Your self can take the train

What have I been up to this last month? Obviously, it wasn’t writing blog posts. No, dear reader, I have been moving. Moving house, moving jobs, moving everything. Specifically, I have moved from sunny California to also-sunny-at-the-moment Massachusetts to take a new job in Boston (more about this at some later point).

This is another thing about my life as a scientist: It has allowed (and partly required) me to move around quite a bit. I did my first degree in one place (interrupted by a study semester in a different place), then I went elsewhere for my Master’s thesis, then elsewhere again for my PhD, then elsewhere as a short-term visiting scholar, then elsewhere for my postdoc, and then elsewhere again and here I am. Overall, my studies and work have involved six countries, four languages and three continents, and that is only counting the places where I have spent six months or more. In general, I find this cool and exciting. Except when I’m actually in the process of moving between two places. Then I find it tedious and difficult.

Given that I have moved house so often, I am surprisingly bad at it. Especially moving away from one place. I don’t like packing boxes, I don’t like looking around for somewhere to live, I don’t like finding a moving company. And of course, I hate to say goodbye to all the friends I have made. Especially since the goodbyes have to be squeezed in between a lot of packing boxes and all that stupid moving stuff. Also, I always come to the sudden realisation that books are quite heavy and that I own quite a lot of them (even though only a fraction of all my books is actually with me at any given time). I usually make some sad attempt at giving some of the books away, but somehow, most of them stay. Or worse. (I swear, in the few days before moving away from California, I somehow acquired three new books. Where did they come from? How did they do it? I will never know.)

On the other hand, moving to a new place is cool and exciting. (Well, it is if you ignore the inconveniences of temporary accommodation, unfurnished flats and tons of paperwork.) By definition, everything you do is new. You see new places. You discover new things. You get to buy new furniture. You meet new people. Everyday things turn into adventures. (This is actually even more true if you move to a place where you don’t speak the language well. In your own language, there will never be this feeling of utter triumph at successfully using a cash machine, filling out a form or getting a haircut. Of course, there is also less potential for utter failure. Ah well …)

The thing with all the new things, places, people etc. is, I think, that it makes yourself feel a bit new. Like a slightly different new person. And of course you are. You can form new habits. You can try new things. You can buy new books (because of course, it will be ages til you move again. And by then you’ll have the logistics all figured out. Because you are a new person, remember?) Maybe this is an illusion. It has been said that you cannot really get away from yourself. But when you are in a new place, you get that short period of time where you feel you can. As my colleague Michele Mattioni once said: “You cannot get away from yourself. But you can fly, while your self takes the train.”

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