This past spring, I left one of the most transient cities I’ve ever lived in; every few years, entire apartments and office buildings turn over, and a fresh crop of hopeful newcomers arrives in Washington, DC. Of course, there are plenty of career folks in town, and people working outside the government, but my take on my year in DC was that everyone was a short-timer, and those transient residents did not want or need new friends. Feeling temporary myself, I made little effort to settle in, and 2016 ended up being one of the loneliest years of my life as I insisted on leaving the city every chance I got.
The funny thing is that I thought I loved impermanence and being on the move. For decades, I dreamed of moving and, even more radically, of becoming nomadic in some form. I am so comfortable traveling and making myself feel at home all over the world that I thought this was the life that suited me best, not the stable, boring, predictable life I had.
Could I have been wrong all along? For that year, at least, I suffered without good friends. I pined for my familiar, tiny grocery store. I became cranky without all my belongings. I realized I had grown roots that were way deeper and stronger than I knew, and when I cavalierly ripped them out of their home soil, I killed something I had undervalued.
So we left DC and resettled more permanently in yet another place, and some of those tethers and connections have begun to repair themselves. I have formed an eclectic group of friends and have grown fond of my house, my neighborhood, and my new city at large. So why am I suddenly, eagerly reading articles about vanlife and people in motor homes with an alarming level of interest? Is that foot that is always poised over the threshold responsible for the weeks-long European road trip I recently put together for the fall?
In the middle of all this thinking about transience and fickleness, berating myself for my grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side attitude, I happened across an article on the so-called “wanderlust gene,” a mutation of the DRD4 gene that helps control dopamine and, thus, learning and reward. If the desire to explore and roam does lie within our genome, it may be the DRD4-7r variant that is the cause of our restlessness, according to dozens of studies that have been published in the last few years, and an astonishing 20% of us might carry it. I like this idea! It’s not a character flaw; it’s in my genetic makeup to seek change and movement!
As I ponder the reasons for always wanting to be where I am not, I leave you with these photos of some of the most transient people on earth – the nomads who live on the Mongolian steppe – and their portable homes. They have moved four times since I left them last summer, and I’ve almost kept up with them, leaving two houses and moving to a third in that time. I plan to stay put for at least another season, but after that anything’s fair game!