Expand and Contract

As someone who typically travels quite a lot, it’s important to me to have comfortable, sustainable inflated and deflated modes of operation.

This means having a sense of what goes where in my bag, what I wear for which travel scenarios (for smooth passage through checkpoints and TSA screenings, for various weather conditions and social settings), and how I get my work done if the WiFi isn’t good, if it’s noisy and I need to record something, and if my attention is pulled in a million different directions but I need to get something written, edited, and published in the twenty minutes I have between flights.

It also means understanding how I settle into a place, unpack my bags, set up a productive environment, and generally shift out of “travel mode” into a “sprawled” or even “rooted” mindset for a period of time.

This is important, I think, as it allows me to periodically decompress, air-out my things (and myself), and enjoy the benefits of roomier mental and physical space, in contrast to experiencing the world through the lens a bag-sized pocket of predictability: a mote of order and familiarity floating through a chaotic, uncontrollable world.

This dichotomous relationship, the expansion and contraction of one’s life, can help sustain balance where lifestyle extremism might otherwise take hold.

It can be compelling, the feeling of pulling inward, decoupling, relegating oneself to a concise, knowable space and superficially engaging with the world without ever becoming part of it: forever a visitor who explores natural and social environments, never a local who helps maintain and shape them.

Staying put, claiming space, and organizing one’s context to suit one’s preferences can also be pleasurable to the point that scenarios in which we lack such control—the casual capacity to reshape our environments in our image—can seem uncomfortable or even frightening.

I don’t think there’s a universal, perfect balance between these two postures: habits, rituals, norms, and stability are more feasible from one footing, while novelty, exploration, surprise, and awe are more likely from the other.

That said, it’s been interesting experimenting with constructing lightweight, intentional, me-shaped homes wherever I end up, rather than melting into the social landscape as completely as possible (which is how I’ve typically done things in the past).

There are benefits to dabbling in both extremes (having a home that’s completely yours to do with as you please, and being in a space you don’t control at all, adjusting your rhythms and priorities accordingly), but as with most things a more sustainable and (for many people) healthy medium is likely somewhere on the spectrum between those two endpoints.

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