Thoughts On Birthdays

Granada, Spain - Sitting on the top of El Mundo

Granada, Spain – Sitting on the top of El Mundo with La Alhambra watching my back

Firstly, thank you to everyone who wished me a happy birthday. I did have a happy birthday, so your wishes were granted!

To those who didn’t know, I turned 23 on August 4, 2013. This is because I was born on August 4, 1990. Surprisingly, I was a heavy baby – over eight pounds; sorry, Amma! – and am pretty sure that a majority of my weight was in my enormous cheeks. If you come to my home sometime, my mom will gladly show you pictures of me as a child; I was once so fair and plump, and I think despite my tan and thin appearance now, my mom continues to see me as a simply larger version of her big-eyed baby. To be fair, so do most people.

I’ve lived a very charmed life. For 23 years, I’ve been given the artistic license, free rein, and financial support to follow some pretty extravagant dreams. When I decided, nearly two years ago, that I was going to travel the world for a year, neither my parents nor my close friends batted an eyelash – they might have disagreed with some of my routes or destinations, but the general consensus was that I was probably serious about traveling for that long, and that I would find a way to make it happen if I really wanted to.

Well, I was, and I did, and I ended up spending around nine months of Year 23 (i.e. being 22) outside the United States. Combined with all of my trips to India, and other visits to random other countries, I realized I’ve spent nearly 10% of my life traveling. I’ve been to 26 countries in my life – 18 particularly in the last year – and I know that for the average freshly-minted 23-year-old, this would appear a substantial number. But the travel bug struck, and it’s now in my bloodstream, and there are still so many more countries I’d love to visit. After all, I’ve only been to three continents; Australia, South America, and Africa (plus Antarctica, though that seems a bit more remote) are still uncharted territory for the Pocket Gypsy.

Monachil, Spain - The Importance of Water

Monachil, Spain – The Importance of Water (also, one of my favorite photos from the trip)

Every birthday bookmarks my life at interesting junctions. 21 was important because it marked my final year of college, commemorated my insane schedule of two majors and two jobs, and opened the doors to a previously forbidden avenue for entertainment (that sounded a lot worse than it is; basically, I could get into bars). 22 was noteworthy since I, as I mentioned earlier, spent a vast majority of it on this Voyage, which fundamentally changed my perspective and messed with my brain and heart in ways I would never have imagined a period of time could.

But when I think about 23, it’s unclear whether this will be a sink or swim year. I have to get a job – that’s for certain – and I have to think about whether this job and the other decisions in my life will give me meaning and purpose. There’s something to be said for having that internal meaning, and that internal purpose, but someway along the road, I know that I lost the joie de vivre that I used to think was my defining characteristic. I have spent the past two months wondering what I was doing in Europe, and what I would be doing if I returned home. To a surprising degree, I lost my adventurous drive and my interest in meeting other people, and without these two critical components, I started to doubt whether there was a point in anything I was doing. I still enjoyed the trip, and am glad that I was able to stay in Europe to enjoy all of the serendipitous things that occur on a summer’s day in Spain or Italy or Croatia. But it was only when I decided to come home, to curb this relentless march towards some unknown destination, that I started to put the pieces together again.

So I apologize if at times I don’t want to answer questions about the trip, or if I prefer to stay home and watch TV and sit in my pajamas for days on end. Being a world-traveler at 22 certainly was a tremendous opportunity, and everything that happened taught me important lessons about life. But it’s hard to process all of that information. In contrast, this is a year when all of those lessons sink in and take effect and guide my actions for the future.

Many people have asked what my next adventure will be. My response: starting the rest of my life, and make it something full of meaning and purpose.

Granada, Spain - Utopia and Realidad

Granada, Spain – Utopia and Realidad

And last but not least: the Pocket Gypsy Media Corner, where I bring you random bits of pop culture that may or may not address the topic at hand! Today, I recommend everyone listen to Walking Across America: Advice For a Young Man. I am not a young man, but I am a 23-year-old just fresh off of a journey. If you’re in my immediate circle, or within influential-able distance, I might have referred you to this podcast before – I heard it on This American Life back in May, and I have listened to it at least ten times since. Still, it carries much wisdom, humor, and thoughtfulness in its hour-long spiel. I might even listen to it again today! To find more information about the podcast, you can check it out at Transom.org.

Second item of media: Jimmy Eat World’s “23.” Since we’re looking back into history today (or every day for this blog, as it recounts memories as a basic requirement), let’s not forget Jimmy Eat World (or JEW)’s influence on my musical development. For real, I loved this band and all of the sweet teenage angst that they reflected in their songs. In anticipation of turning 23, I automatically thought of this particular song, but upon listening to the lyrics, realized they’re far more apt than I had previously remembered. Maybe I’m growing into it?

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