Build

There’s no mystery about a human life. Its not a problem to be solved, but a reality to

experience
- Frank Herbert, Children of Dune

Strange that as such times as this, on a new road in a new place, is when I am most surely aware of what home is. …. And I do wish very much to be back there. But I am also so enthralled to be here. The conundrum that is thus gives insight into a transition I always knew to be coming, but did not see approaching. Its is the fluid movement from moment to moment, leading me forward along many paths. Its is the beginning anew. The shift from middle, to end, to beginning.

One final culmination and exploration of all that has been the last few years. A collection of water from a brilliant stream of moments, a swirling of pure waters and murky waters. All giving, all testing, and all having washed over and carried me along.

Weeks left in London, some spent across other parts of the British Isles, and then a ramble across the continent for a time. A ramble that would seem to stand as an epilogue to this installment of the series I call life. As the epilogue approaches to draw it closed, the installment to be transitioned into comes into focus, at least somewhat. It could entail teaching English in Macau, research in Singapore, a job in the space industry, or the international trade industry, graduate school at a number of schools, UCLA, Oxford, Chapman, anywhere. This is the forward path I look down.

As a pilgrim returned from travels. To return to what is so much of me, bringing back what has become me. All of it synthesising in such a way as to give strength and surety to new actions and moments. To build. To be mayhaps seemingly more grounded, but to be unbounded by the constraints imposed by leaving the ground.

It is seeming that this current way of experiencing the world, while wondrous, is no longer the way on which I must experience the world. Firstly, it is time to move forward and to build out of myself new things. To leave a tangible impact behind me rather than being a passenger in the stream. Secondly, it is again time to free fall. To step out of a plane and say, excuse my French, “oh shit, what am I getting myself into” and come out of that with new knowledge and life brought into myself from it.

I believe that these two are what makes life, to step out and allow yourself to be impacted by life. And then take forward this knowledge and return the benefits in what you build in this world. Then repeat. Such is life.

Self, Life

Its a funny thing when you have no debts to pay, no favours outstanding and no change due; you’re subject to nothing but that which makes you content, that which brings you happiness and real enjoyment, not the kind that people so often mistake for the real thing these days. There is some virtue in being selfish, not selfish as in greedy, nor as in spiteful. But to be selfish in the sense that nothing dictates your actions and thoughts but yourself. Individualistic would be a more apt word. Think, when you meet another who is selfless in that they give and always bend to other’s convienences and leave nothing of them self but a willow waving with the next breeze, what impact had that on you? Does it teach you, does it give you cause to think deeper and understand? No. Those people you meet who have such an impact on you are as boulders in a stream. Standing on what they know to be solid ground. Sure in their convictions and drawing strength from this. These change the course of wispy winds and wandering currents. They will only be moved after encountering a force equal in its conviction and even then only after contemplation of the newly encountered.

Something had been throwing me off for the majority of this semester abroad. And I have had trouble identifying it. It was the one subtle, yet omnipresent difference between here and Melbourne. I believe I’ve come to understand it now. Australia was adventure, it was a disruption of the norm and entirely outside of my experiences to date. And such an environment was my expectation this time around. Despite the much more relaxed lead up to this round, the expectation was that the feeling would be similar to before. Nope. Not a chance. It is simply life. And that itself is so disconcerting. I’m in London, across the Atlantic from my family and home, somewhere I’ve never been before, and none of it seems out of place. It does not feel a monumental undertaking, rather another chapter in my life.

It then becomes extraordinary that this has become ordinary.

Self sufficiency, an understanding of the values and pillars you build yourself upon. These are the things that are learned, some of the most important tools to take along in life. To maintain the body and feed the mind, push the spirit and expand the soul. This is being abroad, this is life.

Life is spending the weekend in Wales out on the Pembrokeshire coast, in kayaking and hiking and coasteering, swimming along the coast in the ruins of an old quarry, leaping from thirty feet high to the freezing water below, being carried and rocked by the current, scrambling over jagged slate. And laughing, with vivacious joy, because suddenly there you are, out on a promontory reaching into the Irish Sea, with the wind ripping at you, then swelling around you with your refusal to budge, accepting that you belong here, the waves surging forth to grasp you from a hundred feet below, before accepting their inability to scale the heights you have, the calls of the gulls crying to above the wind and waves, with the same joy that courses in your laughter. And no one else even seems to realise what it is to be here, upon this one piece of the Earth, to be so alive and to join your voice to the wind and waves out over the vast grey horizon. For some reason, they walk by, and you are alone in this liberating moment. It is wondrous, it is true, and it is life.

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Undertake the Uncomfortable

Part of doing something like going abroad, and life in general is about being able to look at yourself and evaluate the ways in which you can improve. It is always possible for you to reason and justify nearly any behavior, tendency, or viewpoint of your own. It is not the natural inclination to criticize oneself.

Hubris, as it were. I am guilty of this many times over. It is less about that which you do well, and more about building up those parts of yourself that are not so strong. I read my previous post and am assaulted by the hubris of it. My complaints are of no fault but my own. I have not made the fullest effort to reach out. I have failed to push outside of the path more traveled. I have not had the courage to undertake the uncomfortable.

And that is so crucial to why I take it upon myself to cross both oceans, to three continents. To undertake the uncomfortable. And yet, I fail in this now, I preach on about how simple this is for one such as me, with oh, so much experience and wisdom. Ha, I genuinely hope that somewhere someone has had a good laugh at me for this. What sort of accomplishment is it to be a medium sized fish in a small pond? No one brags about beating a video game on easy.

Now, I must push myself forward. I have to remember that first step into the LAX terminal last February and what growth came of that. I must undertake the uncomfortable.

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Wander & Rest

Woke up in London today.

It felt appropriate to take a bit of time here before posting, didn’t want to just spew thoughts and emotions, wanted to digest and process things before reflecting on it so far. 

This time around has not started with a free fall. Rather it’s a constant buzz. This not so much exciting as it is enlivening. Feet on the street figuring out the beat of this city. I’m getting to wander again, I love it. Turns out wandering about and getting a bit lost is a handy skill to have in a new city. It helps with getting oriented. And I seem to have picked that skill up pretty well. I find that I have a much better understanding of how to settle and take care of myself and all of the logistics, hassles, and everything else that comes with this. I’m also finding that I handle many of the things that caused some stress last time around, the benefits of experience foster a calmness that I have a feeling will serve me very well.

Then again, it is undoubtedly a different experience from last time. When you’re in a city as large and international as London, at a Uni that has over 50% international students, and already speak the language, there is a lack of challenge. As I’ve been abroad I’ve come to appreciate being American more in a number of different ways. But honestly, when you decide to spend a semester abroad and end up nearly always being around Americans, you run into people you went to high school with, it grates a bit. Look, seeing other Americans is always fun, seeing old classmates is interesting, but I’m pretty sure those things were not high on my list of motivations and things to be excited about. In terms of going abroad, London is certainly the road most traveled. So with that comes a list of pros and cons, and I’ve gotten both. It makes adjustment simpler, but part of me would rather be in a different country, South Africa or Brazil. Yes, I’m complaining about these things as I’m sitting here in London. Yes I know I’m being somewhat entitled and whatnot. If I’m being honest, I don’t think my frustrations have much to do with my setting. It has more to do with the people I am around. I have not met the same type of people as were present in Melbourne. I can distinctly recall the first night at Gilligan’s Hostel in Cairns and the conversation that was had in our room before going out for the night. Religion, spirituality, what are these to you and what do you see them as? And the conversation on the first night here was about fraternities and sororities. A telling difference there. I felt that I was around people with a thirst for life and an excitement and that they would make me a better person. I don’t find that here. It’s hard to say why the difference but it is there. I still know that there are people around me who are every bit worth knowing and will challenge me to grow in new ways. I must take some fault in this for being somewhat arrogant in assuming I know what I am doing from my past experiences, and this results in myself not always being open to others. So I must understand this and move myself forward, this time I can be the impetus in these conversations rather than swimming along with the current. 

On a more day to day note, everyone gripes on the weather and cold, but I have actually enjoyed the crispness, the busy streets, green spaces, squares, parks, haphazard streets, every building being older that the very oldest back home, the sun flitting through barren tree branches down and over the facade of enchanting Victorian facades that have stood many years and give the impression that they will stand many more. Though the very predictable afternoon rain can be frustrating. I’m living in Bloomsbury, Bedford Place. It’s a fantastic location, and a good set up. Hell, there’s a french press here. Gotta have my coffee and instant coffee just won’t cut it for me. I’ve gotten around a good portion of Central London and seen a fair number of sights and attractions. Buses are very convenient and the Tube is impressive. Tower Bridge, Kensingston Palace and Gardens, Portebello Road Market, Columbia Road Flower Market, Borough Market, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, British Museum, Regent’s Park, Camden, Soho, Westminster and some more as well. I’ll be in Wales for an adventure weekend in two weeks time. Still working out when to take what other trips when. 

I’ve been to three football(soccer) matches already, Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City at White Hart Lane, which may be the highlight of this so far, yes Spurs lost 5-1, but the atmosphere was cracking and I loved it. Saw QPR v Burnley over at Loftus Road, another great atmosphere, 3-3 draw. Went and saw Fulham v Sheffield United at Craven Cottage in an FA Cup match, frankly was a terrible match, with Sheffield needing a 120′ header to win it. And the weather was horrid, but did get to see Clint Dempsey. I’ve got tickets to Spur v Everton this Sunday, Spurs v Dnipro and Spurs v Cardiff City coming up end of this month. 

At the moment I’m a bit tired, its been over three weeks of going pretty constantly in New York or in London. I’ve been fighting a bit of a cold or something and everything looks a bit less rosy when you aren’t feeling 100%. So that taken into account, I reckon a bit of rest can’t hurt, and I figure I’m doing alright over here. 

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There’s so much room for activities!

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IMG_20140117_095719Boarded the plane to London. JFK -> LHR. It’s named Lady Penelope. Didn’t know planes were named. Had a real solid weekend in NYC. Thanks to a tip from the parents, asked for a window seat and got put in the emergency exit row. So. Much. Legroom. Also, got another free toothbrush. So that’s nice.

The Ordinary Man in the Extraordinary World

“Place nothing above the verdict of your own mind.”
          – Ayn Rand, 
            Atlas Shrugged

So its about to happen again. That thing where I get on a plane and don’t come home for 5 months or so. On to London. Cross the other ocean this time. This is the opening page of the next chapter, I hope your next chapter is everything I expect mine to be. It’s a much different feeling this time around, I’m much more relaxed about the whole process, but in some ways that’s worrying. Maybe I’m not as prepared this time around, or maybe I’m more prepared. No idea really. The one unfortunate consequence of doing it again is that a long building anticipation really isn’t there. I’ll see others posting in the Facebook group for the program with all sorts of questions that are ripe with tones of nervousness, anticipation, and that giddy sort of feeling of what in the hell am I getting myself into? There are questions and blog posts and an air of ‘I am exceptional for taking this journey’, not in a haughty or chest puffing way, in a genuinely naïve and utterly optimistic way. Many of these posts focus on what to pack, how to do something, where the author is, what they have done, ‘first I did this, then I went there, and I ate this and saw that and then…’. I can’t help but get frustrated upon reading these posts. They miss so much of what this is. Yes, it is good to be prepared and to document. But this is not a journey of things you already know, this is not about what is in your bag or which website has the best power adapters or which cell phone plan to use. This is not about the list of things you saw and did. It is about what you are, what you will become, what you will change, what you will understand. And many of those I see headed abroad are doing so with friends already known. Some journeys are best embarked upon alone. This is not a journey upon which you bring what you already know. This is a journey of unknowns.

It is about the ordinary man venturing into the extraordinary world.

This is a concerto conducted by seven billion pairs of hands. You will dance to its chorus and crash to its cymbals. Float on the melody, march with the drums.  Breath with the flutter of the harp. You will play many a note on many an instrument, each with meaning, some more, some less. And with each note struck by your hands, you will know that much better the owner of those hands.

The measure by which an ordinary man is deemed extraordinary is the extent of extraordinary he experiences and contributes to this world.

So please, go, play the concerto, know the unknown, be a part of this, this extraordinary world.

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Walking

gertrudesSaddleCAFlag“It means something to walk with someone” – Dr. Aaron Bruce

The quote above comes from Dr. Aaron Bruce, speaker at the Lessons from Abroad conference I attended recently. And damn if it didn’t resonate with me. He spoke of what it means when you walk with someone. To walk with someone is to truly be with them, walking allows immersion in the world around, and connection with those you journey with or pass along the way.

Since coming home from the wonderful land of Oz, I’ve been contemplating the experience and putting all of the memories and lessons into some semblance of order. And I keep coming back to one central point.

You see, the beauty of living abroad, and being way out in an entirely new place, is that it frees you. When you are oceans away and know not a single soul, those little boxes you fit into, the labels you wear, the person you have contrived yourself to be, they all crumble away. Daunting to say the least. There is no choice but to express yourself in the truest ways you can, to be free from any preconceptions that shape others opinions of you. Way out with nothing but yourself, any constructed identities hold no water and are quickly discarded. Growth begins.

It can be likened to a potted plant. Life is good, life is safe in the pot. The boundaries are known and life is more or less assured. But growth restricted. And then the plant is moved from the pot to the earth. Boundaries removed, the plant thrives upon the open connection with the soil, expands its being beyond the boundaries of the pot that now seem so arbitrary and limiting. Roots entangle with a myriad of foreign plants, creatures and other things unknown. At first, such contact brings apprehension. But the plant begins to realize not all that is foreign bears malevolent intent. And the plant expands it’s roots seeking, encountering new and illuminating entities and stories all the while. Learning each new sun that by and large the land is populated with bright souls. Before long, the plant finds itself rooted not only to the soil, but intrinsically entangled with others, to the extent that where one ended and another began became rather obscure.

When you get way out, on your own, the walls crumble, the pot is removed and connection happens. These connections are some of the best you will make. Born of a mutual openness and desire to explore. Born by walking in foreign lands with souls previously unknown. The title of “Gone Walkabout” seems ever more prescient with such connections forged walking with others from all parts of the world. To walk with another, it means a mutual openness, an understanding, a willingness to explore, to be well and truly lost, to place faith and trust in a foreign soul.

I suppose this represents the closing of the first chapter of my experiences in the world. And there could be no more fitting title than “Gone Walkabout”, so I implore you to walk, to walk in a strange place with a strange soul. And with this, I begin to look towards the next chapter, a pair of tickets in hand.

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Living Small

You should live small. Live small because everything else is too big for you to understand, too large for you to grasp, too heavy to hold in your hands, in your mind.

Right?

We live small because we have trouble looking at larger scale and context. The here and now and the this and that become each moment of out lives. And we get wrapped up in, and let it overrun us, we stop looking at the stars and telling our parents that we want to be astronauts and presidents and settle for being mid level executives with a good salary and benefits.

And I guess that’s a pretty damn decent life when you put it in the context of so many others in this world who don’t have an education, family, regular food and water and are more concerned about surviving the night than when the next quarterly report is due.

But I want to live in a larger way.

I want to live for centuries, I want to see every country and speak all the languages and taste all the cuisines and sing all the songs. I want to plan a revolution and speak for the souls of the people in need. I want to hear the stories of all those people along the way, to know their own personal world and what makes them. I want to see the rise and fall of cultures and countries and to see great men and women leave their legacy behind. And after that I want to board a spaceship, I want to see all the planets, to see the utterly strange beauty that life is beyond our pale blue dot, to flit through the galaxies, and to see each of the gems in Orion’s belt up close. I want to see what happens when we run into something intelligent and very much different from ourselves, and to see the expansion into the stars. And the evolution of our identity along the way. To see what we can push ourselves to, and to be there for the moment when we realize that what we thought were our boundaries are not so anymore, that we can go beyond the edges of the Universe and be overwhelmed by the scope and size of thing out there. And that we can go beyond what we thought were the limits of ourselves, mind and body and soul.

And I don’t see any reasons that I can not do all of this.

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The Importance of Beginnings

I have to do it again. Can’t stop with so much more to discover and know. And I’m blessed enough to do it all over again. In a way at least, it will be a new continent, country, city, and a while new group of people to help me shape myself and for me to have a positive impact on. Sure I have experience doing this kind of thing now but it will be so much different in so many ways. I’m so damn excited.

Let me roll it back to February real quick. It was finally time to embark on this walkabout of mine. Got dropped off at the airport, said my goodbyes and all of a sudden it was me, myself, and I off into the wide world. I went thru security and check in and was so damn relieved just to have a helpful check in guy point me the right way. I was that nervous and wired. I spent the whole time going through the security check in wondering if the girl in front of me was also off on a grand adventure.

And then I walked up to the gate. And had no idea what to do or who to sit down by or if I should just put in my music and keep to myself. That seemed the best option. After all I’m not the most outgoing person. I’m shy. I don’t do well walking up and talking to people or being the one to initiate conversation. So I sat against the wall and kinda just watched the group of people who certainly seemed to be also on our group flight for a little while.

But you know what, that wasn’t why I was doing this was it? Sitting on my own wasn’t doing me any good. So I walked over to the group and asked if they were all going to study in Australia. Of course they were. So I sat down and forced myself to socialize. It went alright really, things like that just make me nervous as hell. I don’t know why. Fortunately, one of the people I was talking to asked me to hold his pillow while he went and had a piss. Like who does that? Good thing he did though. Over the next five months this kid would become one of my closest friends during the journey. And I don’t know if it all would have been as ridiculous without him and the other member of our little crew.

So all of this is here why? Because I need to throw myself off social cliffs sometimes too. Because by forcing myself just that far out of my comfort zone I set the tone for the next five months. And I think it honestly made that much of a difference. New connections aren’t made by doing the same old things. I want to grow. I want to learn. It kills me that I’m not going forward much right now. Though I do need the recovery. And its just a few weeks and back to school. And all of the new opportunities cliffs there.

Lessons Learned – You can’t just go back

Coming home I wanted to just reset and in a sense just go back to what I did/was before. After so long out walkabout everything wears you down and nothing sounds better than home and what you knew before. You feel a need to reset and recover.

Funny thing is, it’s just not possible. You know that sleep for a week idea that sounded like the best thing ever? As it happened I couldn’t even sleep for a second when I finally got home. Despite having traveled three continents in a day and a half and having spent most of it on a plane and in airports I couldn’t even nap. Not even a wink. I had to do something. Anything, needed to move, find new things. And now a couple of weeks later, I’ve managed to slow myself down. Sleeping easy, recovered from the wear and tear of it all. But now that I’ve recovered, I am confronting the real challenges of coming back.

As noted in my eyes open post, its impossible to close your view once its been opened up. Mostly a good thing, but it makes returning to what you did before damned impossible. I spoke with a fellow exchange student who had chosen to stay on for a second semester when I got into Cairns, and he pretty much said all the kids who had gone home had borderline depression and were struggling to readjust to being home again. I understand that now.  You want to open up to everyone at home about what you’ve been through, what its taught you, how it changed you. And its incredibly complicated because your not sure if you know the answer to all of it. So bringing it outside of yourself is near out if the question. You begin to wonder if these are the people you fit with, are you putting the right people around yourself? And you have to be ever so aware that the people who have been a positive in your life are still that way. The line gets blurred and you’re not sure if all of these people are positives in your life. If they bring a better light to your life and if you do to theirs. And its not a question of whether or not they are a good person. A fine distinction between good people and positive lights. There are lots of good people but a positive light is different for each person and often hard to find. Good people can take themselves and yourself down bad paths, wittingly and unwittingly. Its a bit confusing when the realization hits you that those you know as good people are not always what you need in life. What you need is something new to push you forward and challenge you. Because what you already know does not challenge you. Its frankly too easy and will result in you regressing to simple routines and bubbles.

This is not to say that what is known is bad, you must have some base to build from, to fall back on when you fail and struggle. But what is known can not be the only thing in your life. Else stagnation and complacency set in quickly.

Your head hurts and your eyes strain because you want so badly to push forward and grow in so many ways. An impact. You need to make an impact.

I suppose they did say coming home was harder than going, but this wasn’t expected.

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