Ethan Zuckerman’s online home, since 2003

On being a fast moving homebody

Joshua Ramo has a beautiful meditation in a recent issue of Newsweek International about the joys of living life at “jet speed”. By calculating his total travel in a year and the total number of hours in that year, he discovers his average speed over the course of a year is roughly 45.8 miles per hour. Rather than being a sign of his alienation and unhappiness, this speed, for Joshua, is an emblem of a life that’s full to bursting with experience, sensation and contact.

I’ve met Joshua a few times – we have friends in common, including Martin Varsavsky, whose blog led me to Joshua’s article. And I have a life that’s generally overflowing with sights, sensations, wonderful people and a huge amount of air travel.

But my average speed is – thankfully – about a third of what Joshua averages. One of the main reasons for this is the fact that, in an odd way, I’m a homebody. For 15 of the past 16 years, I’ve lived in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts and eastern New York. I moved here when I was 16 to attend college, and with the exception of a year living in Accra, have lived here – more or less – ever since.

I spent the morning at Tunnel City Coffee, the social hub of Williamstown, Massachusetts. As I drank two cups of iced coffee over the course of three hours, I traded nods and smiles with two dozen people I’ve known for a years, whether or not I know their names. I catch up with a colleage from Tripod, a professor I took several classes with and one I never studied with but always admired. I check email on the free wifi and listen to faculty grouse about grading papers. The mothers with babies come and go as a pack. The retirees arrive as couples and take over their tables.

Walking up the street to pick up mail at the post office, someone calls my name. It’s Sandra Burton, the chair of the dance department at Williams. For the four years I spent at Williams, she was the director of the dance ensemble I drummed for, my boss as I stage-managed the dance performance space, my professor when I studied African music and dance… and my surrogate parent, helping talk me through the academic, romantic and identity crises that come with being a college student. She reminds me that we haven’t seen each other for almost a year and we hug for a long time, then stand on a street corner and talk for half an hour, about mutual friends, fundraising, trips to Africa, a friend’s death…

The wonder of travelling around the world is that you never know what wonderful person you’re going to meet next. The wonder of being home is that you do.

It’s probably the only time I’ll spend in my hometown for a month or so. And it’s refreshing and rejuvenating as a warm shower and a long sleep after getting off a transpacific flight. I’m glad my average speed is slow enough that I get to enjoy these moments as well as the moments you only get when you’re in motion.

6 Responses to “On being a fast moving homebody”

  1. RM says:

    Beautiful post. Makes me jealous of both Josh who actually loves being rootless, and you, who have a real home and people worth going home to.

  2. John Powers says:

    Yes indeed a beautiful post. Not to get all New-Age, but you come to mind when I think “planetary consciousness.” At the root of humanism, as Voltaire concludes in Candide is to “tend our gardens.” Being rooted in a place a person naturally grows fond; for example there are a couple of hills just beyond where I live and the sight of them at times moves me to my bones. It’s the great love we find in the ordinary which allows great affinity for others who tend to their gardens where ever they are.

    That doesn’t always follow, of course, provincials can be fiercely local and agin’ outsiders of any stripe. But as the slogan goes: think globally; act locally isn’t an oxymoron. The way you do your life proves the point brilliantly.

  3. Wayne Hall says:

    What a lovely post, Ethan. The coffee house dynamic you descibe is exactly same one I find at Common Grounds in Lexington, KY – right down to the professors grousing about grading papers and the ins and outs of mothers with their babies. There’s no finer place to sit and write for a while. Does Tunnel City Coffer have ancient hardwood floors as well?

  4. Rachel says:

    :-) :-) :-)

    What a beautiful meditation on the place we call home…and on how fortunate we are who have both roots and wings.

  5. Darius says:

    You are truly fortunate because you have some genuinely good things – and appreciate them.

  6. HEy mOVe! says:

    i love the small town feel of your post, i live in a small town but there isnt a main street where people hang out i wish there was

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