A New Place: musings on movement and stasis

a caccia di pozzanghere

Creative Commons License photo credit: ♥serendipity

There’s a unique feeling about being in a New Place – somewhere you’ve never been before, a place you get to see and experience for the first time, with fresh eyes and ears. Anyone who has travelled a reasonable amount will be familiar with it. There’s an alertness, an innocence, an openness to the experience which is really special and which can never really be reclaimed on subsequent visits – although familiarity, of course, brings its own very different rewards.

There is also a difference between being in a new place for a very short time, just passing through as it were, and moving to a new place for a longer period. ‘Just passing through’ is what many tourists and travellers do – even if you have a few days to spend in a great city, say, you still have limited commitment and are really only there for the quick ‘taste test’.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but the fact remains that living someplace new for an extended period – say, a few months at least – is an essentially different experience. You see things through different eyes when you’re looking for things to ground yourself and your new life in. There is a greater sense of commitment to the neighborhood you have landed in, the shops you know you’ll visit many times, the patterns you’ll fall into.

You’re inserting yourself into the environment in a more substantial way, and allowing itself to get much deeper under your own skin. You’ll become enmeshed with it, hear and feel its more subtle rhythms and allow your own to synchronize somewhat with them.

And being conscious of this at the outset (perhaps because you’ve done it a few times before, as I have) is a pretty neat feeling. It’s fun to know that there is so much waiting to be discovered, so many secrets waiting to reveal themselves to your explorations, so many stories waiting to unfold.

Just passing through, or staying a while?

That’s what I’m experiencing now, for the first time in many years. I’ve relocated for 5 months or so to Vienna, Austria – one of the great cities of Europe, without a doubt, and a place with a deep and complex history and culture which I’m excited to have the opportunity to really explore.

And it’s got me thinking about that particular sense of openness that comes with relocation – as distinct from the dislocation of travel which I discussed in the last post. More than being open to new experience, allowing a place to make its superficial imprint on you and imagining what it might be like to live there, this is about opening ourselves up as well. It’s a symbiotic thing.

In a sense, any creative act is more like this than like the just-passing-through feeling of travel; we give of ourselves to a new creation, and we allow it into ourselves just as we shape it, put our stamp on it, and so on.

But I’m wondering if some creative work is more like this, and some more like travel. There is a different feeling when poised at the edge of beginning something ‘big’, a sense of anticipation that many things remain to be discovered, many secrets have yet to be revealed…

In a sense I suspect that my ‘shoot-from-the-hip’ improvisational approach might be more like the day tripping tourist or traveller, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. While pondering this an image floated up from the depths of my memory, which might shed some light on the subject.


Once, a long time ago in a city far far away (Vancouver, to be precise) I was spending a lovely sunny day wandering around Granville Island, which is a little enclave of theatres, restaurants, a brewery and market square, and an eclectic mix of artists’ workshops, studios and galleries. It’s a great place, a kind of escape from the city in the middle of the city.

While wandering about aimlessly in a park-like area I became aware of a slow, rhythmic ‘chinking’ sound, and my curiosity led me to follow it to its source. In a sunny courtyard in front of his workshop a sculptor was chipping away at a large stone sculpture. I watched him for a while and then engaged him in conversation.

I told him that I was a musician and that I specialized in improvisation, creating spontaneously and entirely ‘in the moment’, and we mused on how different that was from his work. I asked him how long he’d been working on that particular sculpture and he said “about a year”… and estimated it would probably take another year to finish.

I was flabbergasted – the idea of someone spending that much of their lives on a single piece of creative work was so far removed from my experience. It still is, to an extent, though perhaps a little less so (I was pretty young then so two years seemed a lot bigger chunk of life than it does now).

I’ve got you under my skin

It didn’t change my life or my work, but it made me think about different approaches to this notion of how much time a given piece of work deserves or needs. I still think there’s something in the rapid, ephemeral way of working, and I’m still somewhat more drawn to it overall.

But a small part of me wonders what it would be like to be deeply engaged with something that would take years. How that project would form a much bigger and deeper part of my life and work than a piece that I make in an hour or so.

Of course in a sense I am very much involved with a big ongoing project; the development of a creative voice, the slow growth of technique and skill and sensitivity and mastery. In the end maybe it’s not so different.

And there’s also a reason I’m here, which is to play another of these crazy dinner/theatre/circus shows that have become the mainstay of my music career. I’ll be getting into that a bit more in the next post, but it’s worth mentioning since tonight is our official premiere…

In any case, it’s kind of interesting (to me, anyway!)  to think about how this new place will sink into my perspective, my narrative, and my creative work over the time that I’m here. And it’s kind of exciting to be at the beginning of that journey. Kind of like being at the beginning of a new creative project, pregnant with possibility and potential, its hidden subtleties waiting to be discovered and revealed, along with the ways in which it will inevitably change us.

So, what about you? Are you a tourist, a traveller or a stay-in-one-place type? Are you at the beginning of anything exciting? Is it different than being at the end? Better? Worse?