Life Is What Happens In-Between
For more and more Americans, stability exists mostly in memory
The book I brought with me on my first book tour seven years ago was Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. This was less-than-ideal travel reading in that it was a 600-page hardback that weighed as much as a canned ham. But it was thematically apt, its characters incessantly in transit, living in the vacuum between radically different worlds and lives.
That book tour felt to me like beaming down to a different planet each week — a house full of transgender performance artists and sex workers in the Mission District one day, a hippie co-op in downtown Seattle the next, then on to a backyard barbecue with six-year-olds in the suburbs. Robinson calls these intervals between stable periods “the time without skin, the raw data, the being-in-the-world.” He notes how malleable we are at these times, how desperate to throw ourselves into a fresh rut: it takes only a few repetitions of any action to form a new habit. On that tour I clung fiercely to the ritual of my morning coffee, becoming an instant habitué at a new café in every city, establishing a customary table and forming a hasty crush on the prettiest barista. Our cherished habits act as a kind of incantation against the frightening blank of existence. Most people are acutely uncomfortable with formlessness (one way to torture someone is to disrupt their schedule, deprive them of any reliable cycle).
These times without structure or certitude are a glimpse of life as it really is, so terrifying you can’t stand it for long, like looking straight into the sun from space. When you impose this disruption of habit and familiarity on yourself, for medicinal purposes, it’s called a vacation: you feel more alert and aware of the world, more alive. When it’s inflicted upon you by circumstance (or your own ineptitude), it’s more like a purgative trial: you feel too alive for comfort. It’s like the difference between riding a rollercoaster and falling off a cliff. The word chaos, in ancient Greek, means an abyss, a chasm.
Having a home and routine, a sense of belonging and place, has always been central to my emotional health and creative life: I require a cozy H.Q., boringly regular habits, a core of good friends, a lot of coffee and, ideally, a cat. I have…