It can all go in boxes

There are so many things I want to write about, but I’ve been betraying my public blog by instead confiding in a diary.  Sorry, to the few of you out there who like to read my blog.  I’ll be honest.  I’ve been going through a rough patch in my life, and the past couple of months have been hard.  I find myself suddenly changing directions, redefining my dreams, and trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing.  But it’s a new year, so I’m putting the self-pitty behind me and finding a new path by writing this diary out loud.  This might be a boring post for readers, but it’s essential for me to kickstart my attitude into a different gear.  Please note that this is mostly just a post about me and I’m solely writing it because it’s important for me to mark this point in my history as such.  Feel free to skip this read, if you’re not into the inner-workings of Anoush.

When it comes to getting back on ones feet, so to speak, I’ve always managed well by writing lists.  Pros/cons lists, to-do lists, and bucket lists, namely.  It helps me organize this desire from that one, and have a visual record on which to hold my thoughts accountable.

So I’ve been in a perfect storm of mental states, spurred by a variety of different things.  But this storm has got me doing is thinking about the direction of my life, and what I really really want to get out of it.  I’m shedding the frivolous threads of fleeting dreams, and zooming in on my priorities…the things want to do, and not just the things that sound cool, or others want me to do, or that might be fun to check off a list.  When it comes down to it…these are those things that I absolutely want to do.  Let’s call it my bucket list, on a diet.

  • thru-paddle the Yukon
  • explore the rest of Central (Guatemala meditation center) and South America (Macchu Piccu, salt flats)
  • live in Australia (W.A., to be precise) on a work/travel visa
  • go to India, but most importantly Nepal
  • take the trans-siberian railway from Southern China across Russia and over to France
  • go to Turkey, learn Turkish
  • thru-hike the PCT
  • bike across Canada

Oh wait!  I found this, written in the early summer of 2009.  It’s the more extensive version.

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Well, the good news is, I’m only 26, so I have plenty of time.  And for the first time in many years, I’m trying to calm down and see this as not so much of a  to-do list–which has a very purposeful way of getting itself done–but more of a true bucket list.  I guess I’ve been on overdrive, approaching it like I’m going to die tomorrow.  But now I’m leaning towards a slower approach, one that incorporates something I’ve been missing: balance.

And now for the things that didn’t make it onto this first bucket list, written as a young lady who didn’t know I had needs and dreams beyond idealistic adventures.  Success for me had always been in the completion of these journeys that I would chance upon or seek out at pretty regular intervals, and I always imagined I would only feel successful if I gave up the “normal” life and redefined my life as a true adventurer.  Adventure, after all, was what brought me the most happiness.

But that’s where I was wrong.  And here’s where I’ll insert the true appendix to this list– the less concrete things–that I’ve managed to see in the past couple years as the real markers of success, and growth. No longer are the adventures alone what drive me; indeed, I think the absence of these things on my past list was one of the factors causing my internal unrest over the past few years. I’ll get those out in the open:

  • find a place to call home
  • understand and examine my strengths and weaknesses
  • challenge myself to make real connections with people I meet, not the transient “traveler” connections
  • feel safe being myself
  • do things that I’m passionate about
  • respect my own thoughts; if others don’t understand them, work on expressing them better

These are things that I’ll never get to cross off that list, I’m sure, but they are things I actively want–need–to do before I die in order to feel I’ve lived the life I want.  I feel kind of ignorant for not having realized the importance of these things before.  But they are just as important as the other, tangible things (or perhaps, more) and so they’re on the list for good.  Here I go.

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Before Christmas, I went to  St. Croix, USVI, to apply for a job as a scuba instructor.  I needed money.  I’d been living off credit for the past couple weeks, and this makes me anxious. I had emailed a dive shop down there and the manager wrote back and said that the best way to get a job with them was just to “show up.”  I figured, “showing up” is kinda what I do these days, so why not.  I had come back from Central America to visit Meren in Woods Hole in the end of November.  I had missed him and home so badly, and couldn’t shake this feeling of dreadful loneliness that had overwhelmed me.  It had been building all summer, this feeling of isolation and aloneness, and I was feeling very down.  It was difficult to leave for St. Croix, because that trip to Woods Hole was different from the rest.  We wandered through the marsh on one beautiful day, in awe at the beauty of the world around us.  We shared stories and theories, exercising my brain the way I love.  We reached consensus, in acceptance of the undeniable truths about our different lives that we had weaved together so deliberately.  Ultimately, we decided that our little world had become too big for us to make sense of, and more sensical would be making some kind of change–a change that undeniably broke my heart.  But it seems there’s only so much pulling you can do to the directions of yourself or another, before it becomes useless.  What’s the point in hanging on so hard to something you love so much.  Isn’t that how you suffocate something?  Why not let it go?  If it’s something true, it will be back.

So, having given up the last bit of security and certainty in my life, I got on a plane to St. Croix.  The loneliness was worse than ever.

It’s no wonder that when I arrived I was lost.  I felt, very seriously, like I had just traveled in time.  Here I am again...as nowhere as I could be. What are you doing here, Anoush?  What is this place that you’ve gone to, and where do you think you’re going from here?  I thought this sign was quite fitting.

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I left the comfort of my home and ones I love to come to this place where I knew no one, and had no clear idea of whether or not I wanted to be there.  I was chasing nothing, it seemed, and leaving behind very dear things. These kinds of movements are typical, in my current life, but it dawned on me there–for the first time–that this was insane.  This wasn’t what I had intended at all. I felt completely like my life was a vehicle on autopilot, and I suddenly lost comprehension of how to use the control buttons that I had been trained so extensively in operating.  It was just moving along, dragging me behind it’s purpose-less path.

Looking around, there were pot holes big enough to flip a Jeep, and pelicans that looked like glass figurines diving eyes-opened into the rough seas.  There were centipedes the size of carrots, and pigs that drink beer for the toursists’ voyeuristic pleasure.

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For a US territory, it felt nothing like the US.   There were hundreds of Danish tourists, Crucian locals, and mainland ex-pats, all there because it’s exactly where they wanted to be.  But I…I was completely unclear about where I wanted to be.  So I did what I do best:  I learned the customs quickly, and adjusted to this new way of life.  I learned  to say “good morning, good afternoon, and good night” at very specific times in the day (to not respond to a “good night” with “good night” would elicit hostility from said strangers and flag you instantly as a tourist, vulnerable and misplaced).  I tried to enjoy the tropical Christmas, Crucian style. And I jumped into work at the dive shop like it was exactly where I was supposed to be.

But St. Croix didn’t feel safe, and on many levels, it wasn’t. Two years ago the oil refinery shut down, taking 12,00 jobs with it.  For a population of 15,000, this devastated the Crucian economy and inspired a spike in petty crime.  It was difficult as a newcomer to know what streets were safe and which ones to avoid; indeed, all the streets looked eerily similar, and to ride a bicycle anywhere would be risking your life. I found a place to stay with a couchsurfing host who opened his home to me, and made me as safe as could be.  But safety isn’t all I needed.  I needed to just be on my own, and to have some privacy and time to myself.  These things, my friends, are hard to accomplish when couchsurfing.

But through couchsurfing, I always stumble into the most interesting houses, homes to the most interesting people.

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I met a friend named Paul, who unknowingly affected my life in a very important way.  The first night I went to Paul’s house, I shared the same old stories of my travels and wanderings in life, and these stories were met with the same awe and romance that all people who hear my stories feel–wow, she’s living the dream.  It was like I had been programmed by now to run through the highlights of the past two years of my life, and draw in a hungry crowd.  It left me feeling estranged and guilty, almost immediately.  So after a couple hours of talking to know him the first night, I decided, to hell with it, I’m gonna tell him the truth.

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By the comfort of a campfire in the jungle, I told him what I haven’t disclosed to many along the road:  that traveling is tiresome on the soul and frankly…I’m sick of it.  I spilled my guts to him about how I was tired of making superficial, surface connections with people; I hated the ridiculous “scene” at backpacker hostels in city after city, and I only met a handful of people along the way who I really wanted to remain in touch with.    But for some reason, nobody tells this story of travel.  Certainly, no one wants to hear it.  No one living out of a backpack year after year will speak about the fact that while those at home envy our adventurous lifestyle, we know that those same people have some critical things that we don’t:

home, community, love, and security.

It was a lesson I had to learn for myself.  Blinded by the idealism and fantasy of “the world out there” I couldn’t have known unless I set off and went. I had deliberately stripped myself of these things before I left, and hadn’t anticipated the emptiness of life without them.

Every journey has hidden costs you didn’t budget for.

“This is the life you chose; it’s what you wanted,” Meren had said.  It was terrible, every time these words ran through my head.  This had been the message I was so good at conveying, but it was a completely dishonest objective and one only people at a distance believed.  The truth was, that this whole fantasy had been built on naivety.   Only now that I had a glimpse of what it was, exactly, that I had chosen could I see that I had made a choice I wasn’t ready for.

Did I know when I left a year and a half ago for Yellowstone National Park that I would see things in the world that made me spend hours crying on a bus, with the revelation that the world is unfair and people everywhere are suffering?  Had I hoped to leave behind my true friends at home in exchange for transient, surface connections with strangers?  Did I intend on reaching a point of utter confusion with my path in life, such that nothing seemed to make sense anymore?  Did I anticipate missing that…what do you call it…career I had just one day up an quit?  Did I realize how lonely I would become traveling alone all this time?  How much I would wish I had a place to really call home and some people to come back to?

As much as I tried to go with the flow, I neglected to address the reality of my life and the choices I was making without giving it a good thorough think-through.  It’s almost as if I started to ignore the thing that had once grounded me so firmly in my decisions–the voice in my head that was usually pretty rational and determined.  I took some punches and I dodged some swings, but ultimately at the end I had to answer to my self, when asked “what do you really want?”  Maybe traveling untethered for five years isn’t as good as it sounds.  Maybe the romantic idea of seeing the world was naive, given that the world is filled with people who all have much less than me in so many ways.  But here I was lamenting the things I didn’t have. The essential things that so many people have but I had markedly given up.

DSCN1108Paul and I talked evening after evening about these things.  I learned from him that dreams can be met with deliberate patience when there are things you identify as too valuable to give up.  You can have an exquisite balance in life that doesn’t require many sacrifices.  His life was quiet and content, and he had a community, a welcoming home, security in his path and love for himself.  It didn’t mean he didn’t dream of picking up one day and exploring the world, but he explained that he could learn a lot from simply exercising his mind on routine and patience, and that the travels would come along some day.  Self growth is possible anywhere, and dreams can be fit into a “regular” life.  The essential things that keep us strong aren’t worth giving up entirely.

I could have stayed on St. Croix, and made myself a home, with the inspiration of Paul and with the self-reflective honesty that I’d been working on.  But I got an offer to work in Little Cayman island, a much smaller and safer island, making more money and living in my own little apartment.  It sounded more like what I need right now. I took the job without a second thought.

So that’s that.  Now, I’m glad I’ve written that so I can mark this point in my life and remember how I got here.  I have learned so much more than I bargained for in the past two years, that now it’s time to sort through it all and have some sense made.  Maybe I will want to travel for another couple years, maybe not.  But I have to spend some time getting comfortable with the choices I’m making, now that I’ve grown up a bit.

My goal for Little Cayman will be to settle the storm in my soul, and find my direction again after calming down for a bit.  I want routine, stability, community and quiet.  Life is full of choices, and I feel like this is one I’m making for the right reasons.  I’ve got my bags packed and this time the only thing I’ve left behind is expectations.  For the new year I will expect nothing, but make everything that I want to get out of these days.

Now I’m free, in a way I wasn’t before.  I have truly stripped myself of home, community, love and security.  Like a tiger who’s lost his stripes, the only thing for me to do now is paint them back on and hope they’ll stick.  To Little Cayman I go; my things can go in boxes.

*   *   *

wWUGNbu

7 Responses to It can all go in boxes

  1. Rachel Levitin

    Proud of you! I commend you for your personal journey of self-discovery. We’re all at those points in our lives — or least I know that I am — and music has me helped me tremendously. I feel as if music for me is travel for you … same difference … and I know that as you continue your life’s journey, you will continue to discover things about yourself and others that will end up making this life you live a memorable one!

    • Anoush

      :) Thanks Rach! You’ve got to send me some of your music, I’m so happy you went down that path. And cheers to you for self-discovery as well! <3

  2. M. Sullivan

    Thanks for sharing this, I suspect it wasn’t easy to do. Enjoy the diving, the beach, the respite from constant repacking, and the pace of island life on Little Cayman. In time, all will fall into place and you’ll find this storm has passed. But please, keep posting every now and then!

  3. tina

    very beautiful post. thank you.

  4. Bruce Luna

    Well done. I’ll always have happy thoughts about my Fluffy Bunny. BTW, I recently finished the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed in prep for a PCT hike. Its a poor-person’s version of Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods”; a young woman’s journey from lost to found on the PCT. Anyways, I’m planning a mid-April start.

    Happy (and safe) Trails!!

    Tic

  5. Bruce Luna

    P.S. I need to hurry and find out what I want to do before I “grow up”

  6. tabs

    I just love you. Keep safe and be happy xoxo

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