a post written more for my own benefit than yours, feel free to read between the lines here.
Don’t be a dick. Not so much a lesson, but previous experience meant I was able to follow my own advice, navigate a tricky situation and avoid a more painful form of embarrassment. Progress.
The journey is the reward, and that journey continues.