Stories on the edge of familiarity

World Tour, Day 2: Adjusting Your Internal Compass

A few years ago, I went to visit relatives in China (they’re not Chinese, they just live there) and I remember having a weird time adjusting my internal compass.

What I mean by this is: I’ll have a sense that I’m in <this place> in the world (usually Alberta, seeing as that’s where I’ve lived most of my life), that there’s this radius aren’t me of <these surroundings> and that I’m oriented on <this part> of the globe. The feeling of hereness resides just behind my belly button. It’s the pin on the map.

“You are here” it says as you figure out how the heck to get to the parking lot over on the other side.

When I go to a new place, that sense of here behind my belly button needs to be moved to a different part of the map, otherwise I assume in my gut that I’m on the wrong part of the globe and the disagreement it has with my head leaves me feeling disjointed.

(Which you’d think would mean that I’m better at directions than I am, but on a scale from one to ten, I’m at a “my parents bought me a GPS before I ever had my drivers licence”)

It’s like… a centre of gravity. Location gravity. Places I’ve lived have the most gravity. It’s easier to adjust to them. The pin moves there without me having to jump through any cognitive hoops. Places I visit a lot (like B.C., where my relatives live) have their own gravity, but it’s a boomerang gravity. It takes me in to send me back to a home place after a short period of time.

China was hard to adjust to because I had to tilt the whole globe in my head and convince that place behind my belly button to pin down on this orientation of the planet. It took a while before my gut stopped assuming I was in Alberta and got used to me being in China.

Knowing this, I got a head start yesterday while on the bus and started adjusting “here” to fit Seattle. Seattle’s not as far away from Alberta as China is, but I thought it would be useful to start right away with shifting my centre of gravity. I’m going to do this the whole trip, with each location I’m at, resisting the pull of Alberta, because I want to be fully present in each space and take in what it has to offer.

So, observations about Washington on the way to Seattle:

Everything is greener. There’s just more chlorophyll, I guess. I blame it on all the humidity and rain that happens here because we’re right next to the ocean, with no mountain range in the way to stop the moisture from travelling inland.

There are fun vines clinging to concrete, rooted in the cracks and spreading out flat along the walls. Some are green. Some are vivid red.

That’s another colour you don’t see much on plants in Alberta: red. Deep, rich, red leaves. Mature autumn leaves. Most of the trees are still green, but there’s this one kind of bush I saw along the roads in some towns that are only tame because they allow it for now. Their vividness could never be kept small if they decided to become the flame they have the potential to be.

I read the second Sparkstone book by Clare Marshall (and, dang it, now I have to wait for her to publish the third). And then there were the crazy overpasses the likes of which I’ve never seen in Canada, only in American cities like Seattle and Portland.

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And I took a crappy skyline sort of shot because I needed my establishing shot for Seattle and I’d missed the proper skyline on the way in because I’d been on the wrong side of the bus.

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Such backlighting. Much wat.

But: Seattle. I am here.

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