As a child, I admired characters, in life and on the page, who had no fixed abode in time or space. My heroes were loners who moved on at the drop of a (cowboy) hat. This was me to a tee. When my father talked of his travels with the RAF, I went with him in my imagination.
I never wanted stuff; stuff tied you down. My maternal grandfather warned me to beware possessions as they end up possessing you. Years later, watching the movie ‘Heat’, I smiled ruefully as Robert de Niro’s character, Neil McCauley, said: ‘A guy told me one time, ‘Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat…” Because, yes, stuff tied you down.
As soon as I could walk I was off. My maternal grandmother quickly nicknamed me ‘Dot’ (in the distance). Feet on the ground I was off, at a cracking pace, into the distance. I understood solvitur ambulando long before my Latin lessons. Walking does solve it, whatever ‘it’ is. I walk it out. The more I walk, the weller I feel.
Kierkegaard felt the same: ‘Thus, if one just keeps on walking, everything will be alright’ (letters). Chatwin put it more sanguinely in ‘The Songlines’: ‘I had been sitting on my arse for a couple of weeks and was beginning to feel the disgust for words that comes from taking no exercise.’
For many years, I moved a lot and traveled very little. I was not myself and not at home. By moving, I grew into myself. I do travel, farther than others and not as far as some, and there’s farther still to go than I ever will or want to. Though I move and have no residential address, there are places I feel at home. These are the places I stay. There is a clear difference between living, visiting and staying.
Living is what I do, gratefully, every day. For me, it has nothing to do with place, no connection with an address. Visiting happens with new places, or with courtesy calls to those who describe themselves as ‘living’ in a particular location. Staying is what I do when I find somewhere I like and want to get to know. That’s where I lay my (cowboy) hat. Before staleness sets in, though, it’s time to move – because there’s always back to come.
Is there a purpose? I cannot say. All I’ve talked of here is function. The best description was coined before I was born: ‘We shall not cease from exploration/ And the end of all our exploring/ Will be to arrive where we started/ And know the place for the first time’ (TS Eliot, ‘Little Gidding’).
In any case, I shall leave the last words to a favorite of mine, John Donne: ‘To live in one land is captivity, To run all countries, a wild roguery; Waters stink soon if in one place they bide, And in the vast sea are more purified: But when they kiss one bank, and leaving this/ Never look back, but the next bank do kiss, Then are they purest. Change is the nursery/ Of music, joy, life, and eternity. (Elegy III: Change)