There have been a number of minor problems along the way, but so far nothing has changed my plans. The problem is that everything feels like it will, every problem could be a disaster, a massive shift in all my plans, a waste of time. Anxiety still floats around like a banshee, wailing and haunting my existence. Once, that would have been enough to stop me, but not anymore.

I wonder what would happen if my trip to China falls apart. I doubt I would be out of the Peace Corps, but how soon could I transfer to another country? Would it be better to find another way for now, or to set sail for a far distant shore?

The more plans I make, the more I expect, the more anxiety I feel. There is a reason I always preferred having a direction rather than a plan. Being fluid makes my life more bearable. Stress comes with trying to force the river to my will rather than floating downstream. Both have their place, and my river has been kind, but I don’t think I’ve come close to where I want to be yet.

The places I’ve been have darkness, but I’ve still managed to avoid it, by choice or by luck. There is a lot of pain in this world, and I know I have spent most of my life avoiding it, but I don’t want that to continue. I hate that feeling that pushes me to turn my head, to not make eye contact, to not give because I fear what people will ask for.

As much as I’ve learned over the years, I have yet to really learn to be okay with saying no. I can do it, I can ride the emotions that come with it, but there is pain that is always associated with it. Part of it is the need that people have, that they truly need more than I do and that I won’t be able to absorb that pain forever. Maybe some people find it easy to live apart from others, but for me it’s an inferno.

Joseph Campbell talks about the moth and the flame a lot. The moth finds the flame and sees perfect beauty. It tries to get to it but can’t so it returns to tell all the others about the glory of the flame. The true goal, however, is to enter the flame, to burn and die, and become one with it’s beloved. I understand that desire, but I always stand on the line between the fire and the darkness.

I want to be that passionate about something in my life. I want to love so completely that I will delight in being consumed and becoming one with the flame. But I hold back from everything, especially emotion.

To feel is a glorious thing, but I find so many times that I flinch from the full force of it. It’s a matter of control as much as it is fear. To feel so completely that I lose my ability to control my demeanor, to keep from laughing, or crying. To keep from truly loving something.

I want that fire, and I may get there one day, but for now I’ve been taking the slow way, the safe way. In Mexico I had friends, I knew the language, and I could get home. Taiwan was a place where it’s safe, where you can settle down with a family, where you didn’t have to be paranoid. China is with the Peace Corps. I don’t know how much support we will get, but it’s not truly running off into the world alone.

If there is any real purpose in my life right now, it is to feel, to abandon control and be a part of something more than I ever thought I could be.

That is what scares me most in this world, to lose what I think I am to feeling. What I think I am, my ego, my memories, my weakness. Everything goes away, and there is power in controlling when, but again, that’s just another form of control. The paradox of abandoning all but trying to control the conditions and timing.

I don’t know what will come, but being here, back in the States, I know that what I want will not be easy to find here. Comfort comes to easily, life is too ordered, and even volunteering has a protective coating. It’s too easy for me to avoid the hardest parts of life here, and to fall back to what I used to be.

In a few years, maybe I’ll be ready, but I still think I’ll have a long way to go. To Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Nigeria, Morocco, Estonia, Romania, Moldova, Oman, India, Nepal, Mongolia… I can’t list all the places I dream of, and I know my life will just continue to get harder. I know, because that is what I am looking for. Above all else, I know we find what we are looking for and what we fear, even if it’s not there.

Posted in 2017-05, Atlanta, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Along The Way

Asheville is a city in the middle of a forest. Go any direction and within five minutes you’ll be surrounded by forest, quickly traveling up some of the highest mountains on this side of the Mississippi. I never made it up Mount Mitchell, but driving all the way to the top didn’t sound that interesting, and I didn’t have the time for a full day hike up the mountain.

I wandered some of the area around Blue Ridge, but the peace of the forest can be hard to find. Most of the convenient trails are within earshot of the highway. If you just look, it’s easy to get lost in the beauty of Spring here, but the sound of the wind in the trees really makes a difference for how a forest feels.

The city itself feels like so many others I’ve been to, calm and quiet in the day, filled with art and bars, and a sense of history throughout. Most newer cities are planned, built on a grid pattern, but the older ones follow the old roads and trails, dating back to the Natives who followed the trails of their prey. Further out the mountains dictate where it’s possible for roads to be cut in. I’m used to the big cities now, surprisingly enough. I still prefer the fringe to downtown, but a small town seems strange now.

I wonder how long it would take me to get used to that life, but then I don’t know that it’s much different. I met so many people randomly in Taipei, more than in any other place I’ve lived. The idea of the small town is there, just faster and more polluted.

I spent the week there working, cutting out an old heating system, cutting trees, and prepping the house for what’s to come. It’s so hard to see any progress when you’re still in demolition. All those shows on HGTV teach us the lie that a house can be reworked in a week or two. It’s possible, when you put enough people and resources into it. In most people’s worlds, it takes time, to learn, to plan, and to do. There are always mistakes, but there is something fulfilling about repairing your own home. Changing it into the place you imagine.

It was mostly a time to relax for me. I had long conversations with new friends, kindred spirits of a sort. There is something about meeting with other travelers, seeing what I feel reflected in others. There is so much to see in the world, but you have to sacrifice so much to be able to see it. I read, and rested, and took some time alone. I love my family, but without even having my own room it’s hard to be home for so long.

There’s a little more than three weeks before I leave for San Francisco. I had them fly me in a week before staging, but I only had the option of United. At least I have the time to take the deal before they bump people. I could use the extra airfare when it comes time to head back home.

Staging is taking place across the street where I worked at Glide in San Francisco. We worked with formerly homeless people, getting them a place to call their own, and now I’ll be staying across the street in a hotel that can cost two hundred fifty dollars a night. I love San Francisco, but the thin line between rich and poor always strikes me.

I’ll have a week up there, time to see friends, and wander the city. I didn’t do it any justice last time I visited, and there were too many people I didn’t get to see. It’s the last place I’ll see while I’m here, probably for the next three years.

I’m already planning for what comes after. I think I’ll go to Mongolia while I’m in the Peace Corps, and after I’ll start with Thailand, then Vietnam, Cambodia, and down through to Australia and New Zealand. I was invited to Hawaii, and I’ll probably finish my tour there before heading back home.

That’s the question though, what will home be by that point? I don’t know if I’ll settle back down here, or if I will never really finish traveling. There is too much to see in this world, and too much to do. I think it really depends on who I meet along the way.

Posted in 2017-05, North Carolina, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Contact

It’s amazing what a little contact can do. They keep saying that no news is good news, but it’s mostly just stressful. I guess there aren’t enough people to handle all the questions, or it’s just policy not to bother unless deemed important. The Peace Corps support personnel aren’t there to baby sit us, just to get us where we’re going.

It is good to have all of the contact with the other volunteers though. I can’t imagine how much harder it must have been in the times when you couldn’t contact anyone instantly, when you only have the people that you are leaving behind. Now, every email is a discussion, every requirement can be analyzed, and we can even hear immediately from the people who went in last year’s group.

I know I’m one of the oldest in the group. Most of the people I’ve heard from are in their twenties, but it doesn’t always make this easier. It’s hard not knowing what will be next. Even with the practice I’ve had before, I don’t really know what I will be doing or how I’m going to handle what’s to come. I just know that I will succeed.

When I was away, I often find myself forgetting how old I am, that I am older than almost all of my friends. That I am older than most of the people I talk to, and almost certainly than the people I drink with, but I never really feel old. I feel it here, the strangeness of not being in my twenties anymore. The weight of years, and knowing how stupid and wasteful I used to be.

From what I hear, you always look back and see how stupid you were ten years ago. No matter how old you get, you always used to be so young and stupid. I wonder if that is how it will look to me in ten years. I wonder if my life will still have as much potential as it does now.

I remember part of what changed my direction in life was my high school reunion. I went, but didn’t really enjoy it. There was no one I really knew, but I didn’t connect to many people in that school anyway. All but one of my best friends were a year ahead or a year behind. I went, but I still don’t know why.

I’m kind of glad I did. I spent the first ten years after high school doing nothing of value. I worked, I ate, and I put on a hundred and fifty pounds. My life had no meaning, and going there didn’t really show me anything I wanted to see. Everything of meaning in my life has happened since then. The event wasn’t a catalyst in itself, just one event of many that helped me find a different way.

Part of it, I think, is that this year is the twenty year reunion. I doubt I’ll be able to go, or that I really want to. If anything does happen, I’ll be in China, more than likely. I hated high school. It’s just a place where I did my best to hide from reality, but I was always too afraid to really do anything about it. I still carry that fear with me. I still feel it every day. I just don’t think that’s a bad thing anymore,

Posted in 2017-05, Atlanta, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can’t Wait

Part of the problem being here is that I have no purpose. I won’t be here long enough to get a real job, especially since my car broke down. Nothing is close enough for me to really walk to, and there are no buses this far outside of the city. I could use Uber to get around, but that gets expensive quickly in the States. I really don’t fit here anymore, and it just feels like I’m intruding on the world I left behind.

They talk about culture shock, but this is it more than anything. A world I really feel alienated from, and in many ways it should be so familiar. I feel defensive, irritated, and it’s a fight to do anything. This is not a vacation, but in many ways the opposite.

All the things I pushed to the side have returned. The car I left behind is gone, my phone died not long after, and it feels like all the things I’ve put off until later are suddenly pouring over the dam. In the world outside, my life is a vacation. This life isn’t, and not working makes it worse, not better.

I practice my Mandarin, I organize my blog, I clean a bit, sort a bit, and prepare for the life to come. It’s a strange mix of depression and anxiety that I haven’t really experienced since I left. The Peace Corps has been pure anxiety, but there is always something to do. Teaching was stressful at first, but I knew I could do it. I can do anything I’ve come up across so far. As long as there is a path even one person has walked, I know I can make it through.

This life is a waste, and not a glorious or relaxing waste, just a pause in all that I want to do. The people here have lives, and I don’t really have a place in them anymore. I regret not finding somewhere to work abroad for a month, maybe staying at a hostel in Mexico, or teaching on the side in Thailand. I could have been doing so many things, but the reality is that I thought this would be more than it is.
In a way, it’s what I needed. I don’t want this life. I could find a job and make my way, but I left because I didn’t like what my life was here. I don’t hate it, I just never found the meaning I was looking for. All the potential this life has is wasted on me. Right now, I know it won’t make me happy, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

It’s good that I’m going to China, that I’ll be gone for years. I learn with every move I make, and next time I’ll understand how to plan so I don’t have this void where I am. There is too much I still want to see, too many streets to walk down, and too many wonders to see. I don’t know what will come, and that is the greatest part of it. I want to be challenged, surprised, and even broken on occasion.

The problem with being here is that I have lived this life before, and I have broken from it before. I know this pain too well. I don’t know what life means, and I don’t really care. I have a direction, and for now, a plan.

Six weeks to go. Then I’ll be in San Francisco again, preparing to leave with all the other volunteers. That will be strange, to be leaving with others. I have lived with host families before, I’ve learned to teach, I’ve spoken Mandarin, and I’ve lived in an Asian country. I will be going further, but I’ve been preparing for a while. But, for the first time in as long as I can remember, I just can’t wait for the next page to turn.

Posted in 2017-04, Atlanta, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment