A world citizen may provide value to society by using knowledge acquired across cultural contexts.
Written 13 – 15 November
[This is an installment in a series on where I am in mind
and personality compared to where I was at the start of my 13 months abroad.]
Finding confidence in putting myself out there as a clown
I have become more comfortable with being a clown. For a while I would have said that I had learned the ability to act like an idiot, putting myself out there for public ridicule, and that I had learned to not care what other people think. The more I think about this, the more I realize it isn’t true. I’ve had that ability for a long time. But there is a unifying theme to most of the times I had done it in the past that doesn’t carry over to my time here. No one had my back here.
I remember a time in the Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC where a friend bet me a dollar I wouldn’t stick my head in front of the jet in the fountain. It was about ten centimeters across and shot water across the fountain which was big enough to become a skating rink in the winter. I did it. It hurt (expectedly) and I got drenched (somewhat expectedly). But it was worth it because I was putting on a performance to a known audience. I’ve been that guy in my group of friends as long as I can remember; at least as far back as high school.* I’ve been the guy who loves having all eyes on him. If it is in supportive admiration, that’s great. But it really doesn’t matter too much, and I’ll take confusion and judgment too.
Over here in Australia I was by myself and any idiocy I wanted to engage in was at my own discretion, generally with no known audience, and the caveat that crossing the line too much would have been more than a fine or a slap on the wrist; it might have affected my visa.
In Sydney, at the Sculpture by the Sea exhibit in 2011, I became a part of the art.I wasn’t being goofy to impress any friends. I saw an opportunity to make myself a part of the art, to become a performance piece, and I did it. And the end result? A friend. My first friend in Australia, and one that lasted through to today.**My time at Luna Park was similarly goofy, though I knew more of the people around. When I was put on the front door of Coney Island I was a man apart, a guy in a red jacket posted away from peers, chained to my ticket scanner and under a speaker playing the same soundtrack over and over. And my response? I danced. I sang along. I spun the height-measuring pole like a baton. I put on a show. It was great exercise, especially considering I was dancing up and down steps in steel-toe boots. But no coworkers were watching. I was on display for the patrons who didn’t know me. And I got lots of smiles and waves. And even if I hadn’t, I probably still would have kept doing it.
Finding confidence in making decisions
On a related point of maturing, I continued to get better at self-motivation. One burden I continually put on Beth when we were together was that of motivating me. I would talk about something I wanted to do and then as the time came to do it, I would start to balk and diminish my motivation. She would have to be the one to convince me that it was something worth doing. And she would do it even if it was something she didn’t support, because she knew it was what I wanted. My trip to Costa Rica shortly after we went supernova was a test of my ability to kick myself into gear. One morning I failed at it and spent the rest of the day lamenting. So the next day, accountable to no one but myself, I pushed to do that which I knew I wanted – walking 5km across mountainous roads to get to Monteverde National Park before dawn to hear the animals calling before people swarmed in. And it was glorious.
Since then I’ve been struggling with this. If I have a group in tow it is much easier to push to go to get food, or even to hang out in a park. But when I’m solo, the motivation to get up, get out, and see things can be intermittent. A free museum a few tram stops away? Pretty easy. A bar I want to see when I’m alone? The barrier is a bit higher. This year has been a test of desire and adherence to those desires, of confidence in the face of loneliness. I am still not to the point where my surroundings and other factor don’t matter. But I’m much closer than I was. (Yes, this may come as a shock to those who know me from Australia. This is me much improved.)
I’ve gotten better at making decisions. This relates to the previous notion of self-motivation. When you have no one around, you have no other input. There were no voices chiming in that they were hungry or tired or that we should go check out this great shop they heard about. When I was traveling by myself, which was often, all decisions were mine to make. All information was mine to gather. All tasks were up to me.
It is draining to live like that. There is a reason that all the great leaders are good at delegation. A group of people, well-led, can accomplish so much more than one person. But when you have no choice, one person has to do everything. And I didn’t generally lament the fact that I was responsible for everything. It became easier to make decisions because of it. I became a bit more confident, though still far from where I want to be, when it came to choosing. It is a double-edged sword. While no one else is going to do their part to have opinions and preferences, making decisions and putting in energy, it also means that no one else is around to disagree, to criticize, to need to accommodate. If I felt like Chinese for dinner, I had Chinese. If I wanted to see something, I could. The problem then became figuring out what I wanted and what my body was trying to tell me at any given point. It was a matter of listening to myself and simply going along.
One downside to this is that making every decision, from what to eat to where to sleep to what music to put on, gets tiring. And so when I was with a friend I almost always deferred decisions. As soon as someone else could put in energy, I let them.
I’ve learned that I like kids. I never really knew that before this year. It isn’t that I hated kids. I thought I disliked them. But that was based on the ones who stood out – generally the loud, annoying, stubborn ones. And looking back on it I’ve never really had the opportunity to interact with them. My cousins were all older. My friends never had particularly young siblings. And my friends also haven’t started popping out kids. I’ve lived away from them for most of my adult life. And without exposure to them, I had no way of knowing that I actually like interacting with them. They are energetic, goofy, imaginative, and not stuck to a lot of the same close-mindedness that adults are. I can be silly with them and they respond to it with smiles and energy and high-fives. Kids are pretty cool actually.
* Also totally worth it because some young kids saw it and decided to imitate me. Losing sight in one eye for half an hour was worth the other eye getting to see a child jump in front of the jet, have it hit him center mass, and knock him backwards through the air a good couple meters.
** As a bit of full-circle experience, our last time spent together was to walk through the Sculpture by the Sea 2012. It felt right.