You wanted to hear about my experience living in Minneapolis for a few months after getting back from my backpacking trip in South America; you also wanted to hear what I planned to pack for my new life abroad as you pack up yours for a move back to Minnesota. I’ve combined the two answers into one post; in the end, they go together. I’ll do my best explaining my transition into the nomad’s life.
The book I’ve been contemplating amidst all this movement is, suitably, Modern Liquidity by Zygmunt Bauman. The unique anxiety that comes along with flexibility, and fluidity in living choices, as he terms it, is trademark of our era, and my life, so it seems.
An Incubation Period: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Being back in Minnesota was a re-organized, revived version of my life a year ago, before I traveled through South America for seven months. Although I had no plans of where to live or work during my short stint back, these pieces fell into place snugly during my final month traveling as I reconnected with friends and coworkers. At a friend’s house, a snug yellow room filled with books and a garden view became my homespace, and my work consisted of covering a former coworker’s maternity leave at The English Learning Center, an organization I’d worked on and off for the past seven years. At the age of thirty-four I sometimes wondered about the fact that I am floating between rented rooms like a college student; but at the end of the day, the fact of my life’s levity right now gives me contentment.
I relished settling into a routine—going to the gym, meeting friends regularly for dinner, taking leisurely lake walks, playing music in parks, sneaking hugs from my three-year-old nephew, enjoying green smoothies at Zoe’s Café in the mornings while I wrote and listened to the café’s murky, soft jazz tracks. Lessons with a local jazz saxophonist helped me get into a practice routine again. I’d spent seven months being an amorphous individual—a backpacker; now, back in Minnesota, I reverted back to living within routines and systems.
Routines and systems provide the structure needed to create and thrive on a regular basis; the open-ended time traveling stimulates creativity. They work in pair with each other, at least for me personally. The fact that I could change up a routine for a different one; to dissolve one life’s structure for a traveling life and then gather up again a different structure in which to rest awhile is one of the boons of my life today.
Allergies, Memories, Failures, oh My!
Not all was pleasant in Minnesota–seasonal allergies hit me almost as soon as I stepped off the plane mid-March, plaguing me with fatigue and sinus headaches through mid-June. My life in Minnesota has always consisted of sinus headaches, infections, rotating allergy meds, steam face baths and sinus rinses. Illnesses, I should say. A friend wondered if feeling so ill in Minnesota had anything to do with the general uneasiness I felt with returning to a place where I’d felt unhappy for so long. It’s probably true; the immune system is never as strong when under stress.
Part of the experience of being back in Minneapolis therefore involved accepting and reframing the familiar, and somewhat heavy physical and emotional landscape it presented, and cutting through the haze of dense emotions that at times triggered my mind and body into more depressive moods. Reminders never ceased to drift in and out of my mind’s windows: of a failed marriage, my first, painfully awkward dating experiences post-divorce, reminders of grad programs I never got into; reminders that the novel I finished last year didn’t cut it, and sits in a box now somewhere with the few belongings I have left. If not for the gentle envelope of friends, my wonderful interim job, and my friend’s house where I lived, I might have felt completely ground under those months back in Minnesota.
Considering the life I had previously, and everything that’s changed in the past two years since my divorce—all the necessary lessons, the not so agreeable consequences from the mistakes I’ve made—the road I’m carving out has felt like a Herculean endeavor at times.
Insecurities hinder my decision-making process, and anxiety blankets my chest and body at times—breathing, even just four breaths in and four out, is truly a tool worth mastering, I discovered.
Grounding myself in the necessary ambiguity of my current life, celebrating it, and letting go of all the elements I feel have been missing, or that I “ought” to have organized and developed in order to be happy, became a practice while in Minneapolis. Better stated: I’ve started to feel a bit of a relaxation in “goals” and “aspects” that I used to think were so important. It was when I was unhappiest, and deeply unconscious of that unhappiness, that I grasped as hard as I could to goals and aspects that I considered essential to being myself. For example, at times I feel a jolt of anxiety that perhaps I’ll never publish a novel, or never make very much money, but then I look around and don’t see why it should matter, given my strong tapestry of friends, my comfortable places of living, and the books and music I always have access to.
Related to this idea of fulfilling goals and aspects of myself, I was afraid to make decisions because I wasn’t sure they would be the “right” decisions. Sometimes it felt to me like life was a game of chess, and I hadn’t been properly taught the rules or strategies—so every step I took felt monumentally important. And wrong.
Ultimately, I’m coming to believe that living life is not a game a chess; it’s a dance of finding balance between relaxing into my life’s routine without stressing over whether it’s “absolutely right”, and also being true to one’s natural trajectory, and being reasonably open to the possibilities out there given one’s circumstances. It’s the sweet spot of making a decision based on both logic (do I have money and resources to actually do this thing?) and emotion (does it excite me/properly frighten me to do this new thing?).
Recently, one of my favorite questions to ask a friend is: What would you do if you had no fear? After my divorce—I was able to start living with less and less fear because deciding to end a marriage was the most frightening decision I’d ever had to make. And then I was—yikes!—fired from my first, and I’ll be honest, horrible, job post-divorce.
Suddenly, I was very and uniquely free, and had to make some huge decisions fast. That meant packing up and moving to South America, what I always wanted to do in the first place.
Liquefaction — of everything?
“That work of art which we want to mould out of the
friable stuff of life is called ‘identity’.”
Zygmunt Bauman, Modern Liquidity
While at first I balked at Bauman’s seemingly simplistic explanations of “liquid” and “solid” states of human existences, the more I read, the more I had to admit, that to a certain extent I perhaps epitomized this concept. All my anxieties, the plethora of choices (or illusion thereof?), the nervousness that comes with wondering whether I chose correctly or not; or whether I will feel content doing what I am doing…uffdah.
It’s true, after my divorce I’ve liquefied much of my life, literally and metaphorically. I’ve chucked most of my physical belongings in preparation for a lightweight future (if you consider 150 lbs of instruments and luggage filled with books lightweight, chuckle).
And yet, as I’ve been unpacking boxes I’ve had stored at my parents’ cabin, selling items, I’ve been feeling more and more settled in my liquid, nomadic state. I’ve contemplated how content I feel to live so simply. I feel like a child, the physical parts of my former adult life (house, pets, marriage) now set aside. And there’s relief: I get to build a home and life based on a better foundation and understanding of myself and my needs. In fact—I’m grateful for this current phase of liquefaction, and the fact that it is possible for me to do what I am doing—instead of being stuck in structured life that was not right for me for many reasons.
Now the question you asked, Mere, is what I will pack in my carry-on luggage and two checked bags? Well, here is my list:
- Saxophones, alto and soprano (brought as carry-on luggage)
- Books (at least 10 lbs worth, all of them in Spanish)
- Chess set (given to me by a German friend’s dad, made in Romania)
- Wireless keyboard and laptop stand and mouse
- Noise machine (Medellín is a loud city; I’m a very light sleeper)
- Grammar books for teaching; flashcards
- Blanky, AKA my childhood blanket (watch my sister cringe!), which is basically now a witch’s shawl (I would’ve brought a my little stuffed wolf pup but I couldn’t find him before I left), because it still gives comfort
- Asus Laptop
- Samsung Galaxy S8 phone
- Wireless Speaker
- Numerous cables, chargers, mini HDMI cord that fits my laptop
- Vintage print of wolf in snow
- Extra pair of Crocs tennies, pair of sandals
- Toiletries, cosmetics
- Camping gear including backpacking inflatable mattress and chair
- Water purifier
- Clothes—whatever fit, the rest were donated
There you have it. Condensation of my life. It feels right to me right now and offers the opportunity of expansion in the future years to come.
Communities in a Liquid Age
Bauman writes that we are sinking into a new kind of individuality that prompts observation as opposed to involvement. He frames us as “individuals” and “consumers” as opposed to citizens; the consequences being that the private sphere is what we inhabit more and more, the public sphere less and less.
Bauman’s observation that liquid nomads such as myself tend to focus on individual needs over civic is probably correct—but not because I mean it to be. I do think I have, even if I’m a “liquid modern”, responsibilities, and what those are perhaps will morph depending on which community I am living in. One of my challenges, therefore, is to—despite my light existence—to get involved in the communities in which I live.
A birthday party for my three-three old nephew, replete with Mickey’s and Minnies, and 4th of July spent on the mid-summer lambent lakes with friends and family ended my 4-month residency in Minneapolis, MN.
My time in Minneapolis completed, I’ve set foot again in Medellín, Colombia, and I know the decision to pursue my path—though at times opaque like the great Mississippi—is correct. I know for certain I’ll be in Medellín for six months, perhaps longer; I’ll also be on my way to Buenos Aires again, perhaps to play music with new friends late into the night, a glass of wine at my side.
Besitos, Cici Woolf