Boston: Finding creativity on the Red Line

A free-write about belonging, Roadrunner, and the possibility of having a really impressive wingspan.

Back when I was writing everyday, my favorite posts were inspired by random, unexpected interactions that occurred throughout the day. Inspiration struck while sitting on a bench outside of the laundromat, overhearing a conversation between two strangers, smelling cinnamon, and one time, it hit me (literally) after walking face first into a the door of a coffee shop. We often curse ourselves for not feeling creative or inspired when it works best for us, and maybe our blogs, recipes, and/or lyrics would be more abundant if we were able to conjure inspiration with the snap of our fingers. Unfortunately that’s not how humans work, so we’ll just have to continue walking into doors or doing our laundry in hopes that we spontaneously ignite these little sparks of creativity.

On Sunday, I took myself to the movies to see the Anthony Bourdain documentary. I went by myself to have my farewell alone with my popcorn in the corner of the theater. I’ve always found comfort in his words because they always had a way of stopping me in my tracks, wherever I was, with heavy, bittersweet feelings. The way he expressed his admiration for simple moments of solitude, like when he wrote about how sitting on a red stool with a warm bowl of pho made him feel while nestled somewhere off the wild streets of Vietnam. The way he emphasized his inability to communicate which seemed to conflict with his image as a public figure. In one episode of Parts Unknown, he ended up in a chair explaining how he really felt to a therapist. He spoke about a reoccurring nightmare where he was in a “hotel with endless rooms and hallways” where he could never check out. Back when I was having frequent, sometimes reoccurring nightmares, I often dreamt about long, difficult and mostly impossible journey’s back home. Just like the one Bourdain described, all of my dreams ended with me not knowing how to get home, or struggling to remember whether or not my home existed at all.

I’ve watched this episode several times, and it’s occasionally popped up on reddit forums, Instagram pages, etc. There has never been a moment where hearing it didn’t cause shivers to run down my spine. The concept of “home” is one topic that I can think, mediate, write, scream, etc about for the rest of my days, but I already know I’ll never have an answer. It’s like that scene in the Hitchhikers Guide where they spend thousands of years waiting for a computer to come up with the “answer to the universe” only to have it stubbornly spit out “The answer is 42.”

Even if it was possible to actually have one, single answer – I’d stubbornly find a way to argue against it because I understand the definition, and maybe even what its supposed to be, but I never figured out how or where I’d fit in. There’s never been a moment where I’ve looked around at a specific place and thought “wow, this physical house is exactly where I’d hang one of those ‘home sweet home’ signs.” I’ve settled in several houses, cities, and countries, but I’ve always found a reason to leave. Honestly, one of my biggest fears is that that unexpected need to leave will become inevitable and like no matter how hard I try to stay, something will always find a way to pluck me out.

I thought about all of this yesterday, while taking the red line after coming back home from South Boston. The T stopped at MGH and picked up some more people before crossing the Longfellow. I looked at all the buildings along the skyline and started to name each one, or try to remember times where I’ve looked up to them from the sidewalk. I may not know the exact name of the tallest skyscraper but one time, I watched the clouds pass by in the reflection of its blue windows from the steps of the Boston Public Library. I thought about all the times I’ve crossed this bridge either on foot, by bike, or on the T and felt that familiar reoccurring, transient sense of comfort.

I thought about the constant humming of the T and how in various parts of the city you can feel it rumbling from the sidewalk as it passes underneath you. I often notice it while walking through Harvard Square where I’ve spent many days aimlessly wandering around looking at clouds or rushing to a shift at that restaurant I hated. I remember coming back from a night at Wally’s with a friend and we both stopped mid-conversation to admire the skyline passing by through the window. I remember one day when I leaned my head against the pole at stared out the window to distract myself in a failed attempt to hold back tears. I made eye contact with another passenger and he simply blinked at me before looking out towards the skyline from that same window. Seeing the skyline yesterday reminded me of all the high and lows I’ve experienced over the past 2.5 years and how none of them pushed me to the point where I needed to flee. If anything, all of those experiences only made my attachment to this city more apparent.

Instead of finding a doorstep to call home, I’ve found comfort in these moments whenever I feel a brief, momentary sense of belonging – so maybe that will always be my version of home? I fought with this idea for a really long time because “home” isn’t supposed to be on a red plastic stool, on a bench outside of a laundromat, or in any of those isolated moments I tend to look back on. Home couldn’t be any one of those spaces since I wouldn’t be able to pick just one. So, if home really is “where the heart is,” knowing that it’s not humanly possible to be in several places at the same time made me wonder if its even possible for me to ever be home?

… Even if I could somehow accomplish the impossible task of having the 24,901 mile wingspan that’s necessary to stretch all the way across the earth, defying the odds just to tape that little “home sweet home” print above your favorite seat at that cafe seems a bit… absurd? Also, does it bother anyone else that its 24,901 miles and not 24,900?

All of these thoughts about home and belonging inspired me to sift through some old drafts. Since home and belonging are two topics I write about often, I was curious to see how my perspective has changed. I found these two paragraphs. One was from March 2019 and it was a response to another one from August 2017.

“A common theme behind this blog is finding things that make your heart race. For me, it just wasn’t the obligation to get a degree, start a family, or to land that career only because of its cushy benefit package. It took me years to find my voice and It came as a shock to everyone around me, including myself. I found my voice while being completely broke and alone. I live for those sparks of curiosity, that’s what makes me tick. For that reason alone, I can never go home.” – Aug ‘17

“My home was in the streets of Belgrade, where every sign was decorated in an unfamiliar alphabet. My home was in the vibrant streets of Hanoi, where my heart was as warm as the pho being ladled into my bowl. My home was somewhere in Guangdong Province at a yellow table gathering, surrounded by foreign words and yet another unfamiliar alphabet. My home was in Asheville, somewhere high up in the mountains where I waited for the day that I felt taller than Mt. Mitchell. My home was in Eugene, where I was able to catch my breath and enjoy a fig. My home was on Long Island, where I traced all of my steps back to a single shoreline.” March ‘19

So, for me, home has always been in those moments where I’ve exhaled and felt a rush of memories consisting of both good and bad. When I look at my life in Boston, that sense of belonging (home?) is felt while looking at the skyline and thinking about all the memories I’ve created which allows me to name/recognize all of its buildings. It is felt in both the soft, rumble of the T in Harvard Square and the ear-piercing screech from the tracks near Boylston. I’m not suggesting that I literally feel at home on the red line, not even on it’s best days – you know, when its on-time, not on fire, and not smelling like who knows what. I suppose the view from the bridge just reminds me of all the experiences I’ve had here over the past 2.5 years, how I haven’t fled, and just how great it feels knowing that I’ll be here for a while. Eventually, I’ll end up leaving this city (most likely to somewhere without winter), but at least I now understand that I’ll never stumble upon the physical doorstep of a “Perfect Home” which is what fueled every decision to leave over the past 7 years of my life.

When it comes to defining home, I don’t know where or how I’ll fit into that puzzle. Some of the things I wrote at the beginning of this post conflict with some of these final sentences, but that’s okay. I’m content with knowing that I’ll never have a definitive answer, but I suppose this is just my way of saying that I’m slowly understanding what it means to be “home” and for me, it will never be a physical place.


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