Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Some thoughts on traveling, writing & living

I've heard many times––and I think I've heard it attributed to multiple sources––that travel is the best education. That may be true, but I no longer think that it's true in the same way that I used to. Back then, before I started all of this madness that's been the last two years of my life, I thought travel was going to teach me about the world. What I realize now is that for me at least that's rarely the case. Visiting a place for a few days, weeks or even months is enough to give a a different perspective on your own world, but I'm afraid now that the only way to really begin to understand another place is to live there, probably for a really long time.

In short, I think traveling educates you, but it educates you more about the people you travel with than where you actually go. All the better if you do it alone, because then it educates you about yourself.

Looking back at the last couple years, I think maybe the greatest tragedy in my own life is that I didn't write more about them. Now, though, I think I'm beginning to understand that there was a reason for it. First was one that I've talked about before. That's the fact that it's hard to write about your life when you start to lose track of your own identity. That happened, and I think I'm only now––maybe––starting to recover a little. The second though, and I think more difficult, is that it's hard for me to write about a place unless I know it, and as I said above, I think I'm starting to realize that knowing a place is a much more involved process than I'd believed.

When I look back at all of the things I've written before, I think (for whatever that's worth) that some of the strongest stuff was the year just before I left on this mad adventure across the Middle East. During that year, I was just at home in the woods of north Pennsylvania. It was the place I'd grown up. Sure I'd gone away for a couple years to college and traveled around Europe once, but that only served to make it feel even more mundane of a place. Yet, when I look at what I was inspired to write about it, it's much more authoritative and evocative, and even more importantly, honest, than anything I've been able to write since. And I think that's because it was home. 

My first year traveling abroad after that, I tried to keep writing, but I felt either too overwhelmed to do it, or worse, dishonest when I did. Because the fact is: I can't know what a place is like, or even understand what's happening there by just passing through it. Sure it's one better than reading Wikipedia or the CIA World Factbook on it, but you can't know it. Not until you've spent a good long time walking––if not quite in the shoes of the people who live there––then at least close beside them. Until you've gone through the highs and the lows and everything in between in a place, and perhaps most importantly of all, been there long enough to see it change over time and most, most importantly see yourself change over the time you've been there, then you can't really know it. And I can't honestly write about a place that I don't know. I've tried and I've failed.

Coming up on two years of being based in Beirut, I feel like I might just now be ready to ever-so-gingerly dip a toe back into having some kind of commentary on it. Even that with the greatest caution, because I realize at the end of the day, I'm still only a guest here.

In the end, I'm not sure if this all leaves me with a feeling of hope or despair. It's desperate because I now realize it's a lot harder to write about myself or the world that I'm somehow a part of than I ever thought it would be. But it also has a twinge of hope, because it means that––for me at least––the most important things to think about and invest in and maybe, eventually, to write about, aren't the far away and unattainable things, but rather the things and people who are closest to me, wherever I am.

Monday, May 02, 2016

An angry old man rant

On the way home this evening I walked into a bar with my roommate. I ordered a tonic water, and specified in these words "Tonic water. Like, just a tonic water––no alcohol in it, please," at which point the waiter looked at me as if I'd walked into McDonalds and ordered the ketchup, mayonnaise and pickles without the burger or bun, and then nodded and went away.

So sitting there a few minutes later, halfway through the drink that they'd somehow managed to completely botch––though probably for the better, as it turned out––three cute twenty-something girls walked in and sat at the table next to us. A few minutes went by, and I did a double-take when I realized the girl in the corner was staring directly at me. On the second pass, though, I realized she was wearing a Samsung Galaxy Oculus™VR headset. And I had one of those ever-more-frequent "what is this world that I've inherited?" moments.

Like, seriously, it wasn't always really this bad, was it?

Or at least not this insulting? Like, why do I even leave my house anymore? I think tomorrow I will just stay home and make Snapchats about swiping through Tinder with the total end goal of getting more people to add me on Snapchat.

I know that every generation has its own way of doing things, and that ten years ago someone would probably have pointed out the irony of taking to a medium of communication called a "blog" to express my discontent with being stared at across the bar by attractive women who are really chasing fluorescent bunnies through swarms of killer butterflies or watching a 360 video of Justin Bieber brushing his teeth, but I really can't help but think that it's worse.

Or maybe I just got old before my time.