My last blogpost was about feeling lost in London. A few weeks later I found myself on a mountain in the Japanese Alps.
I arrived tired in Tokyo. Excuses were available. It was only a few days after Christmas, after a long flight and the inevitable effects of jet-lag. But the familiar feeling was more than that. I was burned-out; a weariness that extends deeper than your body and down into your soul.
Life in London was getting me down. I felt far away from everything I love and constantly buffeted by life in a strange and unfamiliar city. The best analogy I could find was to compare it to being stuck in the mud, which I wrote about in a post called the Mire.
In that post I suggested things had started to get better, but there was still a long way to go.
A few weeks before Christmas I had some friends from Canada come visit. They were in London for a few days, and as the date approached I was somewhat hesitant about them seeing my new home. Not because it was smaller and less modern than my old Tokyo home, but because it was such a cluttered mess, partly the result of poor unpacking by the removals company here in the UK, but mostly because I was just overwhelmed by the challenge of trying to make the belongings from one home fit into the skeleton of another house.
The truth was, I’d been struggling for weeks – not just to make the move work, but make my life work as well.
Come Christmas I was barely able to keep up with festivities, and as I traveled from Tokyo to my cabin in the Japanese Alps I felt ill.
For three days I did little more than sleep. All day. All night. I guess it was a virus. But it also felt like my body crying out for rest. It’s funny that once I got to a safe, familiar, and dare I say tidy place, my body chose to shut down and rest.
The thing I noticed during those sick days was how fast my mind was running. Every time I woke it was like I had a thousand conversations all competing for attention in my mind. I’d have to shut them down one at a time before nodding off to sleep again.
Eventually I was able to strap on skis and head out to the mountains. I had some my best-ever days of skiing. A few adventures in soft powdery snow. Some days of aggressive carving on the groomed runs.
It wasn’t just that I skied well, but while skiing I wasn’t thinking about anything else. I had to remind myself to take out the iPhone and snap photos from time to time because I kept forgetting to use the thing.
I was even able to choose a theme for 2020 during those days – something I’d been struggling to do for longer than normal.
Of course, holidays are wonderful and mountain-top experiences are great because most of us don’t live on top of mountains. But what happens we come back down to reality?
The first few days in London, I started to feel unsettled again. The weather was so dark and grim. The traffic so loud. And everywhere I went, from cafes to shops to public transport, people kept bumping into me.
I then listened to a Longform Podcast interview with James Verini. Best known for his reporting on ISIS and from the ground in war-torn Mosul, Verini has recently moved back to the US. The interviewer asked him what it felt like to live in America, and his response was a subtle shift of focus; Verini wasn’t there to live, he was there to work. It was the need to report on racial tensions in the US that drove him to relocate.
This was a reminder to me that I wasn’t in London because I loved the culture, or wanted to live here because it was better than living in some other place. I’m here because of Work and Love.
The person I love has a great job here, and for the work I want to do over the next few years, writing about art and music, London is a great place to be.
Those facts are a great comfort, because the list of things I like about London is so short. I recently asked on Twitter in what ways London was better than Tokyo. People chimed in with all sorts of reasons but as I read through them, I could agree with only a handful.
But as a place to immerse myself in a community of writers, to draw inspiration from a wide range of galleries, museums, and learning opportunities, then London has something deep and wonderful to offer me.
And that mountain top in the Japanese Alps is only a plane ride away.