Hello again! It’s been too long, so much time has passed. It was over a year ago that I arrived in China for the first time, and I have now been back stateside now for almost five months.
I’ve been hesitating on writing more posts for a while now since I feel like I have less justification for this much rambling, especially now that I’m back in America. So I have to ask the question, am I self-involved enough to believe that even my every day observations are interesting enough to warrant an audience?
Yes. Yes I am.
There’s a specific quality that I’ve noticed abounds in every young person who has ever taken a life changing journey away from home for any length of time, and that trait is the complete inability to shut up about it. Like if we’re talking ability worm a specific topic into any conversation, I’d say returning study abroad students rank somewhere between vegans and people who do Crossfit, or make their own home-brew beer. When you talk to these students, even for months after, it’s as if they just got off the plane.
The trouble is that this condition is so resilient, that I’m aware of it, I know I’m doing it, I know you don’t want to hear about what basically amounts to an extended vacation of mine that has nothing to do with you—BUT I CAN’T STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.
Yes. I hear me too. I am also tired of my own voice.
Yet here I am still dwelling.
This is worrying place to be in since it feeds into the culture of travel elitism that is so incredibly insufferable. It starts out innocently enough, you get back from a trip and excitedly tell stories to an audience that you realize with time is increasingly uninterested. So we bemoan to others with similar experiences about how the people back home “just don’t understand” while scrolling through the same travel albums saved on Facebook over and over again. Before you know it, you’re scoffing at those “small minded people” who never left home because they didn't have the same privileges, while simultaneously fabricating this fictional perfect narrative about your experience. I’m already pretentious, but I feel the need to intervene before I start writing articles for BuzzFeed titled “20 Things Only Nomadic Free-Spirited Souls Know to be True.”
This brings to mind a few questions:
Why is it not enough for me to just carry this experience with myself? Why do I feel the need to prove I had this adventure to others? And what am I so afraid of that comes from letting this experience exist in the past tense?
These questions are all the result of the larger issue of not wanting to let go. This amazing opportunity came out of nowhere, and then all of the sudden I was living the life I was supposed to be living. Every day was a new adventure, a new story, my Instagram had never been better. But then the worst thing dared to happen with that experience, it ended.
When I talk to my friends who are dealing with similar struggles of staying present, one phrase in particular always comes up, about how difficult it is now to “get back to reality.” This phrase more than anything terrifies me, and I believe it’s this mindset why so many of us have difficulty accepting our present situations. When we talk about “getting back to reality” we’re speaking about our experiences in the terms of them being some kind of dream, or not real and valid. We treat this time that we loved and drown in nostalgia as some kind of anomaly, an enjoyable tangent that is completely separate from our “real” (i.e. boring) lives and responsibilities. The more we separate and idolize these memories away from what is considered to be on track with our lives, the more power we give them to become impossible-to-recreate constructions comprised entirely of wistful misremembering.
I reject this way of thinking on several grounds. 1. I resent the implication that my “real” life cannot be a series of different adventures that are just as exciting, 2. I refuse to declare boredom to be my default or any more a “reality” than anything else.
Nostalgia goggles are so real. The further removed you are from something the easier it is to distort the memory and make it some kind of perfect unattainable thing.
This refusal to let go is rooted in fear, fear of that once we let go of this experience, that means it’s over for good. Because if we let go of this adventure, what if that’s it? Will these be the same stories I tell again and again when I’m forty? When will I get to the point that the exciting part of life is over with? We all know some people who at a very clear point in their lives stopped living their stories and just kept repeating them. You can spot this person because by the third time you meet them you’ve heard all of their greatest hits. Twice.
But I am not done living my adventures. There are lessons and stories to be gained from every stage even if some of them are less novel to learn. Whether I am able to let go of the past or not, is really of no consequence because no matter what I do, I’m moving further away from it. I can keep reliving the memories or I could let go of the #throwbackThursday posts and focus on capturing the candid moments that are currently happening all around me. I will trust that I have adequately curated those old memories, and now file them away for future reference.
It’s not “getting back to reality” it’s just keeping up with it. The only limit on the number of stories I collect is the mindset I approach new experiences with. I can take comfort in the fact that as long as I am on the lookout for new material, I will be able to find it.