There’s a natural but unsettling feeling of not-belonging that comes with being in a new place. Nothing gives you a sense of the familiar — not the street leading to your new “home,” not the local pub, and most certainly not the faces of the strangers all around you. You are a visitor or a transplant. You are a stranger.
I left a place I know, and by “know” I mean I have a history there — and I am familiar with its history beyond me. I came to know it through my time and experience there. Temporality of knowing is fundamental to the human condition. We must have time with something — with a place, with people — in order to know it or them. Experience is the only way to get beyond the instantly observable. That is, to have a conscious understanding of something.
Can I navigate this new place? Yes, with difficulty. I get lost. I look things up. I have to ask for help. With tools, I can be functional here, but I do not know it. I don’t understand the signs in the windows of houses I pass or the unfamiliar traffic patterns or the beer selections.
In time I will. If I stay, I will know these things — and the more serious history and aspects of the place too. I can come to understand the socio-economic conditions, the culture, the habits and mores of the folks here. Now, I guess at it, but I can come to have such an awareness of it that I take its familiarity for granted. Then I will have a history here.
There’s no getting around it: belonging — knowing — requires historical experience. Making history here will take some time. Until then…
”The whole family hadn’t one member buried here. Everybody was
on the surface of the country, flat on his feet, selling watermelons,
or plowing a row of vines.
We were in Fresno, but we were nowhere, too. How could we really
be in a place until death had caught up with one of us, and we had
buried him and knew he was there?”
– William Saroyan, “Madness in the Family”