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Penultimate

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Sunset over the Eternal City

There hasn’t been a post here for a while because there hasn’t been the reason for one. I’ve finished my London semester, I’m in the thick of a journey across Europe I’ve done many things and seen many places. Most of them quite swell, some total downers, but hey, fun stories in retrospect. Sure, there have been moments of note.  A few along the way that have made me stop for a second, appreciate life and the beauty. Moments of light and exception that are simply there, never to be replicated or replaced, near impossible to express. Causing me to appreciate and love those people around me for what they are. Moments and periods of tinkering with myself, coming to terms with parts of me, are they good? Useful? Worthy? Appreciated? Reflective of what I am and want to be?

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Firenze

I don’t believe there is any more gratifying feeling than those moments in which someone comes to understand you. They know you as you are, as you feel and know yourself to be, at least for that unique moment. Maybe not so much later, maybe more so. But that moment, that brings me such joy and beauty of life. I have been able to express myself as fully as I can, such that another can understand me. And they appreciate me. I am worth appreciation, love, admiration, respect, care, brotherhood. I have put the self forth to cause another to take it in. It may seem a selfish moment, but I do know that if someone knows me in that way, it must be that I know them in the same way. Because if I have been able to communicate and express forth myself to them to the effect of understanding, then I must know them in the same, or this expression and understanding is not possible.

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Cinqueterre, Italy

I’ve been reading A Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. I’ve always known I love to read, but I’ve found it to be crucial for personal peace and mental stimulation when travelling or when life gets as life does. It’s a fantastic book so far.  But the concept of ‘grok’ is a large part of the story. And its a concept I find very much applicable on this journey, especially as it truly comes to an end in about ten days.

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A stormy day in Venice from under the archways

To grok is to take your time, to meditate, to come to understand to put something in its rightful place. Its the word I did not know was right but is. It’s exactly what I need, its what a large part of this experience has been. To come to understand it all. Maybe right when experienced, maybe filed for later, or still waiting for the right information to put it rightfully into understanding. This is what I have tried to say before and stumbled to phrase. To grok, to understand, to take in, to praise for itself, to see its beauty, its life, its purpose. If you do not grok you are out of balance, off centre, and likely in a pain of sorts, you will feel no peace, not within or without. Take the requisite time to take this thing you encounter, properly see it, understand, place it in rightness, give it praise in itself and purpose.

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Looking out over Vienna

To take the requisite time is an ever so important concept, and one that’s been reinforced on this journey. Take your time when travelling, slow life down, it’s always better, sit, have a drink with a friend, or yourself, or a good book, dangle your feet off the Spanish Steps in Rome as the sun sets over the Vatican, kick it under an archway the Grand Canal in Venice with a bottle of wine, on top of Piazza Michaelangelo on Florence, nap in Stadtpark in Vienna, have a stein of beer with good friends at Fruhlingsfest in Munich, sit on a tree trunk in Lauterbrunnen and enjoy the utter beauty of this world. Take your time in life. As much as you invest yourself into what is you and yours, invest your time. Its a currency we all have in equal measure and is only second in value to yourself and person. These are your most valuable currencies, resources, gifts, and treasures. They are the most essential, irreplaceable, and elementary pieces of life.

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Tulips in Munich

We spend all of ourselves and all of our time to leave an impact, to create something in this world. What impact, what creation, that is a personal choice, make yours. Take a lesson from the glaciers that spent every last bit of  themselves, and centuries carving out the most beautiful places on earth, from the volcanoes expending and spewing themselves to create islands and mountains, from the tectonic plates waging titanic battles to shape our planet, from the stars literally burning themselves up over millennia so as to give this universe light. Take this from them, the greatest accomplishments of life are those we expend ourselves attaining. And they are the only ones worth pursuing. We are meant to use every part of ourselves in the best way. And there is no better way do so than to create beautiful impacts in the same way comets, glaciers, volcanoes, and stars do. With full force, full intent, and every bit of self and time we possess.

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Lauterbrunnen Valley

I should suppose this to be a penultimate post here, maybe one or two more at the end of it all, we’ll see how it goes. And I think a few lines from a song are quite fitting at this point for me.

Well I’ve been down this road before, its been one hell of a ride, the challenge is to balance on that fine line, between the earth and sky, and I will wait for the morning sun till the way is clear as day, okay, hallelujah! – Reflections – bliss n eso

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A view from Jungfraujoch, top of Europe

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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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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.

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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Eyes Open

The last solid memory I have is hugging my family at the airport and then the feeling of anxious excitement. What the hell I had just gotten myself into?

Everything from that point until now does not feel real. It was as if I got on the plane and have been have the most intense vivid dream. Down the rabbit hole as it were, all kinds of unique and amazing experiences with people who may or may not have been real, and now I can see the end of it. The Alice and Wonderland metaphor is strangely fitting, it is a wonderland, but in a strange and frightening way just as much as it is a in a beautiful way. I have made some incredible memories with some people I can truly call some of my best friends, people I know I will stay close with through life. That is if they are even real. This has not been what I expected, these are not the people I saw coming, but it has been and will be wonderful in my eyes. I’m the last one standing as it were, most everyone had left already, I can feel part of myself leaving with them. The person I am here fades bit by bit as they leave and the reality that my time here is measured in days and hours, not weeks and months sets in. I don’t know how this all happened. I don’t know how I was able to keep myself together and survive all the things I did. Have I been here for years or hours? I really don’t have a grasp on the time I’ve spent here. I’m not sure I care. LAX feels so long ago. I feel a local, I feel I live here, in Melbourne, at least in this alternate life I do. I’ve been here all my life, this is me, at least for now. 

One day baby we’ll be old, oh baby we’ll be old, think of all the stories that we could have told. 

As soon as I get home I’ll spend the next few days sleeping, I’m not even kidding. I really will. And then I’ll wake up back in the reality I have always known, and the person I am in this moment and have been for the last five months will begin to take a back seat, fading away back across the Pacific. It is simply inevitable. I’ll be out of wonderland. And I won’t ever be able to explain it to those who were not with me every step of the way. I want to share this all so badly, but I just won’t be able to convey it all. I have pictures and stories, but those are less substantial than smoke really. This wonderland I stumbled into and wandered through will stay with me and those who have been through it with me. 

 

I’m exhausted and worn down in a way that isn’t exactly physical and isn’t exactly mental either. Being abroad puts a different kind of wear on you, at some point you hit a wall. I’ve hit a wall. I’m tired.

But I am so happy and so blessed to have been here at all. As of a few hours ago I am done. Exams are over. Finally. I am at the Airport for my flight to Perth, then onto Singapore to meet my brother for a bit of adventure. Headed to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Koh Phangan island in Thailand and then Bangkok before flying back to Melbourne for just a few hours, grabbing my bags and boarding the flight home to LAX. I can’t give the end of this experience the fully fleshed out post I would like to, my brain is a bit too worn out for that and I’ll need a bit of hindsight to understand what it has all been and what it all means to me. So I’ll likely have a final post on this semester in a few weeks when I’m home and rested. I will miss this dearly I know that much, and it will always stay with me. It doesn’t register that it is actually over yet. It probably won’t until I see the California coastline as the sun rises and my plane flys in on July 7.

My eyes are open today. In so many ways my view is wider, my gaze deeper, and my eyes see so much more. Today, and everyday I am blessed. That much I know.

And with that, the walkabout enters its final chapter. Somehow, someway I am still walking. Love you all.

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Reality?

The most incredible part of studying abroad is that the prospect of returning home excites you just as much as leaving home did. 

This is not to say that you’ll want to leave, and even if you do it’s a near guarantee that within a week or so of being home you’ll wish you were still abroad.

It also bring just as many unknowns.

Wait, what do you mean I’m in Australia, across the enormity of the Pacific Ocean? That I’ve lived here for the past five months? Did I really have all of those utterly ridiculous experiences? And have I really met these people, seen these sights? 

It’s June, I thought it would have sunk in by now and made sense, seemed less surreal. But no, as much as I have adjusted and acclimated to living this life, as soon as I stop and give it more than a passing thought I have to stop dead and laugh. This is just ridiculous, there’s no way this has been my life. 

Did I really get on that plane at LAX? I can’t process how this is supposed to be real.

What in the hell am I supposed to tell everyone back home? How do you explain something like this to them, especially when you yourself can’t get a handle on it? It’s such a paradigm shift, so hard to quantify but carries such magnitude on the bearing of your life and self. How do you go back home and synthesize your old life with your new experiences? How do you merge who you were with who you are? It’s hard enough to tackle these in isolation.

The people in your life see you in a certain light, they know you as the person who left just a few months ago, it’s unlikely the status quo has changed for them. Some may have not given more than a passing though to you, and others may have missed you everyday. But the person they miss will come home so changed. It feels as if I’ve had years and years worth of experiences, and I’ll return and be all full of excitement and stories and want to share it all with everyone, but really, though they will care, I cannot convey it with the complexity and impact of it all. They will never know this as I know it, I can not wire them my memories, emotions, pains, and joys gained out here. Can you go through something of this nature and then re-assimilate? Do you return to your old role within friend groups and your family or are you set to carve out a new role? Does anyone even notice the change in you? Or does it turn out to be nothing more than some extended memory that will never leave you, but never touch others? And what of the friends and connections established while abroad? Will you miss the routines and the little things? Do they become memories as well, fading out of reality as the days pass?

Will it seem a superiority complex, a story for everything? “Oh ya, this one time in Australia…” becoming your most used phrase. And everyone quickly getting sick of it. Somehow making you feel wiser and more aware because you were blessed enough to go abroad, does it actually make you any wiser, more aware? Or do you just layer on another set of illusions and probably false perceptions? 

Can you go back to doing what you did before? Does it still bring anything to the table? or has it become empty?

It’s so damn daunting because for the first time in your young life, something genuinely feels as if it has magnitude on a large scale, large enough to shape your entire life. There have been times where my life was genuinely in danger. This entire experience could have gone south so quickly. It hasn’t though. And that seems almost more dangerous, giving a false sense of invincibility. It’s a nasty side effect, you get reckless, figure it all just works itself out. And somehow, someway it does. And it scares the shit out of you that you have managed to pull it all off. It has taught you so much about yourself and the world, at least you think it has. You can’t know if anything is actually concrete because there is so little concrete to compare it to. 

But you have. And now all that remains is a couple of weeks, exams, and a trip with a brother to southeast Asia. 

And then the most daunting destination, Home. What is it to you now? And what are you to it? 

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Welcome Home, Son

Absolutely the perfect song for those studying or living abroad.

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