There is a weird duality to moving to Taiwan. In Mexico, I could always go home, and I did, every few months. This time, I’m all in, and I find myself looking back. I’m afraid, in a real way, not like that abstract fear and paranoia that fill my past, real fear of what is happening. Is that what I need to shed light on my old anxieties? Is the light just more fear, a great and terrible monster that scares away our little fears?
It’s strange to think about it because intellectually it looks so negative, but I feel strangely happy. There has been upbeat music playing in the back of my head for days instead of the usual random noise. It’s been easier to change my mood for the better than it has in a long time. For the first time in my life, being scared isn’t pulling me backwards. This fear isn’t the anchor that all my old fears were.
I think that is my biggest problem with it, not that it’s fear but that it’s unfamiliar, as unfamiliar as the country I am going to. I’m sure Taiwan will be like that, buildings, cities, people, the same as every other place I’ve been, but a heartbeat beyond there everything changes. Language is the most obvious, but that is nothing more than a hint of what’s to come.
All the things I expect are easy to deal with, travel, the language barrier, beginning a new job, meeting new people, adapting to something so unfamiliar, but I can never tell what I won’t expect. A friend of mine over there said that he didn’t expect how often they read into body language. Apparently Americans show a lot more than they do, and he kept getting asked what’s wrong, or why he’s angry. I know my face rests looking angry, so I have something I can expect as a problem.
The bigger issue will be what happens in my own mind. My new fear has brought on a change in how I see death. Americans see so much death that it loses it’s connection to reality early on, an abstract on a screen and in our heads. The problem comes when we see real violence, without the choreography or special effects. The real pain, meat, and blood. I have always followed that path, the doctrine of Mel Brooks. “Tragedy is when I hurt my little finger, comedy is when you fall into a manhole and die.” Distance is as important to physical comedy as enunciation is to stand up.
Something about this change has brought death close to me, out of the range of comedy where I imagine something in my mind but it feels real. Reading a horror novel is very different when you can accurately see in your mind the bodies coming apart, and it’s worse when your mind begins to introduce people you know to the book, their voices and thoughts animating the doomed characters.
I don’t really know if it’s good or bad, temporary or permanent, or how I can even use this to better myself. Usually it’s easier than this, using pain to drive myself forward. This time I wonder what the effect will be if I cannot separate myself from imagined pain, and how long it will be before the pain of reality gets this close. I’ve tried to be vegetarian before, but what happens when you cannot separate yourself from the pain of your meal? What happens when you cannot ignore the pain of the field hands, sweating and bleeding to put vegetables on your plate. The sweatshops of Asia, the dictatorships, the refugees, the soldiers, the angels and demons.
In a way it looks like this is one of the goals of Buddhism, to be one with everything, but what happens when the reality of that seeps in? What happens when you cannot believe you are strong enough? Maybe that’s the real fear of this change, not where I am going but who I am becoming. What I will lose along the way, and the pain and fear that I will find.