You finish parallel parking in your parents small town with a triumphant exhale, and look up at a new asian fusion restaurant that you swear was two blocks over when you visited last year. Or are you on the wrong street? Is this still one-way? Suddenly, the familiar feeling comes over you: What did you miss this time?
The snow is falling, and Starbucks cups are out in full force. Holidays in your hometown! How charming!
A happy glow buoys you up a bit until you realize how much has changed: the kids walking down the pine garland strewn block look older than you remember. They all have the latest oversized pea coats in a trendy shade of camel, and are rocking chunky white adidas that you swore to yourself you wouldn’t buy, but have been eyeing lately. You sigh, and throw your keys into your purse, check for change frantically in your rental car and realize the parking meters take cards now.
What else has changed?
What the hell happened to that Indian buffet you loved so much? Do people still eat froyo here? Who’s engaged? Shit! Who’s married? Who had a baby that you swear you knew about, but can’t seem to remember his name? Who (sadly) has passed away, and who is doing the same old stuff, complaining about the same old things, in the same old way? Or, more importantly, what do you slip back into complaining about in the comfort of your past? At least the bar smells the same, and the bartender seems to be the same bearded dude that employs your cousin as a bouncer on Thanksgiving. He gives you a nod, and you feel a familiar feeling of empty recognition. Stan, you seem to remember his name. Hey! You belonged here once, you think.
Ah, Gilmore Girls. Watching your reboot is like the above awkward but satisfying holiday hometown visit – Sherman-Palladino’s writing elicits the same zingers and chuckles, but somehow the story seems like it isn’t quite as fulfilling as we remember. Maybe its the fact that my small towns look a bit like Stars Hollow, if not quite as idyllic. You’re waiting for the Last Four Words, but thats probably another blog post.
Halfway through the first episode, we get the feeling that we’re left looking back at a world that hasn’t grown, but has suddenly gotten older without any explanation. Rory is still homeless, somehow, and ignoring decisions she should probably make. Lorelei got some work done on her face, but still relies on the worn trope of pettiness, firing someone for moving her coffee maker (kind of). Ms. Patty lost a shit ton of weight.
A sugary romp through memory lane, that seems vaguely satisfying until we realize the problem isn’t the writing: its that we’re different. We’re no longer the high school kids identifying with Lorelei’s angsty spunk, we’re no longer the college ladies who immediately champion Paris’ anger and Emily’s wrath as feminist strength, though they’re still equally powerful characters. We’ve used it and processed it and grown from it, and revisiting it all makes it a little less new, a little less enjoyable, though saccharine and chuckle-worthy, for what its worth.
And god, when was this show always so white? We expect things a bit more complexity and honesty these days: we’re in the age of social media outrage, twitter arguments, serial crime dramas, of Broad City and Insecure, and even Girls that we all outgrew in two seasons. Shit, Frozen felt a little less produced. The simplicity of Stars Hollow paired with the reality of the continued storyline doesn’t leave us with the quick happy endings we all pictured at the end of the GG dynasty. Our favorite characters are still dealing with more shit, which we didn’t really want to face this holiday season, so we critique the very simplicity we crave. But, didn’t we expect that? We’re all still growing.
At Christmas, I want nothing more than to slip back into my 6 year old self, making snowmen, going sledding and picking out Christmas trees, but the adult world calls. Politics, whoa. Bills and deadlines, shorter vacation days, cat sitters to pay, dog sweaters to buy, and corporate christmas parties to navigate in equal parts classy and equal parts sassy. “Oh, I don’t need anything this year” has replaced the ease and fulfillment that used to light us up like the simple act of getting the toy of the year. A bike, a dog, transformers action figures –are satisfactions of yore.
Our lists are a little more complex these days: We want constantly supplied happiness. A vacation in Bali. More mulled wine. A functioning, exciting relationship. A car payment. A life purpose. We run from our roots and then expect them to be equally fulfilling whenever we want to pop back by memory lane for a visit. Well, let me tell you, life doesn’t work like that, honey.
Your baby cousin will get married this upcoming summer, and you’ll be there. Halfway through you’ll probably wonder how this barbie wielding, cannonball-jumping, fruit-by-the-foot binging toothless wonder grew up into such a beautiful woman, and you’ll probably cry off your fake eyelashes in front of everybody. Your mom will purge the whole house (or, refuse to) and finally change the color palette in the kitchen. She’ll get arrested for environmental protesting. Your high school roommate will buy a house with her significant other. Your dad might finally take a vacation, and you’ll hear him complain for the first time ever, and realize its your job now to find ways to fix it. Everyone will look a little older, and new memories will be made while you’re not there, but the default nostalgia will be less fulfilling with each passing year.
Friends will have us over and suddenly that will become Christmas: getting drunk on rum and six types of fudge in the glow of a 15 foot tree. Speculating when your friends little sister will have kids. Can you be an aunt!? Laughing about everything and nothing at the same time. Setting off sparklers and feeling like home again, but in a new place.
I spent Thanksgiving in Vietnam this year with a group of digital nomads. It felt very tropical, but also very natural: We’re all growing up a bit, expanding our migration patterns, and that feels infinitely more comfortable than fitting back into your pair of high-school jeans. It would have felt out of sorts to return home to have the same old conversations when so much of the American landscape has changed.
At a speaker series in Hanoi this week, an international journalist and poet turned local restauranteur mentioned how “constant travelers live on the scaffolding of the world” unable to touch down and dig deep because they are constantly developing new personalities that they must house within themselves and take wherever they go, choosing who to present as strangers in every land.
Because of this, the concept of home no longer is where your current postal address is, but is instead rekindled when you have a conversation filled with intimacy and recognition. I can think back to two incredible visits by worldly friends in Morocco: both times felt like home, discussing politics and international policy first in the blue city of Chefchaouen, and the second in Marrakech with a dear friend I’ve been meeting all over the world.
Friendships become home, not places. We can’t just rely on distant memories these days, so if you’re heading home this holiday season, its time to become friends again. Meet your family with understanding and forgetfulness: Don’t put them back in the box. They’ve also changed. Start the conversation.