It is 10:30PM, and I’m sitting in my hotel room in Calgary. Half an hour ago, I left Bootlegger’s in the north-east corner of the city, where I drank more cider than was good for me and where I watched Aaron Seigo of KDE doing karaoke with “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues,” and mugging with local developer David Crosby to “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman.” I would have stayed longer to cap off an ejoyable day at COSSFest, except that I have one more talk and panel tomorrow, and I want to get a workout in the morning. So, here I am in my room, reflecting on the love-hate relationship I have with hotel rooms.
On the one hand, a hotel room represents a holiday. So long as I’m staying here, I have none of my normal responsibilities, all the more so because I am travelling alone. I have none of my normal work; although I suppose that the talks I’m giving are part of it, they are such a change that I don’t really associate them with my usual routine. I have no meals to cook, no garbage to take out, and I can be as tidy or as messy as I want to (which means that I usually start by putting everything away, and end gradually strewing my belongings in piles around the room). For a few days, I am living without responsibilities, and, while I don’t regret any of my personal obligations, being free of them still evokes a sudden sense of freedom.
On the other hand, I keep thinking of Harlan Ellison’s comment on hotel rooms: “Why did you come so far to be alone?” The truth is, whenever I am traveling solo, I sooner or later start to feel isolated. Don’t get me wrong – the people at the conference are all interesting people, free and open source software geeks of a sort I understand and deal with regularly. But I am away from my partner and my pets, and I am not meeting up with some of the people I might have in Calgary. So, at the same time I feel liberated, I also feel mildly melancholy.
It’s not, you understand, existentially melancholy, or self-absorbed. It’s more the wistful, thoughtful sort – the kind that drives me to write a blog entry about it in order to describe and understand it.
Besides, the older I get, the more I get interested in complicated emotional states, whether in me or in someone else. Or maybe I’ve just had enough to drink to be in a pseudo-profound mood that I’ll disavow in the morning.
Probably, though, it’s more than that. Ultimately, there is a vast indifference in hotel rooms. I am only camping in this room very briefly, and nothing and no one in the hotel cares if I linger or go. The paintings on the wall and the furniture are blandly unobtrusive, and there is a ridiculous extra bed in the room to remind me that the place was neither designed or decorated with me in mind.
This impersonality is at the core of both the feelings my hotel stay provokes, and makes the ambiguity that much more precarious. Probably, it is just as well that I am only here for another thirty-six hours, or else I would fall into one mood or the other, and neither, I think, is particularly healthy.