lesson one: keep a close eye on your basket of eggs.

27 September 2011 § Leave a comment

We can all agree that Understanding is more or less a prime directive in human relations (and knowing yourself) – that is, unless you’re a fundamentalist, or in shady government dealings, or some other agency that employs deception and/or ignorance for profit. When I travel, I say that my goal is to learn about the cultures I’m visiting, to take the time to quit the snobby goal of filling up my passport, and to sit for a while in a place and get to know the language, the people, the culture.

In order to figure this out, I had to take a monthlong trip hitchhiking through Europe in wintertime. Sounds fun, right? It was. Except for the part where I had to deal with myself. With the exception of a wonderful co-exploration of Bavaria, I cityhopped, often not knowing where I was going to sleep until well past sunset. A new town every day. Trains when my thumb didn’t work. Snowstorms and sadness, interspersed with great acts of kindness from strangers. Places to stay. Coincidental travels. International moments of loveliness. All the while, I slowly made peace with the thought; “God damnit, I still brought Sean along with me.” Yeah, that tends to happen.

The day after I arrived back in Alaska, I realized that for all the thousands of miles I had just traveled, I hadn’t really gotten anywhere.

I think that I mentioned that all (not most, all) of the students in my study abroad group are from within an hour or two of somewhere I’ve lived in the US. The more people I meet, the more often I say “I’ve been there, it’s a _____ place.” Usually, I try to be kind and say it’s nice or something. Sometimes those are lies.

I’m near ten months along after the Europe trip. I’ve climbed and fallen many times (literally and metaphorically), and had one of the best summers of my life. Physically and mentally, I’m thousand of miles farther still, and wondering when am I going to get somewhere?

It’s never enough. never enough. neverenough, keep going keep writing keep going what am I looking for, and why are you telling me this? Why am I telling me this? Who am I doing this for?

If I keep going, will you, too?


I’m told that when you’re in the midst of a new culture, there are three steps to Understanding.


At the moment, I have the tools to Observe, but lack the context to interpret, let alone to evaluate. The old metaphor about a culture being an iceberg, remember that? That you only see the surface 10%? That goes with people, too. The problem is – when do I know I have enough tools to interpret, to make judgments and decisions, because all of this unfiled information about the police running red lights and the maids stealing money and about not walking alone at night and all the fucking gates and fences and barbed wire competitions people run around their houses? Maximum security prisons, twenty to a street! But I’m taking what I know from the US, from my lifetimes of Safety First mentality, and some arbitrary Trust the Police and Trust Your Neighbors and Everyone Can Take Care of Themselves. I’m from the First World, and I’m no longer there. I may be too tall and too white to ‘go native’ in Costa Rica, but the more cultures I peek into, the less I like my own.

Maybe I’m missing something.

The point I was getting at earlier was that those three steps apply as much to me as they do the giant world of the Unknown. Maybe I need to step back and Observe my actions, and how people react to them. If they’re missing something, perhaps filling them in, or somehowelse communicating my ideas would help. Leaving people in the dust without moving requires a thicker skin for confrontation than leaving them in the dust and looking down from an airplane, or watching the coast roll by from a fishing boat. That’s easy. Indirect.

I can’t do that anymore. And I have to deal with the times I have, and forgot something sitting on the table. Something important. Like a notebook on a curb, a pair of glasses on a chair, a hat under a table – these lost things add up. And if I feel that way about a lost notebook with only six pages of scribbles, imagine how a person feels. One whom I’ve loved, or said so. And when I’ve been left on the curb, what was that like? Think about these things, Sean, interpret them. Why? What were you in such a rush to find?

and evaulate the answer. was it worth it? can I count that in my chronicles? and when does the chapter end?

My life is divided into lifetimes, for little other reason than I see years and months as arbitrary, and places and movement are simpler frames.

But I only see lifetimes in retrospect, and the transitions are nearly always blurry. Incomprehensibly blurry, like yogurt smeared across binoculars.


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