Saturday, February 25, 2012

constant motion

Live on, survive, for the earth gives forth wonders. It may swallow your heart, but the wonders keep on coming. You stand before them bareheaded, shriven. What is expected of you is attention.

SALMAN RUSHDIE, The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


So I would listen and believe and, when I would hear the words 'Off we go into the wild blue yonder,' I would think that 'wild,' and 'yonder,' were among the most wonderful words I had ever heard; likewise, I would feel the total exhilaration of the phrase 'Climbing high, into the sun,' and know instinctively that I was a part of those who love the vastness of the sky.

Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind

Saturday, February 4, 2012

what a pleasure all this is

The conversation has come up in different ways in such different situations.

On a ship in the South China Sea, talking to a Colombian traveler into the early morning under a daisy-field of stars. I said I couldn't stop thinking about the burning building in Hanoi. I was there but I was apart from everything going on. I told him I didn't sleep for two nights. He said the conflict was beautiful, and said that he didn't know many people who saw the world that way. The world is easier to understand by putting it in boxes, by making categories and justifying and compartmentalizing and filing things away, but this is not reality. He said it was good to feel things but it was painful to feel them too much. Maybe to alleviate the feeling would only be a temporary insulation from reality, but it was necessary for self-preservation. Maybe more people should feel doubt and anxiety, because it means you can't accept things as they are, and things, as they are, should not be accepted.

Wandering around a beach in Ipanema, I told my Brazilian friend I didn't understand why I have a dark interest in seeing the extremes that the world has to offer to know what other possible outcomes of life are. I said I wasn't making the most of the advantages that I have, and I probably wouldn't feel so drawn to the edge if I didn't know I had a way back. He told me that what I was describing sounded like guilt, and there was no reason to feel that. He said that there are always comparative advantages and disadvantages, but focusing on those wasn't the point- the point was to do what you can with what you have, and then feel satisfied with imperfection, because in life you will know nothing else. I said I think about myself too much, this makes me self-centered. He said don't think about it so much, it will drive you crazy.

My grandma said that it seems that the more you attempt to understand the world, the more confusion you inherit from its idiosyncrasies. I said I didn't know how to situate my own life in the world because my views are constantly shifting. She said she didn't know either. How do you start looking for an answer if you don't know the question?

'Wanderlust' and 'weltschmerz' are both of German origin. They are bound etymologically. In life, they are bound because they occur sequentially.

Sitting on a porch in Champaign in the early fall, my friend asked me why I felt so compelled to travel. For a second I was puzzled about what to say; how could I not have a discernible motivation for something I dedicated so much time and energy to? I responded candidly, and realized that as I was talking what I was saying was more true than an answer I could have reflected upon and contrived: that it was the only thing I have ever felt really committed to in my life, and it makes me feel connected to the world around me instead of being a spectator. Like a simultaneous liberation from my reality and a devotion to knowing the reality of other people.

Running from something and looking for something are similar in the sense that they both involve motion, but one is motivated by desire and one is motivated by fear.

The more you indulge a hunger the stronger the compulsion when it returns. It is insatiable. I told my friend I feel more connected, but for some reason when I think about time going on in the places I have visited and then left, I think I might partially still be there, because I couldn't feel more split apart.