Friday, October 18, 2013

The Life Exotic

The village where I live
I can never write about things as they are happening. 

My thoughts are too raw then.

They need to be filtered, edited, organized into something meaningful. 

For the last five years, I've kept a journal which is only slightly more elaborate than an agenda. In it I record everything that happened to me during that day. Keeping a journal that chronicles a sequence of events is important, because it is often the sequence of events that we forget. 

What I often neglect to record, unfortunately, are my feelings. When we feel something intensely, it is important to record promptly, because we forget those feelings almost as soon as we stop feeling them.

The forgetting starts when the feeling stops.

I didn’t write at all my first month in Japan. Not for my novel, not for my journal, and hardly for this blog.  Now I am only left with a vague memory of how I felt during my first transitionary months here, and what I can say in reflection is summed up in this statement:

 Traveling to a place, and living in a place, are two very different things.  

the waterfall near my house
I'm not just talking about the logistical differences, the paying of bills, the work-life balance,  the routines. More important than any of that was something I did not anticipate: the emotional differences that  accompany traveling and living in a place. 

When I travel, I allow myself to absorb everything, because I know that no matter what kind of experience it is, it will end soon. I allow myself to get frustrated at situations, I allow myself to hate places and people, because I know I can return home where none of that matters. 

But when I moved here, when this became my home I could not allow myself to get frustrated at every situation, because those situations would become part of my everyday life. I had to care about what strangers think of me, when I usually don't, because soon those people would not be strangers anymore. They would be my neighbors, coworkers, and friends. 

These thoughts don’t bother a traveler, who doesn’t have to see or experience the same scene twice. Giving the teller the wrong change, buying a ticket for the wrong train, saying something offensive when you meant the opposite.  Those awkward scenes make good traveling stories, but not when you are living them, not when you have to play them on repeat every day for a year. 

When you live somewhere, you can’t just get out of a situation; you have to get through it.

That means you have to replay the act until you know the lines, until you get it right.
And slowly, somehow, I've been doing just that.  

The other day I took a drive through town, down an unremarkable road from one ordinary place to another. Yet the scene from my car window was truly astonishing, something so beautiful that it steals the thoughts right out of your head. 

Left with no words to describe the scene or my feelings, there was nothing left to do but look and feel. 

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