Saturday, September 14, 2013

Full circle

Three hundred and eighty days ago today, I sat down at my computer and poured a flood of anger and shame and regret and self-loathing out through my fingertips.  Then I drained off the keyboard and started again, this time not only trying to walk through the story of how so much turmoil got into my head, but analyzing the reasons and attempting to advise and inspire myself just as I would respond to a friend.  The result was Project Fear Less.

Starting that project was probably the best possible action I could have taken then.  In the pursuit of finding scary things to do, I've run quite the gamut, from the mundane and relatively simple to the huge and wonderfully bizarre.  I'veshaven my head; eaten snails and eyeballs; recommitted myself to the study of martial arts; asked someone on a date; been made into art.  I flew to Ireland for three months with nothing but a daypack (stuffed to the gills) and about $1400 in saved tips.  I climbed up a mountain made of bog, and another one with its head so far in the clouds that the peaks seemed like islands, and picked my way down into a barnacle-studded cave that led to the sea.  I talked to strangers.  I overcame my reticence about public performance and sang everywhere - on the street in Galway with a hat in front of me, in a packed bar that fell dead silent to hear an old ballad from West Virginia, in the dairy parlour every morning and evening for the cows and cats.  The travel bug bit me hard and left a long-lingering welt, and almost as soon as I landed back on this side of the Pond I'd filled up a cooler for myself, gassed up my darling Lucille and made tracks for Memphis, followed by Denver on a whim, then three days on the scenic route from Colorado to D.C., then finally heading to Durham again, meandering along coastlines and rivers and through forests for two days instead of taking the straight shot, wanting to stay a vagabond for as long as possible before returning to "normal life."

Now I'm back in school, seeing all the same peers and professors every day in the same room (yes, room, singular.  our physics department is very small).  My schedule is less divided - I have one job now instead of two main jobs, two side jobs and occasional gigs - but it's fallen along approximately the same lines of division as before: school in the morning, work in the afternoon, martial arts dotting the evenings on my planner and trips to farms and markets on the weekends.  I still think I have too many things, even though I weeded out a huge number of my belongings before I left in May.  In a strange twist of fate, I'm even in the same apartment as last year.  At first glance, everything looks very similar and sometimes leaves me wondering if any of my crazy ideas and adventures made a lasting difference in the broad view of my life at all.

Then I look closer.  The first major difference is in the sheer amount of time I have made for myself.  Last year I was slowly killing myself, working 60 to 70 hours a week and up to 16 hours straight on a shift between all my jobs, not counting any of the time for classes and homework or the martial arts classes that I made a priority - "they keep me sane!" I'd say, with crazy eyes that proved the need for something that did, when people asked me how I managed to fit in the latter.  It's still very true, but now I feel that it's less of a desperate grasp at some sort of ritual practice to take my mind off everything else dragging me down for an hour or two at a time, and more of a conscious choice to pursue this path over another that might serve just as well.  I no longer desperately need a diversion from all the surrounding chaos, and now that I'm freed from that dependency, the conscious choice to continue studying the arts feels infinitely more fulfilling.  Likewise, every decision I make about what to do with all this time I now have feels luxurious - I don't have to do anything!  I could just lounge and eat bonbons if I wanted to! - even if sometimes overwhelming from the sheer amount of options that appear to me now that every hour is not dictated.

I'm still convinced that minimalism is the best way to go, and getting rid of even more of my things is an obvious continuation of the trend from last year.  But now I don't feel like I have to convince myself quite so much.  Before, I had the idea that the knickknacks and trinkets and even some of the lovelier useful items aided my memory of people and places and times past in a way that my brain alone couldn't handle.  Now I've become able to hold my mind and its capabilities in much higher esteem than I used to.  Writing and talking about memories helps me keep hold on them much better than items.  I'm still keeping art, but even that doesn't seem as off-limits now as before.  If I find someone who would be better with something of mine, the gift-giving will become just another part of the good memories attached to it.

The biggest change I can see isn't concerned with a physical aspect of my life, like my schedule or my possessions.  It's partly the neverending wanderlust, but that's not even new.  I remember gazing at the sunrise over the autumnal hills of northeastern Ohio from my fourth-floor dorm almost ten years ago and penning a wistful missive about the intense desire to give wings to my gypsy soul and just go.  Yes, of course it was in my livejournal. That yearning for the road has never really left me, and first appeared long before that, when I was a wee little nerd child playing "Explorer" by myself in the woods.  The difference is now I know I can go, if I choose.  As long as I have my health and my passport, the rest is just detail.  Yes, right now I'm choosing to have a rented roof and a weekly food order and schedules for school and work, but that's entirely because of the choices I'm making now, not the defining structure of my life.  Like the knowledge that I no longer need a martial arts practice for the sake of my disintegrating mental health and the beauty that comes in the entirely free choice to continue it anyways, the knowledge that I have endless options about where and how to live, and that I'm strong enough to tackle any of them, makes the choice to postpone further large-scale ramblings until I've accomplished my current goals that much more satisfying.

But oh man, you guys.  Once I do...I can go anywhere.

So I'm going to go everywhere.


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