Thursday, August 12, 2010

Way overdue thoughts

Finished writing this on the plane ride home...3 months later it goes up....

I am American. I am tidbits of different people and places. I feel a million histories inside of me. I am everything. Nothing. I can’t define my past. I can’t define my future. My national characteristics are indescribably jumbled. The ways they twine and blend are incoherent. Stereotypes of the U.S. are wrong. They’re not pulled out of thin air, but they have to be vague to encompass such a large place, a place that has everything. They don’t penetrate the surface of what truly exists. Sometimes, I yearn for a stereotype to cling to—something predictable and familiar that reminds me of home. I can’t find one. Philadelphia and Baton Rouge could be different countries. How do you stereotype a place that has both New York City and El Paso? All we have in common is our lack of heritage, our blurry presence in the world. What are we supposed to be? And how do we explain that to others?

I absorb people. I am a sponge. I meet people and develop curiosities in their interests. Jan and anthropology and biology and the outdoors. Troels and folklore. The Kiwis and bonfires and music. The South Americans and parties and dancing and kissing. Do I contribute? Or do I just absorb? Isn’t that what we do as a country? Absorb other cultures and adopt them as our own? I embody America. I can’t describe my country in the same way that I can’t describe myself. But while I adopt other people’s interests, they do genuinely become mine. I can’t separate from myself the things I’ve learned from Jan anymore than I can separate the fact that I was born in Chicago. They are that much a part of who I am. As a country, we adopt other cultures, but at some point, they aren’t foreign. They are part of our identity. They are part of us.

I absorb stories. I collect memories, thoughts, observations, theories, worries, my own and others’. I listen quietly and intently. I eavesdrop. I absorb. One night I was sitting around the fire at sanctuary sounds and I hardly spoke. But I felt comfortable in my silence, welcome. My duty there wasn’t to contribute, it was to absorb. I really felt that way. Notice everything, the way the Sammy the African drummer pretended not to hear Mikey’s sister comment on the fact that they were all getting older. The moment when Thelma grew restless and started doing fire poi in the grass. What caused that restlessness? The answer to that sort of question leads to someone’s soul. Every detail is important. Lee confiding in Danielle and Holly that once, he kissed a man. I hear your secrets. They become mine. They become me. I am not a storyteller. I am a story.

I had two big fears when I left Philadelphia. One, that I would be desperately homesick and spend the next several months dying to come home. Two, that I would fall in love with New Zealand, and never ever want to leave. Of course, most of my experiences fall somewhere in between. But I never thought about the inbetweens. I only anticipated extremes. I come from a land of extremes.

The right, the left, a country constantly more divided. We have polygamist Mormons in Utah, and carefree hipsters in every city. People who don’t think about driving thirty seconds to the grocery store and people who insist on riding their bikes everywhere. We have the greatest number of processed foods, as well as the largest organic movement. Alongside the highest childhood obesity rates are some of the highest rates of teen anorexia. Moderation is not something we’re good at—and how could it come easily to people who don’t know how to define themselves to the rest of the world. With extremes and severity comes definition. The inbetweens don’t give us anything to cling to. Although, in reality, most people probably fall somewhere in between, including myself. There’s something more romantic about the extremes. Something definitive. Something that gives us definition. So we try to be extreme, and in so doing, constantly contradict ourselves.

Here is the truth about me:
I am selective in talking to people because I think I could love almost anyone. Everyone is worthy of love, of attention, of inspection. I can’t allow myself to love everyone. I crave closeness, deep closeness, and when I find that everyone else who I think is worthy of love falls into the periphery. With just as much severity, I crave solitude. I think I’m a good person. Who doesn’t? But I do bad things to people. I brush them off when people I’m more interested in come along. Sometimes when people are sharing special things with me, instead of paying complete attention I think, “wow, I am special if this person is sharing such secrets with me.” . I don’t care about money, (although I hope I’m never quite as broke as I was a couple months ago), but at the same time, I fantasize about being extremely rich so I can do eccentric things like breed ostriches or open my home to the public for laser light shows. I am at once warm-hearted and generous, and unspeakably selfish. I judge people only in one way—I assume they will judge me.

That’s what I love about catch 22. Everything is a contradiction. At the same time I think how happy I am in my solitude, I hope people will show up, and I know that once I am among people, I will think, why did you disturb me….I was so happy in my solitude..But I don’t, not really. I want to see everything, do everything. I want to see the entire world. When people complain about their lives and about petty things, I think, “Don’t you know that you will die? Don’t you know that once you do, the world will go on almost exactly as it did before?” Not that such thoughts completely stop me from worrying about petty things. In the same stroke that I’m bustling with ideas and thoughts and epiphanies, I just want to curl up in bed with a good book and a glass of wine (and sometimes a good person) and enjoy this moment, my night, my life. And with all of this I think I’m onto something—something terribly unique that millions people before me have realized, and millions after me will understand.
Everything that is extreme is also temporary.

When I’m at a party and someone asks me what I do for a living, I want to say “I’m an adventurer.” I want that to be the only way to explain what I do. (Unless I can say I’m a sage or medicine-woman). I don’t want a career. I want experiences, and the ability to change everything at a moment’s notice. I don’t want to think about the world systematically, in terms of what I can get out of it. I want to search for beauty everywhere. I want to create beauty.

When I was planning my trip to New Zealand, I thought it was going to be the adventure of a lifetime. I was wrong. Coming here made me realize that the adventure is just beginning.

I really believe that I have the potential to do some wonderful things in my life. I hope I do things that are extraordinary, and interesting and good. I hope I never care about money or things. I hope I explore the world. I hope I am always someone with whom strangers feel at ease. I hope I always love. I hope I am always loved. I hope I always know the difference between what I need and what I want, what I like and what I love. I hope I always have the courage to change my life when I’m unhappy. I hope I never sacrifice the present for the future. I hope I lead myself and others to happiness and truth. I hope I never again work in a corn factory.
I hope. I hope. I hope.


  1. This post got me in the gut - welcome home, and thank you for this journey!

  2. This is a beautiful post. It resonates with who I am in many ways. To be free and see the world. To learn everything the world brings forth. The beauty and grace, but also the harshness and pain. I can only hope to help spread the beauty and grace; to spread a love and community to everyone who crosses my path. The harshness has grabbed a hold of me though. I cannot spread hope to those who don't want it. Even the best things cannot be done for some. So I hope to spread it to any who seek it. To light the lives of people around me. To be careful and keep the people who would take that away from me out of my life. At the same time reading this pushes me to be open to everyone who brings that into my life. For time and time again, I have chosen a path which did not take me where I had hoped to go. I listened and believed something that fell apart even as I pursued it. So I embrace that which resonates in my heart. That which says that this is a life which is worth living. These are choices which will make you a better person, a happy and complete person. As it grows, these are the choices which build a society I yearn to be a part of.