Six months ago I had a well-appointed though slightly pokey one bedroom apartment in a respectably dull area of Toronto, furniture (mostly Ikea, but also one rather nice mod-ish tweedy sofa paid for in blood from my ex-girlfriend), a motley collection of aspirational reading, a running routine in the hope I would ever start dating again, and one nice and tidy corporate job, thank you very much.
Every morning I took the subway to work for 10 a.m. It took 7 minutes to walk to the subway. Thirty or so minutes on the train. I would roll in at 10 a.m. Take a lunch break with my work girlfriends at 1 p.m. Gossip over the cubicle partition. Meetings. Cupcakes in the boardroom to boost morale. Yoga after work. Go home and research an article. Run in the dark to escape my thoughts. Hate running. Hate my thoughts. Nurse multiple romantic hangovers. Not sleep at night. Not dream. Wake early. Coffee. Repeat.
Now I'm living in a small room in downtown Mexico City, I teach English to businessmen, eat corn fungus quesadillas, make friends in convenience stores, coffee shops, on the street, at taco stands. I have no routine. I wander the city, dipping sporadically into illustration exhibits, tamale restaurants, endless public parks with their spectacular fountains, 80's nights at downtown clubs complete with dance offs. I drink coffee grown in Zapatista collectives in Chiapas. I eat tacos al pastor with an aggressive crew of hungry men and I read Dostoevsky's The Idiot at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday on Reforma, the DF's major thoroughfare and answer to Paris's Champs Élysées. I don't feel the crushing pressure to be upwardly mobile that I did in Toronto, though I suspect being a foreigner gives me a free pass.
In three short weeks I've acquired a totally new life. At first this seemed remarkable: new friends, new job, new place, new routine, magically complete and present in almost no time. People often comment that what I'm doing brave. A year ago I would have agreed, because then I had no idea how one just picked up and left a slightly dull but comfortable existence for something completely unknown.
But here's the deal: it's all too easy to start over. We like to think that our lives sit on bedrock, that our friends, job, loves, family, and hobbies form almost unbreakable ties that weave together a life. The scary truth is that at any moment that life, which is more like a tent loosely pegged into the earth, can spring free at one or every corner. Conversely, the tent can be sprung free as desired, even in the presence of deeper commitments than mine. Financial considerations cannot be denied (I count myself lucky that I could displace myself to favourable circumstances) but I could really go anywhere, be anyone. I could do it again tomorrow.
It's true that I'm the malleable sort. I take on the colour of wherever I am be it a bagpipe band, a fancy corporate Toronto cocktail party, a down-and-out Mexican barrio, or a collective of journalists. But the issue is not in the adaptation, it's in the fickleness and changeability of life amid our desire for constancy of identity, some sort of semblance of narrative in our lives. It's too easy to find ourselves in a far away hotel, staring in the mirror and for one moment feeling completely empty, our identity obliterated.
This is the dark side: the root of desire is immersion, the root of fear is submersion. Right now, I'm somewhere in between.