Mid-flight, I listen with amusement as two early 20s students strike up a conversation behind me. Their style of chatter is chirpy and unremitting, with each new comment by the other addressed with “that’s awesome” followed by a story of varying relevance to the topic at hand.
My attention drifts in and out as they discuss student union politics, their respective boy/girlfriends, and their favourite characters from Friends; “Joey is my favourite. He’s so, like, I don’t know, his innocence, his not-innocence…” I listen as they discuss the moral failings of Joey with regards to women and Ross’ poor relationship practises. These are the voices that define the first leg of my trip. Chatter without faces that hums like the fan above me recirculating stale airplane air.
And it’s another flight, another chapter, and another new beginning.
Much like one might get into the habit of going to work every day, or sending the kids off to school, I’ve gotten into the habit of organizing my life into concise chapters, usually 3-10 months, for which there is an obvious title (typically geographically related), and which is punctuated by a clear beginning and a stark end.
This chapter, as far as I can tell, will be called “New York.” If all goes according to plan, it will be five months long, and a little speculation suggests that it will involve wide eyed exploring dotted with occasional bouts of loneliness in the beginning, enthralled excitement at the remarkable nature of life and adventure, and a feeling of sadness when it comes to an end – most likely at a bus station or, less desirably, an airport.
This is, of course, if it goes according to plan. My ability to foresee the future was called severely into question when I imagined slowly paddling up to the base of Canal Street in New Orleans on the eve of the new year, and instead found myself flailing white garbage bags as SOS signs on an island on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Regardless of the unknown nature of the contents of each chapter before it starts, the beauty of this compartmentalized approach to life is the marvellous period of reflection it allows for, both in its infancy and as it is concluded.
I’m right at the beginning right now, and I can’t ignore the uncertainty that accompanies any move or feeling of newness. Is it a fear of the unknown? Of failure? Or perhaps a resounding loneliness as you realize that, in a bizarre mixture of liberation and isolation, you have no real ties grounding you to any particular place on this planet. I’m free – but am I also alone?
Growing up, I was terrified of sleepover birthday parties. Petrifying 24 hours sojourns away from home to paint nails, play MASH, and drink cream soda, I avoided them at all costs. If my attendance was confirmed, which was rare, I was inevitably struck by a horrifying gutwrenching feeling of dread, isolation, and loneliness, generally scheduled like clockwork to commence at around 3am.
Laying on a basement floor wrapped up in a Disney sleeping bag in the middle of a row 0f eight year old girls and listening to the strange sounds of a new house, the harsh realities of human existence set in. In the faint glow of someone else’s night light I questioned the meaning of life. And even with newly painted neon green fingernails, I yearned for comfort.
Typically, this resulted in cooing consolation from the parent of my torturor (the birthday girl who had insisted I attend such a harrowing ordeal as an overnight birthday party) and an early morning call to my parents for pick-up.
The torment was over as soon as I saw the old pick up truck containing a parent in it pull up to the front porch.
Today, my parents aren’t going to come pick me up, but I’m not that lonely either. Sitting alone in the Calgary international airport, I’m surrounded by strangers, and I’m in the midst of my journey. And just because I’m not tied down doesn’t mean I don’t have real connections.
Experience has told me that I could strike up a conversation with any number of strangers waiting here and end up with a friend. We’re not so alone after all. Maybe we’d even discover a shared affection for characters of 90s sitcoms.
And as for Chapter “New York,” I’m eagerly looking forward to the next sentences - the formative words that will lay the groundwork for my experience. Clear customs, find a bed and a bicycle, meet the people that will be at the very least my counterparts for the next few months – these are my most pressing prerogatives.
I’m looking forward to living in a house full of freegans and attending editorial meetings at Harper’s, exploring Wall Street and making sure not to miss the Empire State building. The big apple – here I come!