I don’t know how many people told me how cool my summer would be. Saving tigers! Living next to the Russia-North Korea border! Being different! But there is a seething gulf between being labeled cool, and living in a way that makes it actually cool. And right now, I am far from the edge of living. In fact, I am turning into the worst kind of traveler: the one who attracts attention simply for being in a different country, but who sits in her house at night, too shy (or scared) to face a night of making acquaintances of strangers.
This is me at my most familiar, detestable self. It’s how I spent my first six months (Six months!) in Durham – writing through reams of paper, reading entire shelves of the library, gazing out my window, but feeling isolated and foolishly miserable. Making excuses for why I wasn’t out and about. It’s how I was when I first went to college until I found BLAST. This summer I don’t have the luxury of six months, or even four months. I barely have weeks.
A wise mentor told me today, Reflect on things as they happen to you. You are probably learning a lot about self, but just not able to put it into perspective yet. He reminded me to keep my faith.
Is there such thing though as too much reflection? A writer’s life is oftentimes one of quiet contemplation. For many writers, more meaning can be found from the study of simple objects (Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, I spent several days and nights in mid-September with an ailing pig, You are the bread and the knife) than from socializing (Society is commonly too cheap.. we meet at meals three times a day, and give each other a new taste of that old musty cheese that we are). And I am not one of them.
There’s only so many times I can dance around in this room, listening to Adele’s “Someone Like You,” before I undo all the progress I’ve made this year in preparing for this summer. Maybe there is no such a thing as too much reflection, but I know one can plan too much. All the language classes, preparatory research on conservation in China, writing my research survey - it's like I packed for months to take this trip. Now I’m here, and it is time to deliver. I know it. I can hear the edge of frustration in the voices of those back home, for they see me idling. Go be curious. Find out what stories you don’t know. Try tai chi in the park in the morning. Just talk to people. I know they love me. I wonder if I'm letting them down.
Therein is the deception of reflection. The process is so mentally fulfilling that I feel I am completely engaged with the world. The brain slides inward so easily that the very process disguises its danger. I stand in a swollen awareness of the world’s breath around me, and then I forget to stir the air with the compression of my own lungs. Am I imperturbable or do I trap my own passions inside? There are times when I can only change the land by living hard on it. A farmer cannot sow crops simply by feeling appreciative of the rich soil under her feet. She must toil.
I made a PDP before this summer started. There’s many things on it, many of them cliché: get in shape, be social, make a difference. Tonight I add: live raw and difficult, every day. That is the faith I will keep.
This starts now.