Thursday, September 8, 2011

Comfort Me with Taciturn

The majority of the poundage I lugged with me to Nepal and back was made up of books-- history books, Nepali phrase books, notebooks, pleasure books... I had planned to read Travels with Charley on the plane to Nepal, and then Harry Potter once I got there, filling in the available minutes with gems from my Robert Frost anthology. I brought Lonesome Dove as well, in case I was in the mood for a manly cowboy adventure instead of a manly magical one.

However, only a few hours into my flight from Boston to London, I realized that Travels with Charley and Robert Frost were out-- they reminded me far too much of home and everything that I was leaving behind. As I flew over London spectacularly lit up at night, I couldn't help but pine for the fiery reds and yellows on the turning trees Steinbeck passes through in Vermont, the roadside stands of pumpkins, squashes, and crisp red apples he eyes near the White Mountains, and the taciturn New Englanders he sits alongside in silence at the roadside restaurant in New Hampshire (what a delightfully perfect word, "taciturn"...). Instead of the pleasantly chatty and self-acclaimed tea-addict Englishman beside me on the plane, Steinbeck finds "customers folded over their coffee cups like ferns", surrounded by a breakfast conversation that "is limited to a series of laconic grunts".

"A normal conversation is as follows:
WAITRESS: "Cold enough for you?"
(Ten minutes.)
WAITRESS: "Refill?"

"...The natural New England taciturnity reaches its glorious perfection at breakfast" (Steinbeck, 28).

Now that I'm back at Smith, one of my goals is to reign in my own natural tendency towards taciturnity. My initial inclination while walking through the library or along the pathways to and from classes is to look down at the ground or up at the trees to avoid the eye contact of people passing by. I'm really quite overwhelmed with the prospect of small-talk, a fear which makes me appear far colder than I would like. While I am head-over-heals in love with the image (and the reality) of the crotchety old farmer, that's not who I want to be. Instead of looking thoughtful and introspective, I'm afraid what I do just makes me look like an asshole. But fortunately, I'm taking a lighter course load this semester, which means I'll have plenty of time to stroll through campus and practice being friendly.

Other plans for this semester:

1. Purchase an upgrade to my faithful but far-too-heavy road bike.

2. Explore the valley with my new bike and old pentax.

3. Type up my findings once I get back to my cozy third-floor room with the big window overlooking the trees.

Off to my first Smith class of the year--Asian American Women Writers, with Floyd Cheung. I'm shakin' up my schedule a little bit by taking my first english class at Smith! Still focused on women and gender though, I'm not gonna go too crazy...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Around the World in Six Days

I am sitting in the airport eating a McDonald’s egg sandwich and hash browns. As a little disclaimer to the enormity of this statement, two of the things in the world I would NEVER do would be to eat eggs in an airport or consume anything from McDonald’s, even a cup of water. Yes, the phrase you are looking for, my dear loved ones, is “rock bottom”. When eating a McDonald's-Deluxe-Breakfast-hold-the-sausage makes me feel like a person again, I know that something is up.

Obviously, a lot has changed since my last post. I’m in the Hong Kong International Airport en route to Boston Logan, and have eaten less in the past five days than I eat in two under normal circumstances (50% of my food consumption being Cascadian Farm Chocolate Chip Chewy Granola Bars, which I fear I can never eat again…). I'm goin' home.

But before I get to the bad stuff, let me get a few things straight. Nepal is amazing—I cannot wait to go back. The people I met there, both Nepali and American, were absolutely fantastic and it is them that I will miss the most. SIT as a whole was wonderful. But I just couldn’t handle it altogether. I can’t explain it fully (although I’ll try), but the combination of being so far from home for such a long period of time in such a foreign and complex (and beautiful) culture while participating in a rigorous academic program was too much for me. I have never been abroad by myself, have never been to Asia (which, let me tell you, is FAR AWAY in so many ways), and I have never been in a situation in which I couldn’t talk to my family for an extended period of time—well, except for Interlocken when I was 12, but let’s not get into that now, shall we?

What this combination resulted in was a panic attack whose multitude was unlike any I have ever experienced. I have never been so scared in my life, never felt so out of control of my body, never felt so far from home. My stomach was out of control with anxiety—the only way I could eat was to pace back and forth outside my room like a crazy person, taking five to ten minutes to eat a single almond.

I was really embarrassed about how out of control my emotions (and my stomach) I was, but the other students on my program were amazing. They brought me out of my room to try and get me to eat dinner with them, rubbed my back when I cried because I couldn’t eat a spoonful of rice, and never gave me a reason to believe that they were judging me nearly as harshly as I was judging myself.

But I'm coming home. I let panic take me before the country even had a chance to woo me, and everything has happened so fast that I haven't quite had time to think. I certainly won't pretend that I don’t wish things turned out differently. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I am disappointed in myself. I think that at every point during this experience, I have done the best I could under the circumstances and I am proud of how I handled myself, even when I had snot dripping out of my nose and was throwing up in the bushes. My grandfather told my mom a Faulkner quote that has really been helping me cope with these feelings of guilt and regret after having "quit"—he said something along the lines of: “It takes great courage to quit when you are behind”.

Going back to Smith for the semester is going to be really hard—I’m not looking forward to the looks of shock from my friends when they see me in the library, and the awkward explanations of why I’m on this continent. And I don’t know how I’m going to catch up on jetlag and classes at the same time, going right from my 15-hour flight from Hong Kong to Smith’s Bannerweb to sign up for classes. But when it comes down to it, I’m just so excited I’m going to be able to see the leaves change after all, and that I’m going to be able to hug my momma tomorrow, that I’m not going to think about much else.

I’ll keep you posted on the goings-on in my now very different fall semester, and I’m going to try and post some of my wonderful experiences from Nepal.

Love to you all!