Sunday, July 31, 2005

You Can't Go Home Again

Recently I was reading an interesting article that talked about how people often misinterpret the phrase: “you can’t go home again.” People think this phrase refers to physical returning home, and so try and contradict it with tales of businessmen going back to their hometown and finding success.

But what the phrase really means is that when you go home, you find that the niche or psychological space that you once occupied no longer exists. And so in this way you can never truly return to the way things used to be.

I’m reminded of this while I’m back in Oita. Of course Oita isn’t Home with a capital “H”, but for 3 years it was a home of sorts. And in a way perhaps this phrase applies even more to temporary homes. Permanent homes, or hometowns, we always have established roots in no matter how long we’ve been away. Temporary homes you leave for a short time, and find your base very quickly crumbles.

I’m sure all of us have had adopted hometowns or temporary homes at some point, and know this feeling well. The weird feeling of returning to familiar surroundings, and yet having the sense of no longer belonging.

I don’t want to overstate this. It’s great to be back. It’s great to see old friends again. It’s great to get out of Gifu for a while. Etc, etc, etc. And yet there is a strange feeling of deja vu.

It’s probably characteristic of my life to say that I don’t handle transitions well. I tend to overstay my welcome in one stage of life, and only move into the next stage when I’m dragged kicking and screaming.

For instance my junior year of Calvin, when I moved into upper-classroom housing, I quickly began to miss the excitement of the dormitories, and was back to visit the dorms every single day. Some people thought it was a bit strange, and I did get a lot of comments like, “What are you doing around here all the time? Aren’t you a junior now? Isn’t it pathetic that you come back to the dorms everyday?”

Or for the first semester after I graduated from Calvin I was hanging out every evening in the Calvin library and the student lounge. I put up with a lot of comments then as well, but I wanted to be where all the people were, and enjoyed the Calvin social scene.

And now, one year after I finished JET, I find myself back in Oita again and it seems like déjà vu from my Calvin days. “What are you doing here? Didn’t you finish JET last year? Are you still in Japan?” are fairly typical of the comments I get whenever I go out.

Not only that, but this is the time of the year where the old JETs go back, and the new ones arrive. So my old friends in Oita are disappearing fast. In fact already I feel like I can’t count my remaining old friends on one hand, and the rest of my Oita social life is made up of people who I barely knew when I was here, or people who were just arriving as I was leaving.

It is nice to see the new JETs come in and feel connected to the next generation. I enjoyed meeting the guys who are going to by in Ajimu next year. And yet there is a sense of having overstayed my welcome in Japan.

I was saying to a friend the other day, “Japan is like University. If we could freeze time and stay 19 forever, I think we’d all stay in University as long as we could. But when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You don’t want to stick around too long. I think maybe I’ve stayed here too long.”


lucretius said...

Joel, I totally know what you're talking about. Visiting GR for me is definitely the same kind of eerie deja vu you're talking about. Great post.

When I moved to Charlottesville, I choose to live in the student "ghetto." However, I learned quite quickly that having drunken frat boys toss rocks through my window in the name of the old south would get old very fast. So we moved to the real ghetto and have been happy ever since.

b jeremy jackson said...

yes, this is a characteristic of you. but i've always considered it a part of the swagman charm. you embrace the present. while most of the world is wishing that they were on the other side of the hill where the grass is greener, you think, "it can't get much better than this..." And that's refreshing.

That said, I had wished you spent some more time in the apartments junior year. bastard.