The Underlying Current: RTW Anxieties
I woke up the other day crying. My dream had been transported me to a concentration camp, a shantytown, where I walked down rows of desolate concrete bunkers with burlap sack doors. I peeked into various rooms, but all I could see was pitch darkness – so I walked on. I eventually stepped into one, my need to use the restroom overwhelming the pervasive sense of fear that haunted the area. The minute I entered the darkness, I felt my entire body split apart and spiral into a mass of disconnected particles, the destruction of my identity as I know it. I jolted awake, tears streaming my face.
Was this just a bad dream or a premonition of things to come?
A solo RTW – round the world – trip: it’s kind of crazy. And that’s part of the reason why I’m doing it.
And while I am excited beyond belief for the opportunity to visit old friends, to walk foreign streets and eat for days, to photograph beautiful buildings and witness bizarre things, to hike majestic hills and lay in endless fields and swim in warm oceans, to read a book in a hammock overlooking a beach with a margarita by my side and nothing on my mind…
Wait. Hold up. I need to remember why I’m writing this post.
Oh, right – it’s because I’m doing all of this alone. And I know, I know; I’ll make friends with fellow travelers, and at least for Europe and part of Asia, I’ll be reconnecting with people I already know. Despite all of this, the reality of my complete independence – from work, from school, from relationships, from family, from obligations – will (and has) become evermore present when I’m literally packing my bags and getting on various modes of transportation with no one to consult or hustle along or have save my spot while I use the restroom or keep watch when I fall asleep.
I would consider myself fairly independent – I’ve never had a boyfriend, and my best friend is a hermit. We go for weeks without talking, but like the proverb goes, a true friend walks in when everyone else walks out. I have two hypotheses: 1) I was a born extrovert, freeing me from the need to have a “group” to which I could adhere my identity; or 2) I never fit perfectly into any one group, so my current outgoing nature is a necessary result of my lack of strong exclusive bonds. Whichever it is, I tend to make friends everywhere I go – I have an extensive network of weak ties, where I float in and out of social situations and am privy to a series of interesting events. The only problem with this is that my life is somewhat superficial – I seek depth, and luckily have a few friends upon whom I could call in moments of distress, but the majority of my friends disappear for months at a time with nary a call or text. That being said, I’m lucky that I’ve found several quality people at Berkeley; they might not be the most reliable, but they’re passionately and compassionately involved when they choose to surface.
Change. Hope. Winning the future.
Despite what it sounds like, for the most part, I’m not too concerned about the loss of individual people. What really worries me is the dissolution of my Bay Area network. I’m used to walking around my town – be it the tiny suburb of Campbell or the surprisingly intimate Berkeley campus – and seeing someone I know every few feet. That’s my entire existence: a social butterfly, a tiny hummingbird drunk off pheromones and witty banter. Not having that network means redefining my entire identity. While several people might embark on similar trips with that exact object in mind, I already know and am comfortable with who I am – I spend every waking moment thinking about it, which is precisely what is causing this anxious spiral into self-doubt. I don’t need to “find myself” – but I fully expect that what I will find at the conclusion of my trip is a very different person than who I am now. That’s not a goal, but an inevitable outcome, and the only way to approach that change is to shrug and accept it, with the hopes that the person I become is “better” than the person I am now.
But my personality aside, I’m sitting on the edge of a hailstorm of change. I’m moving out of my beloved apartment – my perfect home for three years – for a summer sublet that I’ll share with a house of strangers and the noise of never-ending traffic. I’m graduating from the most dynamic, multi-faceted university that has given me so much more than a diploma and an impressive addition to my resume. I’m going to abandon my routine, my 19-unit-2-job-1-me juggling act, in exchange for a life of complete uncertainty. I’ll soon be quitting my job of two years – though as I wrote earlier, that’s not as tragic. Many things are going to change, and they’re all happening very soon. While the coming year of travels will be a constant revolving door of new experiences, there’s some comfort in the fact that it’s predictably unpredictable; the next 4 – 5 months, on the other hand, are going to throw into sharp contrast the differences between the past and the future, the known and the unknown.
Stop. Breathe. Conclude.
So I guess that leaves the present, as I can never forget is what it’s always ever about. The present is chaotic with its own patterns of change, deprogramming my way of thinking and living – my past – in order to prepare me for the voyage I’m about to undertake – my future. Though it’s slightly freaking me out right now (if you couldn’t get that from the entire post), reflecting on this matter makes me realize that I’ve already radically transformed from the person I used to be, and a lot of things have changed in the past year. Yes, I’m going to be doing this trip alone, but the fact that my social circles have shifted so dramatically from year to year indicates that, in fact, I’m better equipped than most to take on this kind of upheaval. I’m surprisingly adaptable (surprising because I love patterns and schedules and routines) but I just get a wee bit nervous when anticipating change, which is clearly what’s happening here.
Whew. I’m glad I wrote that all out. To recap:
- Like Silly-Putty, my identity is about to be cosmically reconstituted. I’ll have to return to this point when actually on the trip, and of course in retrospection things might change, but I feel confident enough in my perception of self that while the shape might change, I’m still always going to be at the core who I know myself to be – a loud, talkative, inquisitive, philosophical, friendly, tiny Indian-American.
- I’m going at it alone, which is frightening. But if I ever were to do it, this period of rapid change is the perfect time, when my preferences are still fluid enough to allow me to enjoy the novelty of the experience and ingratiate myself with new and exciting people.
- “A Change is Gonna Come” is the theme song of my life. And I’m sort of freaked out about it. I’m forced to make the first step out of the comfort zone of my cushy Berkeley life and move into the waiting line for my future, and in the process lose safety nets like networks and cultural understandings. But the first step’s always the hardest – once inertia takes over, there’s no telling where I’ll end up!