Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Day in Kuressaare

Summing Up 2015

As 2016 approaches, I was talking with a friend about goals for the next year and reflecting about the one just finishing. And I realized that my dominant feeling this year was one of disorientation. Some continual variation between being confused and unsure and giggling delightedly about simply living from one moment to the next. On further thought, I guess this wasn't such a surprising emotion. 2015 was a year of variation and transition and linking different experiences. Of new places, people, languages, and lifestyles.

As I wrestled through my reflections of this year I tried to summarize it. I tried to put it into numbers.

In 2015 I spent 8 months outside of the USA. I visited 19 countries and 15 states*. I read 53 books. I graduated with the Middlebury class of 2014.5. I've written 0 lines of code. I've had 4 different phone numbers. I hiked my first Colorado 14ers. I visited 1 emergency room. I skied 11 miles with 2 friends to the highest point in New York. I skated 15km on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. I rode roller coasters until the world was spinning, about 8 hours, in Orlando. I watched the northern lights dance on 3 different nights in 4 different places. I turned 24. I attempted to hug 2 reindeer (1 success). I baked cupcakes with 2 girls I've known since I was 2, the first time we've all been in the same city in 5 years. I earned 61 points in a candlelit Go game punctuated at 15 minute intervals by the need to put more wood in the sauna stove so it would heat.

I wish I could include the number of cups of coffee drunk, photographs taken, stitches knit, islands visited, and apologies for not understanding a new language. These defy my counting ability. I'm happy to say that the number of new friends and kind people who gave me a smile, a chat, or a snippet of advice also defy my counting ability.

I hitched my first rides. I biked across an international border. I sat in the front seat of a plane. I slept on trains, planes, busses, and ferries.

I slid through ice caves in Wisconsin, escaped from Gringotts in Florida, watched a solar eclipse in Reykjavik, waded through knee deep snow in Andorra, swam every few hours in Croatia, played capoeira in Italy, and learned rock and roll dance in Norway. I spent a month living at home after graduation in order to enjoy the freedom of getting bored, the conversations and hugs from my parents, and the purring of my cats. I saw the same street performer in both Edinburgh and Boulder CO. I visited Santa in Finland and a friend in NYC watched the live stream online.

I spent New Years in Idaho, Valentine's Day in Minnesota, Easter in Italy, Thanksgiving in Norway, and Christmas in Finland.

Disorienting indeed.

"How did I end up here?" has been a constant refrain in my head. As is "I'm so lucky." A balance of extremes and odd juxtapositions. "I'm getting better at meeting people but I'm worried that I'm forgetting how to have friends" and "I want to go everywhere but I also don't want to leave here yet". Balancing loneliness with a desire to keep moving. Balancing the joy in flexibility and freedom with the need for some consistency in my schedule to keep myself healthy.

When I started traveling I thought maybe by getting disoriented I would find a new North Star. A personal magnetic north. A resolution for New Years perhaps. Instead, I've started to find a vague comfort in being disoriented. The ability to relax on a bus ride even though I don't know where I'm headed once I get off again. An assurance that even though I might be embarrassed by asking for help and looking like an idiot, I might also meet a new friend. The joy of a hug after weeks alone. The comfort of a cup of coffee and a place to read my book on a cold day. A resonance in the idea that sometimes you don't need a direction, you just have to take a step.

And yet I keep doubting this feeling. This idea of just being. I keep saying that I need a goal, or a destination, or a way to analyze what I've done. Looking at my friends and telling myself that they're responsible and I'm goofing off. That they're lucky to have goals, and I'm searching for mine still. That once I find it I'll have something to work towards. Maybe that's true. Maybe not.

When I think about this year I smile. I'm proud of having adapted to a lot of new situations, even while I'm annoyed at myself for my poor language skills and the shyness that makes it tiring to reach out to new people. I'm happy that the newness and disorientation didn't prevent the fun. I'm glad to have seen cities that I had only read about. And to have visited unexpectedly places I had never heard of. There isn't a conclusion to my travels yet. There isn't a single lesson or a paper or plan for life. There simply is the joy and value of experience.

Everyone makes a map of their life. They add ideas and places and experiences constantly. And sometimes maps are pulled out and analyzed and an efficient route is plotted to a destination. And other times cartographers wander around and add detail to the empty sections so that the information will be there when it's needed someday. One wanders simply to see where they might end up.

Sometimes it's scary to wander into an empty space on your map. Sometimes you're tired and you don't want to walk at all. Sometimes you're paralyzed by how many different alleys branch off the street you're wandering on. Sometimes you forget that the next corner can make all the difference. Sometimes someone walks with you. Sometimes you see new things when you tread old paths. And sometimes you look up startled at how lovely it all is. But always, always, you add a new detail.

This year, in 2016, I want to continue to wander and to see and to learn and to enjoy. And when my head spins on the days where I'm tired and lonely and cold and second-guessing my decision to leave behind everything I knew, I resolve to take a step.

*I don't count airport visits. For you curious people the lists are:

States: Idaho, Vermont, New York, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa

Countries: USA, Canada, Iceland, France, Spain, Andorra, Italy, San Marino, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Scotland, Norway, Finland, Estonia