“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.” -Maya Angelou
Have you guys ever been to Austin? If not, put it on your to-do list. Unless you hate interesting-everything, friendly strangers, dogs at bars, live music, and food-trucks. If you hate those things, maybe save some room on your bucket list for all the melancholy, mundane things you’re already wasting your time doing.
Just kidding. Kinda. Apologies. I’m in a rather foul mood this week. Which is why I’m writing about Austin. It’s one of the happiest places I’ve visited. Nashville, too.
Must be the music. Artistic people are hard to hate.
My friend Chelsea and I stayed together at an Airbnb. It’s my understanding that this is the best way to lodge in Austin. Hotels are just absurd money-guzzlers. Plus, homes are… well, homey-er.
I only met one of our hosts (a couple that met each other teaching English in Thailand). The gal was friendly, overly-kind, and quirky, with a beautiful, flowy, easy-going, authentic-Anthropologie style. Even before meeting her, though — whilst drinking a glass of wine on the handmade (by her husband) picnic table featured below — I felt like I wanted to be best friends with them. The house alone painted a pretty clear picture of a life story I struggled not to envy.
I immediately liked the owners of all that funky, artsy, tribal stuff. It was a perfect blend of Arizona-y western knick-knacks combined with eastern oriental goods. Oh, and just a touch of creative hipsterish-ness. Like this nifty lil table — made out of a DOOR — with a sweet record player and an impressive collection of vinyls (they really love the 80s… and Fleet Foxes, btw). This merited instant best-friend status in my book.
Sidenote: one of their cats has a mustache. Honestly, can you get any cooler
(Spoiler alert: no, the answer’s “no”.)
Anyway, Texas was awesome. Nearly every stranger I met had a story, or a personality, I felt drawn into in a short span of time. I could write a post about each and every one of them.
A lady that sold me a pair of earrings (made out of the exact same stone my necklace was made out of) was from Nashville, but lived in New Orleans before moving to Austin to play music. She described her life as one big “music city tour”. All of her jewelry was made out of old guitar strings.
Her partner lived in Portland awhile and harbored a comical disdain for Baltimore, which I, a disgruntled Baltimorean, obviously appreciated. He told us we had to watch the 1.5 million bats emerge from the bridge across the street (Congress Street) in their nightly sunset hunting departure — it’s the largest urban bat-colony in North America. We also paddle boarded below that same bridge in the daytime… Live Love Paddle is the name of the company. I highly recommend visiting these guys, too. They are the most laid-back dudes ever. Just be sure to fist-bump them and pet their office dog, Oliver…
The best pizza in Austin is Home Slice — trust me on this, I’ve got countless sources to confirm this “subjective” assertion. Our waitress was so bubbly, without being annoying, and, again, genuinely kind. She alerted me that my brand new earring was about to fall out of my ear and introduced me to the best bottle of wine I’ve ever had. I regret to inform all of you that I can’t remember the name of it. I’ll edit this later when I figure out this most pertinent of facts.
We met some guys from Belgium at a dueling piano bar. One of those dudes drunkenly stole the spotlight… dancing on stage, belligerent, but in the best way. He could barely speak English, but asked that we write his country’s name on the Instagram photo we posted of him performing. He’d be displeased to understand (but likely, laugh) what we wrote instead (pictured below). A random lady nearby them bought us margaritas just because…
Photo courtesy of Chelsea Piersanti.
Clearly, I could go on for pages about the wonderful characters we encountered…
I felt the same way when I was in Nashville a couple of months ago. And when I was in Roanoke this past weekend. And countless other times I struck up a conversation with a random stranger on a plane, at a bar, at a friend’s house, aboard a train, on the street, in a book-store, restaurant, or even a public rest-room.
I wonder why?
Then it dawned on me. I am a little rootless. When you feel like you don’t belong anywhere, you can find a way to fit in anywhere. At least for a little while.
I don’t feel like anywhere is home anymore. Maybe nowhere ever was. Maybe everywhere always has been. Perhaps everywhere, at least, has the ability to temporarily feel like home if surrounded by the right blend of people.
But home isn’t a static thing.
It’s a transitory, dynamic thing. It’s always moving. Evolving. It’s not tangible. It’s within you. It fluctuates with each change you experience.
It’s not necessarily your home-town, your blood relatives, or your new adult home place at all. It’s more of an imaginary place within you that elicits the nostalgia of the most peaceful, happiest moments of your life. Home can be everywhere and nowhere all at once.
I’ve turned countless strangers into best friends. And then I’ve lost a few favorites as our paths inevitably forked. I’ve been more desperate to cling to some more than others, but the Universe usually knows best.
Those old long-lost friendships are never really lost though. They’re forever within me — as I add their finest parts to a growing mountain of people, places, and things that make me feel at home. Even if I now know home is an imaginary place.
But isn’t that the whole point in life? Seeking salvation? Even if that means believing in imaginary things in order to cope with reality? We’re all looking for an imaginary place to run to when the weight of the world becomes too heavy.
From Santa Claus, to God, all the way to true love —and every beautiful and hopeful story in between— the imagination makes all things possible. So when I meet a stranger with a beautiful soul (perceived or real, it doesn’t much matter in the moment), I take them to my imaginary mountain where I’ve permanently built an imaginary home.
In each of these lovely strangers, I can entertain a life story worth emulating. I can escape my own reality and live vicariously through theirs, through whatever connections we’ve exchanged. And, sure, the more truth I learn about any given person, the more likely my imaginary ideal of them is tainted, but that’s just life.
They’ve still blessed me with something to take to my imaginary mountain. And the more displeasing realities we learn to accept about each other, the more real (albeit, challenging) our connection becomes.
Maybe a real friendship never pans out and I never see them again. Or maybe it does, but it becomes toxic. Or maybe it just dissolves because life happens. It’s still served a very real purpose.
One day, all my best friends will become strangers anyway. But I can always go home and find them again.