Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Universe Wears Boxing Mitts

In March of this year I decided to time get out of San Francisco for an extended period of time, see the world, speak some Spanish, eat different food...generally just push myself out of the comfort zone in which I had nested, ultra comfortably I must say, for a couple years. Easier said than done.

Why is it that once you make a decision such as this one, to leave the country for months per se, the universe suddenly gets rowdy and wants to challenge you? As if suddenly it's annoyingly omnipresent ears hear your declaration, while its ubiquitous hands don boxing mitts and swing wildly in your direction? In the past I've failed to understand the beautiful irony of this phenomenon. But, through the years, as I have been accumulating various opportunities to acquire knowledge, a.k.a growing up, I have come closer to comprehending the tricky nature of this finicky universe, why it tosses these challenges at us and why at times this macrocosm taunts us seemingly out of nowhere. How astute it can be in it's timing, though.

The hardest part of traveling is not the traveling. It's the pre-traveling. And interestingly enough, this pre-traveling phase can be broken down into four distinct parts:
1. The "Piquing of Interest Period"
2. The "Committing to the Travel Period"
3. The "Buying of the Ticket Period"
4. The "Getting It All Together In Time Before You Leave Period"

First, there is the "Piquing of Interest Period". In this phase we are introduced to the possibility of a new place. Maybe we come across it in a magazine- something glossy, something exotic. Or perhaps a friend returns from this new place, bronzed and beaming from their own adventure. We ponder going there, though not seriously yet. But it exists in our fantasies...impregnating our minds in the dark corners of our daydreams, still hidden by cobwebs and tucked away in creaky cupboards.  If we are of a certain breed of human, as the weeks pass and we still have not surrendered to merely the possibility of this adventure, our smiles wan as we weakly watch the vision of this trip dissolving. And these particular humans of this noteworthy breed, they become anxious and aggravated that their self-imposed limitations are trapping them into this world without thrill, without risk! So droll is this period of time! So frustrating it can be. 

So, we arrive to the next part, the "Committing to the Travel Period". Maybe we don't announce our decision to others. It may be that we find ourselves not willing to share our decision in hopes of not being discouraged.  For as many people as there are that will congratulate and encourage you, just as many will attempt to scare you, chiding and warning of the infinite dangers and endless Boogiemen the globe over. Nonetheless, this second period, the most glorious of them all, enlivens you and shakes your foundation; from here you will most likely not be convinced to cancel your trip. After mulling over the possibility for weeks, months- hell, maybe even years- you will not be thwarted of your inherent right of seeing, tasting...and feeling...and knowing the world! First we make the agreement privately, and then it may become a topic of discussion amongst friends and family. From there we can be sure that Mom and Dad, Best Friend and Sibling, Professor and Boss will all want to know two things: When are You Leaving and Have You Bought Your Ticket Yet? (Okay, maybe a couple other things like: Is It Safe? Do You Have Enough Money? How Long Are You Planning On Being There And Why? And depending on where you're choosing to go: Are You Crazy?)

Part three doesn't approach with sugary kisses. Unless you are rolling in dough, it probably doesn't present itself with the mildness of an easy decision such as noodles or rice for dinner. In fact, it can be a major obstacle in this whole process, and more often than not, it takes Work. And Money. Sometimes a lot of both. The "Buying of the Ticket Period" has the potential to not only be intimidating, but painful as we instantly watch our healthy bank account shrink five sizes in two and half minutes once we hit "Confirm".  Whether we choose plane, train, or bus we will ultimately be looking forward to expenses which can amount to more than those of our ordinary lives. Potentially causing us to stress, this is the unavoidable aspect, one of them at least, of travel, and it shapes the itinerary of our trip in immeasurable ways. It's perfectly natural to stall in completing this phase, for the daunting number of transit possibilities is exponentially increasing and that only adds to our apprehension to spend our dinero on a ticket when there is possibility a better deal out there, something cheaper, something quicker, something with an instant refund or courtesy frequent flyer miles with a student discount, or monthly specials and annual club memberships that knock off 15 percent for your first purchase...
Of course we want to wait. Who wouldn't?
Regardless, even if capricious by nature, or made indecisive by the hordes of options swarming under the guise of "helpful" suggestions by Google, we must ultimately make a decision and command our overworked fingertips made sticky by sweat to just click the button. We must breathe, center, focus and buy the stupid ticket already. People will admire our resolution.
In this phase we may feel that we have triumphed over those who try to rob our dreams. Just by choosing a route, a date, and parting with that money we have succeeded over those who suggest seductive reasons of staying put in lieu of exploring. We scream, "No! I will not be tethered to this paradigm. There are other options!" Though shaking appendages may make it more difficult, by pressing that button, we have already won a little war.

Fantasy turned into reality? Not quite yet. Well, you've completed three crucial steps already and now here you are, possessing a ticket to somewhere special, possibly a plan as to what to do while there, and most imminent a lengthy, drawn-out, spiraling, forever-growing list of things to do before actually getting there. And of course this list is continually altered with addendums of the highest importance. In fact, the list will never be completed, and the chance that you will proceed to board your ticketed vessel on that divinely chosen day not having checked off each and every task is so great that I can say in unwavering confidence that it will happen. So, don't sweat it.  Maybe this wouldn't be so if life could just slow its pace down now that you've graduated from dreamer to actualizer, but it doesn't. And that ultra-busy, hyper stressful day that you may already weave in and out through will only increase its load once your ticket is purchased, for that departure date is always approaching, even while you sleep. When your day-to-day life not only adheres to basic survival but has taken on extra things necessary for upcoming travel such as passports, gear, books, research, and immunizations, it can get hectic. It can leave no room for tasks like urgent assignments for work or school. In order to leave on that date you so boldly chose, you've got to handle some business, and that also means that your bandwidth for dramatic distractions such as significant social interactions and romance is narrow.  Even exercise can seem to be impossible in this period. It can begin to feel as if the universe, with its exhausting preemptive attempts, wants to wear you out before you even step on that plane, train, or bus. 

This is where things get juicy. This period is where one gleams with the truest essence of their character. If you can realize the challenges in these tests for what they are, and not buckle under their exceptional pressure, you will be rewarded with the shiniest of prizes. Not only will you make it to that special place audaciously chosen and paid for, but you will have gained the knowledge that you can do it, whenever you want, no matter what obstacles arise.  And in this final period of "Pre-Traveling" it is indubitable that countless roadblocks will materialize. Take my situation, for example, when only two weeks after purchasing my ticket to Central America I was laid off in a side-swiping surprise that left me not only unemployed, but in the midst of University midterms, with two and a half months yet until my departure, very cozy in a not cheap apartment and burdened with bills.  
So, the universe wanted to box.

Sure, I had to hustle to make it through, painstakingly saving money and taking on side jobs that I didn't have the time for. And sure, I questioned whether visiting my southwestern family and friends for two weeks then leaving the country for three months was the best plan, now that I would be traveling with considerably lighter pockets.  But, I thought, at least it will add that much more spring to my step, and who needs all that weight anyway? And through the puzzling manners of this same universe that chose to crinkle my previously unwrinkled plan, I made it through those two and a half months, with money to spare and mi alma that much richer.

On June 4th I boarded a plane, face stained with tears for reasons that lose significance if truncated in explanation. Another story must be told for that.
I had completed the "Pre-Traveling Period" and was eager to drop the "Pre".  Empowered by each of the four periods, I could no longer allow my dreams of traveling to evaporate into the ether of "Maybe".  The flammable qualities of these dreams are enough to explode if not cultivated into reality, and once I stepped onto that plane headed south I understood this fully.  Every cell and every fiber that threaded through mi cuerpo was altered, not to be the same. No matter how many unreasonable phases I had to transition through, I knew then that I could do it. And I thought to myself,  "All travelers must have this moment. This Singularity when all rational and reliable predictions of the future are impossible, though completely natural, and feel right.

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