Sunday, December 1, 2013

Time and Place Utility

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about presence. Being present in the given moment versus escapism, day dreaming, etc. – because I’ve been trying to be more aware of which of the two I’m engaged in at given points in the day or week.

And when I say escapism, I don’t just mean thinking of a nice beach and a coconut with a straw close at hand, to me escapism can also be remembrance of the past and submerging oneself in memory.

I’m not going to tell you always live in the present moment, because frankly that would be very hypocritical of me. But I do think it’s important to realize the rate at which we frame our lives based on the past, present and future.

Lately, I’ve been recalling Bangkok with a tinge of nostalgia. This is really not news, nor particularly surprising. But as I wait for news of the current protests and check for updates from friends to see they are safe – it is clearer than ever my slice of time in that city came to an end. I am not present there, even when my mind wanders that direction.

I’ve been reading a history book on the United States. Yet again, my time and place are quite off from my actual geographic position in China. But it has gotten me thinking, about a Welsh word, actually – hiraeth. One possible definition of this word without English translation: “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.”
How could I feel a nostalgia for a United States before my birth? How could I feel nostalgia for a country as it no longer is? As maybe, it only was in my mind and my upbringing, and not in fact? But I certainly cannot be alone. Even the offhanded “well back in my day…” it reeks of the concept.

This is a concept I’ve felt since before leaving the United States. This is, in some sense, something I think everyone has felt in differing degrees – whether or not they acknowledge it as such, or simply frame it in the more mundane terms of phrases such as “life goes on,” “that’s just how it is,” and so forth.

I think we don’t take the proper time to acknowledge our transitions; rather, we ignore them, we memorialize them, we deny they have happened and pretend we can spirit from one place to another unchanged – our same selves in a new context, our ‘good old selves’ when circumstance has frayed our edges, forgetting that our context begins to define ourselves. And at some point we look around, and our physical context has stopped matching our mental picture – and we start to wonder where, exactly, does this character that I am, on this story journey I have set in motion, fit in to it all any way? And isn’t that still up to me? So where exactly am I going? I ran out of map some time ago. I’m just making it up now – so what do I draw on the map next?

I don’t mean for this post to be melancholy, I mean for it to be reflective. Respectful even, in remembering the past – but that felt more important than the day to day observations at the moment.

So I will leave you with a story I was told many times growing up, and a memory I like to take the time to cherish when I get lost:

My father had just been granted permission to drive from his hometown to his University. He stormed out the door with directions to head south down a local high way. He promptly bombarded back into the house, and proclaimed, “Which way’s south?” A tale used to justify directional challenge of other relatives for years since.

I have no idea which way south is, or if that’s even the direction I want to be going. But I’m still going.