The scene is the usual – a bunch of internationals crammed into a cigarette boxed sized Nolita apartment, drinking cheap Prosecco while wailing about visa problems, commiserating that we seem to have all of the choices, and yet none of the options.
Life out of a suitcase comes with its own set of baggage, ask any of our tribe of expat kids passing through New York, London, Los Angeles, trying to make a big city our own. We sit on cheap Ikea furniture and our idealistic college values, plotting the next move, booking the next flight. We all have a desire to look for home anywhere but home, and yet wonder if staying at home might not have been the more strategic choice. All of this jet-setting comes with a jet lag of existentialism.
We are the kids who have made it through a prestigious college or the other and now have a year or two’s visa to figure it out, before we return to the motherland, or on to another land. We are desperately searching for a geographical solution to the existential issue of existence.There is a culture of psychotic overachieving ambitiousness, an insatiable desire for conquering the foreign territory, taming it into something you can call yours. The alternative is to surrender and return, tail between your legs, begging uncle so and so for a job, settling back into the old routine, expectations and belief systems which if not deathly boring are at least comfortable. We know that we are so blessed to call these our concerns.
We have been born dying to leave. At Christmases and between sublets we return to our motherlands. In the social warfare that is a dinner party we are gauged for progress, bombarded with the usual “So how are you doing” quickly followed by a “And when are you coming back home”. The only response to which is a quick “everything’s great” and “soon” before quietly weeping into the same old familiar hors d’oeuvres.
We are united by an overarching underlying dread that we might have been better off if we had just stayed at home and used the resources available to us there. The possibilities that exist at home are solid, accessible realities, but they are of a limited spectrum. But narrowing down the options also limits the existential anxiety. Most of us are defined by preferring to be overwhelmed with choice than living in the sleepy contentment of no choices at all.
On one of these nights, in a cigarette box sized Nolita apartment, some time between the Prosecco and visa woes, my clothes rack came crashing down, for the millionth time. It was the third one I had ordered off of Amazon, held together with duct tape and some prayers, a substitute for a real chest of drawers. A chest of drawers felt too permanent – a concept reserved for a real life person, a person committed to a place and a space. Who would spend money on something you can’t casually move to Mexico with?
I spent hours agonizing over whether to just make the investment and buy the dresser or to spend next to nothing on something more ethereal. The usual Amazon clothes rack that would hold up all my stuff while I slept and worked and played and laughed and got bored and had my heartbroken, and promoted and demoted, all with the idea that it doesn’t really make sense to commit, because I probably won’t be here that long anyway. In truth, what this tribe of people all have in common is a serious set of commitment issues.
Commitment issues aren’t to do with other people; they’re issues with committing to an idea of yourself. The idea of who you are in a certain place, with a certain person, studying in a certain field, working in a certain career. It’s placing severe importance on how external factors can mold you, and obsessively trying to mastermind and manipulate those factors to create the best hypothetical version of yourself. It’s trying on and trying to pick which version of yourself you like the best, or like at all. Do I like the New York version of me? Do I like the Jamaican version of me? All while thinking is this the best its going to get? Is settling down, settling?
So, do you keep living out of the suitcase, or do you buy the chest of drawers? Do you go all in, throw in the towel and throw in a throw blanket for good measure? I’d rather have a few wrinkles in my clothes and a good time than a perfectly pressed wardrobe. In the end I passed on the chest of drawers, bought the throw blanket and called it a day. That’s about as much commitment as I can handle anyways.