So we're halfway done. Almost to the point where this experience becomes a story, a part of a narrative about who I am and why I do what I do. But I still don't know what that story is going to be.
That's the hard part, the weird thing, about this kind of experience. It's so immersing, so normal on a day to day level that taking an accurate assessment of how its creeping shadow is twisting and undermining the standard assumptions of my regular American life is difficult.
We're at a cooking school in Italy right now. Every few days we shop and prep and cook and clean for groups of up to 20 people. I know its tiring at the end of the day, but it doesn't feel like work. I get up each day and spend an hour or two on the blog, forcing myself to sit down and write or edit photos. That doesn't really feel like work either.
What is the story developing here? What will this day-to-day mean to me when its over?
Am I enjoying this work-away because its in the social exchange instead of economic exchange part of my brain? Should I look only for work with this kind of strong familial and domestic flavor?
Does it feel easy because I've clearly and completely chosen to be here and take on these tasks? Am I just feeling fully invested in my choices? How can I choose this deliberately when I get home?
Do I just like these tasks? Am I really into cooking and blogging? Do I need to adjust my trajectory professionally?
Do I like it just cause it's different? Would I feel bored and unmotivated by month two? Am I cursed to be unhappy regardless of what I do because my ADHD addled brain can't maintain its interest in anything?
Am I just more rested than I've ever been in my life? Could I always feel this way if I simplified my life and made sure to focus on exercise and sleep and good food?
Is it just that life's different in other cultures and I need to consider how I'm going to live abroad forever?
Is it because at the back of my mind I'm confident that there's no stakes to what I'm doing now? Am I so afraid of failing that I can only be happy doing something that has no stakes for me and so, no risk?
Do I finally have enough time for reflection or am I finally living in the moment and being freed from the anxiety producing analysis of myself 24 hours a day?
Any of these could be the story I'm building. What's true about this and about future me is still absurdly up for grabs. And, in a way, maybe that's the greatest victory here. That I actually am in free-fall. Engaged in a deliberately chosen process of change through experience.
So I can't draw any real conclusions yet. But I have learned (or been reminded) of a few important things.
People are kind and good.
More impactful than those we met who were greedy or bitter is the number of people who were kinder and more generous than they had any reason to be. Hosting us in their homes for free, buying us meals, giving us spontaneous tours of their cities, their example has made a lasting change in me; their generosity so evident that I'm committed to paying it forward and being just as unusually helpful to others in the future.
The internet is full of trolls.
It shouldn't be at this point, but it's still shocking how many people feel license to say truly nasty things on the internet. I take negative language directed at us or what we are doing and negative reviews of towns, activities, post offices I read with a heavy dose of skepticism these days. Anonymity encourages unaccountable behavior.
Excess leads to excess.
Jess and I will stay under budget for weeks on end, but as soon we indulge a little bit, we tend to indulge a lot. In some sense this is just noting that our past behavior has a tendency to create a stabilizing effect on the present. When we drink too much on Monday, we are more likely to do it again the following day.
What's memorable and what's fun are often different.
Memory tends to soften things and make them more pleasurable than they were in the moment. Being comfortable no doubt would also get more enjoyable in recollection, except that being comfortable just isn't that memorable. It's worth it to deliberately court discomfort every once in a while to create more impactful and lasting experiences.
I like to work.
The exigencies of regular work create a refreshing inability to focus on myself. Being forced to deny or ignore the ego for a short time through the demands of structured tasks is something that I miss. I've found myself creating projects and work to regain this. Most of us work too much and have too much of our lives eaten up by priorities outside ourselves, but on this trip, I often have the opposite problem.
There's no right way to travel.
It takes time to get clear on what really creates meaningful experiences for you as an individual as opposed to the crowd-sourced status and significance of completing the list of 'must sees.' It's made worse by the constant presence of people there to buttress their own self-confidence by disparaging your approach. Don't tell anyone about how to get the 'real experience.' All experiences are real. Work to create the best one for you and disregard those who project their preferences onto you.
If you speak English, consider yourself lucky.
That a language as difficult to learn has become the world's common language is weird. Everywhere we've been, English is the second language people are learning. If you already speak it, you've lucked out.
If you are American, consider yourself lucky.
Imagine if there was no way to drive from Chicago to New York because of bandits and unmaintained roads. Imagine if there was no such thing as high-speed internet. Anywhere. In the entire country. This is reality for many people around the world. As an American, I am in the richest 0.1% of people who have ever lived in the richest, most powerful country in the world.
You need principles.
The more ways that we observe people living their lives, the more ways we hear about people dealing with their governments or their jobs, the more it becomes clear to me that every system is about as good as the intentions of the people who operate in it. In as much as it's up to you, your outcome in every area of life will depend on your standards. You'll have the easiest time maintaining those if you create them for yourself.
Life is a whole long process.
Our life in the states was pretty isolated in terms of our exposure to people in other stages of life. We can see our parents and our siblings, but it's like seeing life through two narrow slots: young adult, empty nesters. Traveling has reminded me that there's a whole huge range of stages in between, beyond and that I've already passed through (thank god). It helps me feel like coming home will be an adventure too.