Time to Show Up

Broken Bells was the first show I paid to see. I thought I might write about it, but it never happened.

Broken Bells was the first show I paid to see upon my return. I thought I might write about it, but it never happened.

“Were you high when you wrote it?” my father asked of my last blog post. “It reads like that might be the case.” Well, Dad, no. But during the wild ride that has composed my time back in the states, I’ve started to see where he was coming from. Re-entry is different for each and every international traveler, but in typical Dan fashion, I took it to a degree of extremeness unparalleled at any other point in my life. One possible explanation: I left Buenos Aires with a recording breaking heat index upwards of 120 degrees. Three days later, a cold front dubbed “Chiberia” blew in wind chills of 50 below. A quite literal 180 degree flip defined my winter quarter with a sine wave of ups and downs. Throughout those ups and downs I claimed several moments to be the “one,” the catalyst for a blog post, but they never came to fruition. Five months later I finally found the motivation to write. I have Jen and Doug to thank for that as their encouragement truly struck a chord in a way little else has recently. But in attempt to address some of what happened since I’ve been home, I have to back up – all the way up. First and foremost, the pants.

Called "balis," these pants are owned by nearly every teen in Argentina. As much as they are apart of my wardrobe at home, I didn't get them until a week before I left for Chicago.

Called “balis” (BAH-lees), these pants are owned by nearly every teen in Argentina. As much as they are apart of my wardrobe at home, I didn’t get them until a week before I left for Chicago.

Traveling definitely gave me, well, accolades?

Traveling definitely gave me, well, accolades?

I realized after only a few days back that my tan, hair, and newfound pants alone were striking enough to attract a few double takes. But as I continued to operate on a wavelength foreign to everyone around, including myself, I realized my folks were justified in having their parental alarms triggered. In reality, what motivated my behavior more than anything else was fear. Fear I wouldn’t do my experience abroad justice if I lived the life of a driven advertising student fighting for paid internships. Fear of not taking advantage of the little responsibility required of a college student.  Fear I would live a boring, routine life. In the end, I failed to avoid one of the biggest fears of all: talking about my experience abroad instead of acting out the ways in which it shaped me. No one would claim I spoke endlessly about Argentina, but I sure as hell criticized contemporary life in the States in a way I could not have done had I not left it behind for a few months. I attempted to acknowledge my privilege and do something with it but in the process I flaunted it in a way that made me look like I wasn’t doing anything. And I wasn’t. But I truly felt like I was using my time well because I was present to what unfolded in front of me in a completely life-giving way. That meant the world to me given my own experience with anxiety, and worse, apathy towards days that lay in front of me. I was free of inhibitions that once felt so heavy and exhausting. In a way, I was high. High on presence, content, and excitement – a life so fully in the now. But it was also a high from which I would eventually come down throughout a turbulent remainder of the school year. As the novelty of home faded and reality set in, I began to lose touch with what seemed so exciting: a connection to something bigger than myself, a feeling of purpose, an intentional use of time.

I unfollowed every one of my friends on Facebook to avoid waisting time with my news feed. The result? The site thinks I need friends period.

I unfollowed every one of my friends on Facebook to avoid waisting time with my news feed. The result? The site thinks I need friends period.

That something, something bigger than ourselves, was easy to appreciate whilst in Casa. We were there with a purpose. To accompany, to learn, to grow focus support and live. And we did so within a group of nine. No other friends to distract us. No parties to attend. No TV shows to watch. No phone to take us out of our environment. No career path to worry about. Those last two were of particular focus (academic, no less) of mine upon my return. What is the impact of technology and capitalism on human connection and preoccupation? How much does progression lead us towards an unattainable carrot on a stick? These thoughts led me to disconnect and disengage from the path assumed of me given my degree in advertising. I withdrew myself from all media save music. Here’s an excerpt from a unfinished blog entry that encapsulates my attitude towards life in the US:

“I returned to a nation filled with isolation, anxiety, and exhaustion. People are tired; tired of being asked to do more with less; tired of seeing the world’s problems unfold on a screen and feeling helpless; tired of not feeling validated and cherished and needed and loved. I speak from personal experience when I say it’s one of life’s scariest, most disheartening experiences to be surrounded by millions of people only to feel alone. And yet this is how many of us live. We have more “friends” than ever, “chat” with more people than ever, and “see” more of the world and its cultures than ever before, but still we feel empty. The sensations that fundamentally make us feel whole are missed because we’re too busy sending a SnapChat to notice a soul mate’s gaze across the bar.”

From what I've gathered, I'm not the only one who feels a little disoriented. Jake assured me of that when I visited him in LA.

From what I’ve gathered, I’m not the only one who feels a little disoriented. Jake assured me of that when I visited him in LA.

Despite my efforts, my disconnection and disengagement from my society left me alone, empty of life. In Argentina, we often spoke about “life-giving” practices. A life-giving practice is, well, enlivening. That isn’t to say that each instance of a life-giving exercise is exhilarating, but at the very least, it leaves one with a sense of fulfillment and content. “What gives you life?” we’d ask one another. Things like direct service, teaching, gardening, going for walks, laughing with friends, playing guitar… These all encompass what us Casa students feel most strongly about. Yet in my life at home, for one reason or another, I lost a bit of clarity as to the power of those moments on a larger scale. For me personally, I would come to learn a stark difference between playing the guitar by myself, alone in my apartment and playing next to a friend reading a book or playing basketball. In both my academic and anecdotal pursuits, it’s become clear that the truest feeling of fulfillment and content stem from community and social support. More than technology use, diet and exercise, occupation, or any other facet of life. With that, I’m left where so many people across generations are today in the US: striving to be a part of a community, have a sense of belonging, and connection to a purpose beyond myself. Without those things, the immense power that my mind – all minds – posses goes inward and torments the soul yearning for more.

My experience abroad doesn’t exist as an isolated moment in time, however. It lives on with me, and I know that what I’ve lived can again be attained. It seems every one of the Casa cohort left with a greater, however slight, capacity to embrace uncertainty and accept life as it comes. I sincerely believe in “the path” and where it takes me. But damn, it is tough. And until I find the rhythm – the flow – that comes with doing the things one loves, I’m left without much direction. So as I attempt to find the path that feels right, be it within the music industry at my current internship, the restaurant industry as a host, or academia as a professor, I want to write about it. I got rolling with this post, and now it must continue. My posts thus far have had some length to them, and I think that should change. This blog acted as a sounding board for my ideas, and I was faithful to it while abroad. I’m going to return with that same faithfulness with hope it spills over to other parts of my life.
Photo credit: Brainpickings.com

Quote: E.B. White – Photo credit: Brainpickings.com

As Jen and Doug say, “sometimes all it takes is showing up.” We spent the entire semester reflecting on what that meant. Now more than ever I need to apply what I learned. It’s time to show up.

 

One thought

  1. Dan – thank you. I just read this for the first time now, in mid-October, stressed about school, wondering about love, life, self, purpose, writing . . . you get it. I just wanted to say thank you for putting your thoughts and experiences into words right here. I don’t know how to express any of the other things right now. But thank you. I appreciate you. I’m going to call you. Be well. Peace, love, and happiness.

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