Monday, January 31, 2011

A break from Canada

Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, in Self-Reliance, the following words on travel:

Travelling is a fool's paradise. Our first journeys discover to us the indifference of places. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty, and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea, and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern fact, the sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from. I seek the Vatican, and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go.

I often think about this, the "giant" in particular. I think about this with respect to my own travels and especially to my own cross-country move.

To keep this brief, I'll just say that I have found benefits to travel and to the move, as far as regaining (or not regaining, but initially acquiring, so, "gaining") perspective that I would simply not have gotten if I'd stayed in one place. But after a point, I'd agree with Emerson, that you can't escape your "giant."

A physical escape doesn't bring with it a complete mental escape. Your giant follows you because you are still you. However, I'd argue that a change of scenery could help you confront that giant and learn more about it. Bringing your giant to a new place with a new culture is a way to introduce your giant to different people and norms and see how it reacts. Leaving your home is also a way for you and your giant to leave the people that construct your everyday life and the expectations for who you should be and what you should do. It forces you and your giant to spend some time alone together, get to know each other, and learn how to work together. (Ideally, at least.)

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When I went back to NJ for Christmas and came back to Portland a month ago, I was feeling a little down about some things that are different about the two places. As much as I love some of the differences, there are others that I don't like and there are things I miss. When I made the decision to move out of NJ and chose Portland, it was partially because I felt I didn't fit in; I felt like an alien and I felt like the things that made me an alien in NJ would be better accepted in Portland. I didn't want to (and didn't expect to) find a place where everyone was like me, but I hoped to find a place where it was easier to live like I wanted to and where I wouldn't be an oddball.

What I've found is that in some ways, I still am an oddball, and surprise surprise, it's for reasons I was totally normal in NJ. A month ago, this was really getting to me, much more than it is today. I never expected to find a place where I'd 100% "fit in,"
where everyone would like me and agree with me and where I'd never feel out of place, but I did find myself wondering which sort of alien was worse to be. Was it better to be in a place where my hobbies were considered weird, or in a place where my personality is considered weird?

At some point in all of this thinking a month ago, I concluded that the realization that I am an alien in either place (and really, who isn't? who really fits in anywhere?) could actually be liberating. You see, if I am going to be an oddball no matter what, then I have the freedom to be an oddball. I have the freedom to opt out of trying to fit in, to opt out of caring, and to be me, whoever I want that to be. And that also means I can go wherever I want to go.

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