and how we comprehend them
It is interesting to note that seldom do we find ourselves truly alone. As I was departing from New York, I remember the constant anxiety of checking in with so many different members of my family along the way. It's like I wasn't even traveling alone, it's like I was taking a train for the first time and everyone I knew was checking in to make sure I was arriving at every destination safely. Safely. Parents always want to know if you're 'safe.' Like if shrapnel was being blown in every which direction and your angel-soft skin made it through unscathed, unharmed, graced by the luxury of cloth handkerchiefs and newly-washed button-down shirts. Safe.
It was really only when I got to Brussels that I was basically separated from the outside world. I dared not use my phone to contact anyone out of fear of the $1.00-a-minute/text price tag, so my contact with reality was limited to my immediate personal experience. As a result of being completely on my own, I spent nearly half an hour staring at an LED exchange-rate ticker trying to understand the jumble of abbreviations and numbers. "BUY FOR." "SELL FOR." Buy what for? The dollars or the euros? Who's doing the buying? Am I selling dollars? How much is a euro? Can I use my debit card? Why can't I use Google? Is the attendant out to lunch? Do they even take lunch? Where are my pants!?
Especially at this point in our lives when we're so young and virile, we are not alone. It seems to me like we have too many factors to baby us around: phone calls, texts, emails, websites, etc. They all provide a sort of safe-haven from being in a state of long-term desperation. We've been given the option to essentially tag-out of life, for a moment. By texting a friend or reading up on your friends' hourly updates, you remove yourself from the immediacy of the moment and instead find solace in the social sphere. An example:
You live in a dormatory, and right outside your room all your suitemates are sitting on couches and chairs, feet kicked up, sipping wine and talking about the irony between nature's beauty and it's violence, etc etc. You and your girlfriend are alone in your room, awkwardly in your own respective worlds doing homework or whatever people do to pass the time when they're not in love. And then she tells you that she wants to break up with you because you're lazy, pathetic, how your father was a dead-beat who didn't teach you proper morals, and how she feels used during sex because "we don't make love, you just fuck me." Wow. Deep stuff. Who wants to stay for that, right?
You have the option to walk out the door, at which point your existence (which until this point has consisted of only you and her) expands to include the dilettante youngins and all their high-falutin' wish-wash. By leaving your girlfriend in the dust, your problems and conflicts become absolved into the greater social ring. But if those people aren't outside your door, the option of running away from your problems and dissolving them is not such a viable choice in our psyche.
If you're playing a video game and there's a button on the controller right next to your thumb that resets the level immediately from the beginning, I guarantee you that people will be using that button much more than they would normally go to the start screen, exit the game, and start over manually.
By supplying ourselves with so many ways out, it seems like we're reducing our experience to a commodity, an item that is traded and dealt amongst travelers. You go to see the Florence duomo not to be stirred as Dante was, but just to see it because it's there. You go to Switzerland not to visit a beautiful and physically stunning part of our Earth, but just "to go to Switzerland because it's beautiful and we can do things like handglide." Handgliding should be a HUGE thing! People just throw it off so nonchalantly: "Yehiwenthandglidingonce. 'Was awesome." But….what was it LIKE? If Dante went handgliding, you bet there would be a whole new canto in Paradiso
about that experience that would be marked down in the annals of history. Instead, we get, "Was awesome."
By consorting with friends and constantly relaying information to others, you dilute your experiences until they become meaningless: you watch Life is Beautiful
and you start crying, but as soon as tears arrive you want everyone to see you being emotional because you love the attention, so you force more sadness. From that moment forth, whenever you want to cry from Life is Beautiful
, a little part in your brain will remember the contrivance you put on for those others. You've ruined the moment that originally made you cry.
It is critical--not just important--to keep moments in your life for yourself. Keep things for your own growth.
Note how I did not say to
yourself, but for
yourself. It's always good to share relevant information...but only when it's relevant to your experience. Visit a museum and learn about a certain art piece inside and out, and then tell no one about it. Let it come out sometime in conversation. Let your knowledge come out of you, don't force it out. That way, when someone really meaningful comes along in your life and sincerely asks you "how was it," you can reply with an honest answer. "It was the most detailed sculpture I'd ever seen at the time--but that was before I was really intimate with Renaissance sculpture… Really makes you think about your own body, how you take care of it." And so on. Honest responses truly beat those like: "Oh my god, it was like I was in a jell-o factory."
It's been about three times now that my girlfriend and I have come across a student abroad that, when asked about their recent travels, immediately begin to vomit facts about exactly what happened, as if we're both standing there taking notes and sketching scenes like courtroom recorders. For some reason, people don't usually interpret or comprehend their own experiences when they force it out to others. They just try and recreate the picture for you: what they did and where they went and what they saw and what colors were there and what the weather was like and what guy passed out from drinking absinthe and this one girl that got roofied and that one friend that started crying before bunjee-jumping off a dam and the guy in the chicken suit with the straps and the bratwurst and the blah blah blah! Jesus Christ! Write a book, maybe some bored New York playwright will write another Euro-travel flick based on your blurged escapades. When I ask you how something was, I just want to know what you took away from it. Why are we so eager to just spew as much information as we can? Is it attention? Most likely. But because that's a cool topic to write about later, I'll save it to sap up another one of my assignments.
People shouldn't speak unless they need to, unless they want to convey something.
I bring the discussion back to the point with an apt metaphor: you have a hot dog that you would like to enjoy with mustard. But you only have a small dollop of mustard, and this foot-long frankfurter that you've got to get in ur stmch cz it looks rly gd. So in your attempts to sweeten every single bite, you end up spreading the mustard too thin. What are you left with? A hot dog with too-thinly-spread mustard. No good.
The moral? Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.
My experience at the Brussels airport was dominated by my desire to reconvey information. I was primed to take in everything I saw so I could regurgitate it to my girlfriend once I was reunited with her. I remember feeling the constant anxiety of having to document my experiences for future reference. I was controlling my intake, which is essentially the opposite of what the luster of travel provides.
Travel is a indicator of how you are treating yourself. Are you controlling too many of your experiences? Are you lying to yourself about what you feel about a certain impression? Truly traveling, without the easy-exit button of texts and twits, gives you the chance to reset yourself at your core. That must be why people are only truly 'changed' after returning from a long trip abroad.
And just as a note, the image is of a woman using a blow-dryer to fire up the coals to roast keilbasa at an international festival. Just like using a microwave to incubate quail eggs: doesn't sound like it should work, but I'm sure someone's made it happen.