Underthecurrent


admitting you don’t know what you want
July 27, 2010, 11:32 pm
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Of course it’s cliche. Call it quarterlife or anything else. This is hardly an unbroken trail, in fact it’s more of a paved highway. Since admitting what is about to happen, other souls in similar boats have come out of the woodwork. Some are more successful than others, but not one has said “don’t do it.”

(It’s all a little Choose Your Own Adventure. Except without the option to page back and undo things knowing that you will end up in a dark pit with the lights closing out or whatever other morbid direction your impulsive decision to raft down the river took you.)

One thing I’m dealing with is that most of what’s out there focuses on round-the-world (hashtag RTW all over) travel for people my age, usually with some default ambition to start travel writing or profiting from some kind of location-independent career. I’m not really doing either of these things, and this isn’t a ‘gap year.’

Both RTW’s and gap years imply taking a break and returning. For me, in the end, this may be the result but it was never the intent. This is not a break from my Real Life, it is real life. Truthfully, my version of an RTW happened almost three years ago. I covered four continents worth of places, went through the discovery phase of backpacking/youth travel (something well preserved in the Map For Saturday blog/movie), and came home. I’ve probably already had more than I deserved. It’s no coincidence that two of the continents not yet explored are a hypothetical landing spot, but this is not a pin-map world canvassing tour.

For me, what I’m looking for isn’t a destination or set of destinations, per se, it’s about personal development and finding home. There are skills and qualities I don’t have that I want to have which will appear near impossible to develop on this trajectory. The reason I know this is because (1) I was closer to certain things before heading on this path – which I do not regret because it has given me intangibles I would not otherwise have – and I’ve noticed the erosion, (2) what I do now absorbs a significant amount of time and energy, at least to make it worthwhile.

The finding home thing is affirmed by Away We Go, but even more so by people I have met along the way raising their children in supportive communities. It is not decided whether I will end up with kids or not but I have a list of things I would like to offer them. First, a second citizenship and passport. Second, a second language. Third, a chance to be in nature at a young age and the independence that develops. Fourth, membership in a small supportive community which shares my values and can give them a real sense of home and place in the world. As in, I want them to grow up around calm, well-rounded adults who don’t especially value material wealth. It would be folly to imply I have things figured out, but even if the kid never needs any of the above it would be nice for them to have it. Some of the above, while there is still time, I want for myself. I want to live the rest of my life in a community that adds value to it, where people have priorities I understand. I made one choice to the same effect about five years ago and have learned a lot about how important community is. It is now time to make another.

[I hesitate to list what exact personal development I am after, but it skews towards a mushy spiritual quest side of things and I think it is better left undocumented.]

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27 July, 2010 05:23
July 27, 2010, 5:23 am
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Long walk. The grocery trek. One dollar for a head of lettuce and a box of granola bars. One dollar and four cents for some fancy pasta. Two dollars worth of local salami and two more for a dozen eggs. It’s like a game. The super bonus level is not getting anything that won’t be consumed in the immediate future, or finding things that pair with things that need to be used up. At home, substitions, a sugar for another sugar, fats interchangeable, creativity with starches.

This week I will make a vegan ceasar salad, banana pancakes with strawberry honey. I will empty a jam jar and maybe a mustard jar too.

My best friend is coming to visit and we will attempt to drink the last of my wine and hard stuff before a night on the town, a farewell kind of tour.

All of this emptying is a distraction, a way to pass the time. I am so ready to be done.



working for the weekend
July 23, 2010, 10:40 pm
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July winds down. I am sitting at my desk fascinated by a tube of gloss with visible sparkles in it. It smells sort of like pineapple candy. The result of applying this hourly is no doubt ingesting some kind of petro byproduct plus whatever the sparkles are made of. This is not a deterrent.

It has gone from baking to pouring. In an hour and ten minutes, Im out. Coffee shop skype session, hour drive to the lake, the perfect weekend in wait.



(Last night I dreamt I was at a Johnny Cash concert.)
July 21, 2010, 11:03 pm
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Comments on work. Sometimes Im reluctant to make any because I feel like I will be held to them or people will make unfair judgment calls about things best not judged unless experienced. Theres no point in waxing over whats great or what will be missed. The stand-out moments are few and far between, but very sweet. Enough to believe in, to retain that small amount of idealism.

Then theres the other side, the litany of things that used to make me concerned but now just make me feel relieved I wont have to deal with them anymore. The past week, as the constant guilt coupled with frequent anxiety subsides, feels so much better. Muscles less tense, eyes less strained. Quitting has been expected, admittedly, to be a huge head trip full of emotional reactions to making a big life decision, a lot of negative emotion, maybe even grief.

It never occurred to me until now that maybe it will just feel like relief. The past two years were not at all a waste. The results: a small amount of financial stability, a couple of credentials, and license to say I checked things out.

Theres a significant learning curve ahead. I have a set amount of money and no real idea how long it will last or when there will be more. For the record, I earmarked a chunk of it to get me to a place where I can get a work visa if necessary and another chunk to cover health insurance for the first year. Theres some cash locked up that would, hopefully, be enough to land in a North American city and start over, the back up to the back up in a worst-case scenario. Some parts in what is about to happen may be more difficult than anything so far.



On to the next one
July 19, 2010, 10:57 pm
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Thirty office days left after today. Six more casual Fridays, six more weekends. Office wear degenerates, progressively more random, but finally free of tights and other cold weather constraints.

These last weeks lack purpose and I find myself coasting, unable to figure out how to best use the time, a little lost. Maybe deflated. Maybe hibernating. The past two or three years have been the least motivated in, possibly, my life. The last two years, in particular, have been devoid of side projects/volunteer work/hobbies. They’ve achieved the necessary goals and I’m in the place I knew I would be in three years ago (I will be landing back where I want to be three years to the month I first rocked up), but they’re not beautiful years.

[I need to come up with a Quit soundbite soon. Something that forecloses on too many questions and doesn’t make me sound insane. Something with the ideal number of details, no more, no less.]



We are all just prisoners here of our own device
July 15, 2010, 8:47 pm
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What can I say, wish I was there. Same sentiment, different week. The contest is running early, could be one for the books, great conditions. L.G. was setting out for it sometime today and will no doubt have so many reports on Monday. The site went down due to excess traffic. How good? That good.

Six weeks feels really long. The stretch ahead is basically saving money and planning small details. The planning is an endless pain, but so is trying to get a criminal record check from the other side of the world.

I’m really excited about… not having to wear any more poly blend work wear that years later still doesn’t feel like my own clothing… giving up my cell phone for my plastic, ghetto pay-as-you-go international model… not paying traditional rent for awhile (maybe)… not getting junk mail… not wearing shoes all the time, or wearing more of my beloved slops…

Feeling fake all the time is uncomfortable. The fact that my values, priorities and interests are mostly divergent from everyone around me has been an odd experience. It’s like being on a perpetual cultural exchange where I think, in the best moments, I’ve been fluent; in the worst I’ve been confused and disoriented. In the place I’m heading back to in less than eight weeks, I had exactly the opposite experience, and I’m eternally grateful that I arrived there when I did because sitting here I know enough to go.

I finished reading Dark Star Safari last night, which was both interesting, mostly for the snippets of history and intertextuality referencing other travel writing, and sometimes off. Some of the words the author confidently translated were incorrect; in other cases he seemed, well, sort of exactly the kind of person he frequently mocks. One thing that stuck with me is his analysis of the subsistence way of living as both resilient and cyclical.

I realized that something was different when I went to school in Africa. It’s still very hard to explain. I understood the messages of my professors educated in the system I was familiar with, without effort. In fact, I seemed to understand what was going on better than many of the people surrounding me, partly because I had been in school longer and partly because I was maybe even more attuned to that particular cultural way of knowing. Yet other professors, from foreign systems, taught classes I struggled with. The way they expressed ideas was strange – not flawed, just strange. Oddly, many years earlier, the same experience had occurred in my own country with a professor who was educated in this unfamiliar system. I had trouble getting The Message. This experience opened my mind more than, maybe, anything in the course of my entire education and I still struggle to communicate this brief glimpse into one of the many unspoken challenges of building bridges between.

On the word “expat”. Initially, sort of a glamorous idea, the way the scenery in Out of Africa will make you catch your breath even as many decades later as you avoid reflecting on the weirdness of the imported Europeans and focus, instead, on glorious Paul Newman. Expat has this Hemmingway roguishness, the kind of thing that is greatly decreased when you realize for many who had to live around him during his expat phases he was considered a belligerent alcoholic. And like finding out Hemmingway may have, in fact, been the latter meaning of the term Ugly American, coming to terms with the meaning of being an expat is a strange sort of thing.

There’s also some very good racialized writing about what the difference between an expat and an immigrant which I don’t accept absolutely but will get you thinking about how, exactly, we label foreignness.

I don’t know at what point, if ever, I’ll qualify myself as an expat. Maybe I can get away without being anything, in particular.



12 July, 2010 23:49
July 12, 2010, 11:49 pm
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I came home to a mostly empty house, a mostly empty fridge, and a face in the mirror that had been away for awhile. Happy, minus the repetative injury strain lines from focusing on a screen day after day, speckled with sun freckles, the ones that make me look more childish across the tops of my cheeks and the bridge of my nose.

Fusion sushi. Japadog. Real live Geishas applaud the start of our Gaga Kareokee cross country tour, a man sits and tambourines. Such a hit in a small ski town that the next day someone tracks us down at our hostel to give us a coffee gift card with a sweet note inside. Meeting said people when they recognized us from our slummy $5 pizza where we had been eavesdropping about possible kareokee. Watching a semi in a constricted club with a thousand Germans, eating two kinds of wurst and some saurkraut. Beer, frequently. Crashing for free in a mostly unfurnished million dollar bungalow with a full pool out back and a sweet little old gardener, crashing for free in a furnished downtown condo. A small town improvised kwaito performance and some booty shaking as a chick rides her longboard through the bar, followed up by some unexpected Gaga and a round of Hollaback Girl. Figuring out the kids we were smoking with on the lawn were five years younger. Figuring out we had been lost, before dark or drinking, for an hour in a town with a population well under five hundred people. The most intense disenfranchised people I’ve interacted with, on streets that smelled like urine. Finding two outdoor live music events serendipitously. A thousand beautiful views in a matter of days.

The other leg, via train, had been less relaxing because it involved more family, but still contained a lovely night that conspired to bookend a lot of stories and which somehow summed up many of my favorite things about that place: small town parties, drinking until the sun comes up, and old friends with well known histories. The train is a great way to go.

I hauled a bunch of stuff for storage because I didn’t know how to let it go yet, it seemed too definitive to give it up; though looking at the stacks of miscellany once I’d brought it back I was pressed for real reasons to keep much. I realized what I have requires another run through, probably two.

Being away seems to affirm what lies ahead, good or bad.

This article is most excellent (and different from what this quote implies):

“It doesnt matter as much to own a pair of shoes as it matters to prove that someone once wanted you or loved you or that you really did travel to Paris or Thailand or Africa, but maybe if you buy enough shoes, the ache of impermanence will calm, close up into a peaceful silence.”
the new inquiry