Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost.

My friend Arielle, who is a very wise woman, said something to me the other day as we were discussing our time living in Italy-- "No one decides to go halfway around the world and study abroad for months for no reason. If your life was perfect, you wouldn't be in Italy, or Ireland, or France. I think everyone who studies abroad, whether they know it or not, is trying to escape from something."

That girl knows how to kick me in the ass like almost no other.

What she said is true. Think about it. If you were perfectly content and happy with your life at home, why would you leave? Why would you uproot, leave all your support systems, and decide that maybe, living somewhere 4,000 miles away sounded like a good idea? Why would you exchange your apartment, job, college, local grocery store, friends, climate, coffee shop, and daily routine for new ones if you were still so enamored with the old ones? It is not because, as some might say, you "wanted the experience." To that, I say bullshit. Yes, it certainly is an experience, but so is going to your closest amusement park and riding a roller coaster. If you wanted to shake your life up a bit, you would find a new job or get a haircut. You would not pack your life into two suitcases, a backpack, and a very large purse and move yourself across the globe for a nice jaunt. That is not an "experience." That is a life change, and you have to have a very good reason for making one of those, believe me.

I know because what Arielle said applies for me, too. One thing that I have learned while over here is what I am, and what I am not. And one thing that I am is a runner. If I have an issue, I tend to run away from it. In fact, Italy was my biggest runner of all. Italy was my answer to running away from my life for over three months, putting everything I could not fix on hold, and distancing myself from reality. In the months before I left, things happened in my life that I didn't have answers for. I lost someone incredibly important to me. I was stagnant in my job. I found myself in a situation that I didn't know how to deal with, because I did not have the guts to actually speak up about what I wanted and what I needed and what I was feeling. I experienced raw, emotional pain for the first time in my life like a tidal wave that sucked me down into the deepest depression of my life. Nothing was working. I got scared. I was flailing, and falling, and striking out at whatever came near me. I remember, hazily, screaming at my mother in the car while sobbing hysterically. I remember my hands shaking from thinly controlled nerves as I tried to paint. I remember turning back to chemical release because I still could not use words to remedy the situation I was in, and so, smoking could do it for me. I remember hours spent lying on my bed, in the dark, not doing anything, because just moving hurt. I remember days where I did not talk. I remember not wanting to look at myself in the mirror, because then I would see hipbones and ribs and sharp angles that I had never had before.

And so I came to Italy because I was letting go of everything that was holding me back, because I was leaving. I was checking out. I was done with living the way I had been. I came thinking that that would be the answer to life. I got shiny and sleek from the hot sun and rich food. My hair got longer in passing with the days. I started to heal. But, like Arielle, I started to realize why I had come to study abroad. I started to separate the experience from the impetus.

It took some massive struggles and some pretty tough self-love. I didn't like myself all of the time. I still don't, some days. I can be obsessive, illogical, irrational, jealous of things I cannot change, and--yes-- neurotic, and a HUUUGE flaming hypocrite. I cannot, in other words, get out of my own way. Like every person, I like to think that I was a great baby. In reality, my mother tells me that until I learned how to "get out of my own way" and crawl, I was miserable. And just like when I was a baby, with the stress of finals looming, eight-and-over page papers due in nearly every class, trying to find a job to now go with my apartment and nearly $700-a-month rent from across the ocean, my body rejecting nearly everything I try to put in it because at this point it is trying to physically reject Italy itself, and a massive question-mark hovering over the status of my life back in Vermont, I am fussy and just want to go home and figure all that out. NOW. I started to panic. I started to obsess and started to expect more than was feasible from other people, and then take it personally when things didn't pan out. I started to shut down. Like, "Get me on a plane tomorrow, ship me home, and the devil take my finals and credits and grades, because I have figured out me, I have figured out my life here, and now it is time to rejoin reality and figure out my life there."

But then I realized that if I went home now, I would have forever run away from something else-- something which I will never get a chance to get back. I also would incur a large amount of debt from switching my ticket that, seeing as I am currently job-less, I would not be able to pay back until the already large lump-sum had accrued even more money not being paid off on my (brand-new, never used, very scary) credit card. Overall, I think staying for the next 16 days is in my best interest. And so, to make it easier on myself, I cut the things out that were making me unnecessarily worry and over-hype and expect and wait and wait and wait for SOMETHING to happen, for some divine clue that everything was alright and that life back home was waiting for me to return, just as it was when I left, just as I hoped it would be. This means, for the next week, no skulking around Facebook. No waiting on Skype. No Twitter (except to Tweet these updates to the blog). This, of course, I cannot cut out, and wouldn't want to. If I couldn't write, I would die. As simple as that. (One of the things I discovered, inequivocably, I am: a writer. In that, I chose rightly.)

It does not mean, however, that it isn't very hard. I now have an apartment in Burlington that all I want is for it to be June 1st so I can move in. I want to have Saph's head on my chest again, impossibly heavy and nearly knocking me over, her nostrils making wet pockets on my shirt, my nostrils filled with the scent of hay and dust and horse. I want to wake up early and go for a walk with the trees overhead like a canopy, so early that no one else is up and I can savor a Vermont morning, all by myself. I want to drive my Civic again and panic about hill-stops on Main Street. I want to be back among my people, my friends, and the plaidness of it all. I want to find out what's going on, and where I stand. I want to have (physically, if not also emotionally if it is not too much to ask for,) safe sex again. I want to not have to smoke as much, though this is a completely open-for-interpretation desire, as my smoking habits vary directly with my stress levels. In any case, I want to not have to buy a new pack every five days.

Right now, I need more than is fair to ask from others. And so, that leads to having to ask myself to be everything I need. And this is why I came abroad, come to find out. I had to leave so that I could find myself. So that I could learn to be nearly everything I need. So that I could learn that I am obsessive, and illogical, and irrational, and jealous, and-- yes-- neurotic, and that I can be a huge hypocrite. The one thing I have to say about this period of time of running away is that though Arielle may have been right in the fact that I had a reason for leaving my life, I found an even better one to return to it: who I am, what I want, and what I need. And so, I close with this thought: though wanderers and runners and study abroad students may leave to go someplace for reasons they don't know, they will find them once they get there. If you leave someplace, you will discover why. And if you go somewhere new, you will discover something new about yourself, not just about your location. Many times, I have foolishly wished I didn't come here, just so that things could "stay normal" at home and so I wouldn't "have to worry." But in the end, what I have found here, and what has happened in Italy will be what sticks with me for the rest of my life, despite whatever I find has or has not changed back home. Not all those who wander are lost.


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