I don't really know why I'm posting this; it's not the kind of thing I typically expose to people I don't know - certainly not in a venue where I have no control over who may come across it. Maybe it's because I've already dribbled about this for hours to all the people I do know, and they're all currently asleep and unavailable to hear me dribble some more. I think somewhere I secretly believe that airing this for the world will be some kind of liberating experience that will help me cope with the whole thing. Maybe I'm just stupid.
In any case, I'll probably never have the guts to actually click Reply. More likely, I'll think "better" of clicking Reply mere seconds after doing so, and swiftly delete the post, secure in the knowledge that it's late at night and nobody possibly could have read the entry. [Obviously, I haven't deleted it.]
In twelve hours, I will be leaving for the airport to fly to Germany. Specifically, I'll be spending six weeks at the main offices of Egosoft.
This is the kind of thing all my friends tell me I should be really excited about. I'm informed that this is a "great opportunity" and "a really neat experience" and so on and so forth. I'd like to believe that, if for no other reason than to silence the feelings of guilt that I have - guilt for dreading the prospect so thoroughly. Guilt for not relishing something that most of my peers would commit minor felonies to experience.
I can't help it, really; international travel isn't a big deal to me. This will be the third time I've been to Germany, and I'm pretty much touristed-out. I have no more tourist energy for the place. So I'll be there entirely to work.
Hey, wow, yayy, it's another country. I realize that to many people (especially Americans) this is a deeply fascinating concept. Unfortunately, to me it's utterly pedestrian. National borders stopped being interesting to me before I hit puberty, for fuck's sake. I'm really not at all intrigued or even really aware of the idea anymore. Going to another country isn't the grand adventure of a lifetime it would be for so many of my friends - it's a boring-ass chore. Passports, visas, stumbling around in dingy airport terminals, getting that nasty head-cold-like malaise that I always get from flying.
Hell, even flying... I've been on literally more flights than I can possibly remember. I've been flying since I was weeks old, quite literally. I take it so much for granted that every now and then I'm struck numb by the thought that I know a lot of people who have never been on a plane in their lives.
I'll be honest - suburbanite Georgia is not exactly the world's foremost watering hole for globetrotters. This is no Mecca for travellers, no rose-tinted tourist trap. Most of the people who live in Atlanta hate it here. I'm very honestly surrounded on a daily basis by people who haven't been more than a few hundred miles from home in their entire lives.
I've moved around so much that I honestly don't even know what "home" means. Most words have some kind of mental image - "ball" or "nuclear war" or whatever. "Home" draws a blank. I literally have no concept of what a home must be; all I have is a place I tend to sleep more often than other places - at least for a year or three, before moving on.
I think I'm partly turning to this - an admittedly odd and rather socially maladjusted outlet - because I'm fresh out of people to whine to in the flesh. Everyone I know thinks I'm the luckiest bastard alive because I'm going to go freeze my skinny pale arse off in Europe for a month and a half; never mind the fact that I'll essentially alternate between cranking out code in an office, and huddled up under the duvet in the hotel wishing the alarm would stop going off.
I want to enjoy this. I want to be excited about it. I want to see it as the wonderful, exciting possibility-laden adventure that everyone else apparently sees.
So why do I find myself overwhelmed with the thought that this is the last thing in the world I want to do?
It's not just the boredom, the mundanity, the routineness of it all - the packing, the flying, the arriving, the muddling about in foreign languages. I've been places; I can handle all that stuff while half-asleep. It's not the idea of working intensely for six months; honestly I could use the focus and the streak of concentration. The place isn't all bad, although I'm not so keen on German winters (maybe if they imported some subtropical weather for the month of November...).
It's most definitely not the people. The only ray of hope I see in all this is the thought that at least I get to hang out with some of the awesome people I work with from afar. I've met them before (well, almost all of them) and I've got no concern there. I can understand dreading, say, six weeks with some of my friend's creepy neocon relatives, but this is totally different. In a weird way, it's sort of like catching back up with old friends - a sort of class reunion thing. Even though we pretty much have no interaction outside the task of making computer games.
In short, I just don't know. I have no rational basis for how I feel; as much as I try to remind myself that emotion is inherently orthogonal to rationality, it vaguely scares me to be so thoroughly consumed with some sensation I can't explain.
I'm normally a bit of a procrastinator; as I've joked a few times in the last several days, I can pack a suitcase in twenty minutes flat, so why bother packing the night before? But this goes beyond the normal sluggish lethargy that I've come to know (and half-love) from other trips. This is a neurotic, paralyzing terror.
It sounds completely foolish to characterize it that way, but nothing else really captures the effect that this has had on me. For the last several days I've repeatedly pushed back things I know are deeply important. I've become withdrawn and more than a bit moody. I think I snapped at someone a few times, I honestly don't remember. Things have long since started to blur, and I've lapsed into a weird, tumultuous perversion of a sleep cycle. It's a good thing I can handle international travel half-asleep, because with the way I've been acting the last few days, I'm going to have to. I think I drank 10 cans of Mountain Dew last night... or this morning... or in some ambiguous span between last week and this.
I remember being a kid and having my (usually annoyed) parents inform me sternly that I needed to change my attitude. I got told that a lot, or at least it seemed like a lot. I didn't figure out what the hell they were talking about until long after I'd left home; faced with some situation or other, I realized that it really is possible (and pretty easy) to just flip a switch and adjust one's outlook on things.
That ability has left me. I'm reminded of all those times as a kid when I felt like I was being completely tormented; everyone seemed to expect me to change, but this was how I felt, damnit, and you can't just change that... right? Try as I might, this one won't change. I've tried to bury and ignore the sensation, but it just won't move.
I have a bit of an ego problem. I can deal with being wrong; nobody really expects anyone to be right all the time, and people who are right all the time are assholes anyways. What I don't handle so well is being at a loss - for words, for the correct socially-expected response to a situation, for anything. There's nothing like living in another country for a month and a half to put you at a loss, repeatedly and profoundly. Simple tasks like getting dinner generally bring up a few such problems - shit, I don't know what I just ordered; shit, I can't recognize the coins; shit, I don't even know how much to pay this person anyways, maybe if I sheepishly hand them a fistful of currency they'll sort it out and not hate me too much.
I realized that a while ago. I can deal. I've got a lot of things I avoid doing because I hate feeling awkward, out of my element, or honestly anything that isn't 100% completely prepared. I'm not interested in controlling everything - just as long as I know how to react, I'm fine. I'm the kind of obsessive guy who will spend an hour poring over maps and driving directions before driving 10 miles to a restaurant I've never visited before. In a very real sense, I live in a perpetual state of being in a foreign culture; I still have no idea what these crazy Americans are up to most of the time, and I'm supposed to be one of them. I'm used to not fitting in; I know how to react to that.
Earlier, I said I don't know what "home" means. As odd as that may sound to most normal people, that's all I can do to describe it. It raises an interesting question, though: if I don't understand "home", can I recognize homesickness?
Isn't "home" just a sort of place you are deeply rooted to, that is something of the center or seat of one's life? It's where we go back to, a place of stability and reliability, some turf to call our own where we can dictate at least some of the terms.
In a way, this is sort of like being a child all over again - experiencing new things for the first time, except with the detached, superego sort of perspective that comes of adulthood. Like pretty much everyone I know, I spent my childhood convinced that all adults magically hold the keys to solving every problem. After all, isn't being an adult equivalent to knowing how to cope with everything?
Calvin and Hobbes comes to mind. You probably will know exactly which strip I'm referring to.
So what is an adult to do, when faced with the truly new? Leaving home, even temporarily, is something every kid is supposed to know how to do. Some of us tried to run away from home, even. Sleep-overs, lock-ins, sneaking out to do crazy things with our friends. The first time Mom and Dad are gone for the weekend and you have the keys to the car.
I've never really thought of myself as "new" to the concept of leaving home. I left my home, on average, every 20 months growing up. I regularly spent prolonged periods in totally unfamiliar situations, or at least ones that could thoroughly qualify as "away from home" - what semblance of home I had.
So I've always kind of assumed that leaving home is something I'm already used to. Something I can cope with effortlessly, by virtue of having done it all my life. Nothing to balk at - indeed, nothing to even consciously be aware of. Purely automatic. Like breathing, or digesting lunch.
Now, though, I don't think that's true. I don't think I ever really had a home - hell, I've said twice now that I don't really truly grasp what "home" is. I had a wonderful, amazing, and thoroughly stable family - but that was it. My parents (and a few select possessions) were literally the only constants of my childhood. I'm the consummate third culture kid, so completely accustomed to being yanked away from the places and people I know that I barely comprehend the possibility of becoming attached to them in any way.
But I think that's exactly what's happened - and it's taken me utterly by surprise.
I've been here, in my present residence, for just over two years now. If my usual patterns were to hold, I should be moving. After all, more or less every two years previously, I've moved - and several times more often than that. For a while I oscillated between three separate residences, spread across two continents. The established cycle of my life dictates that I should be gearing up to move on; cut the ties, burn the bridges, cram everything into cardboard boxes and rent the U-Haul, let's live somewhere else.
But that's precisely what hasn't happened, and it shows no signs of happening. Sure, there's a good chance I may shift apartments or whatnot, but that's not really moving, at least not to me. I wouldn't leave the area I'm in. Certainly there'd be no more than a few minutes' drive between the new and old "home".
As much as I'd like to deny it while making cruel jokes about the region, this part of Georgia has become my home. It may well be the first real home I've ever had, and I'm not at all sure how to deal with that. I can't quite grasp the concept of being a self-sufficient adult with no understanding whatsoever of such an elementary and vital thing as home.
Yet here I am.
I think I've finally put a rational face on the emotion; and while part of me wants to resist this as some kind of unnatural contest of wills, the relentlessly analytical majority of me finds great comfort in it. I've understood the problem. I have no idea how to respond to it, but that's OK, because I know what the problem is, and so discerning a response will surely come in time.
You see, I've got a home now. I know the place, can find things, have some regular haunts, and generally know the lay of the land pretty well. Better than I've ever known any place, in fact. I've got some truly amazing people here who I deeply enjoy being around - so much so that I'd wondered if the source of all my unrest arose from the idea of being out of (physical) contact with them for so long. And while that certainly plays a part, it is only a handful of tiles in the larger mosaic.
For the first time in my life, I'm facing leaving home - not because I've never left anywhere before, but because I've never truly had a home to leave. Having a home is still too new of a notion to me to be able to really express what it is - but I know now, in the sort of deep and immovable conviction of the soul, that I've got one.
I dread doing this not for such trivial reasons as inconvenience, fear of the unknown, or even disruption of the status quo. The death knell is the duration - six agonizing weeks - and I find myself oddly certain that if it were, say, only two, the whole thing would be a total non-issue.
But the time is long, and therein is found the sliver that has caused so much discomfort. I'm finding a taste of stability, of surety, of home - something I've craved for so long that I've forgotten I'm craving it, forgotten I don't have it, forgotten that it even exists to be had. And now that I've gotten ahold if it, the prospect of losing it again is almost too bewildering to bear.
It's no concrete fear - of returning home to a burned-out hulk of a building, looking at the rain-soaked, twisted slag of my material possessions; or even of returning to find the world has moved on without me and I've lost the people I've grown so connected with. It's abstract, beyond any identifiable event, a symbolic loss that, despite having no substance, is infinitely more powerful than any tangible loss could ever be.
I'm afraid of leaving my home.
Even while I find that bizarre and almost profoundly surreal, it makes sense. It finds that ineffable unity of emotion and reason that is at once completely convincing and yet utterly devoid of sound argumentation, that sort of intuitive knowledge that it's all correct - I can't explain logically how it all works, but I could if I worked at it - and, more importantly, I have no need to work at it. It's obviously right.
I don't want to leave my home; the very notion is abhorrent, and primally so. The aversion is intense and deep, split-second and hair-trigger - primal is the only word for it.
But it's OK. I know what the problem is, where the contorted feeling in my gut comes from, and why I find myself staring out at a half-drained lake at three in the morning seized with panic at the idea of doing something I've done effortlessly a dozen times before. I don't have a solution, at least not yet, but like the fabled mathematician in the burning hotel, I can rest easy in the knowledge that a solution exists.
I'm still not sure what to make of this - the idea that an adult can be so totally overcome, so totally at a loss for... anything. I used to believe that there was some kind of secret diploma, a little metal cylinder that contains all knowledge, and that upon graduating from childhood we'd all automatically know how to handle everything. As far as I could tell, adults always could handle everything. Heck, they spent a good bit of time handling things I didn't even know existed to be handled.
It's somewhat scary to look forward to the remaining majority of life and wonder how many other such shocks await, to not know how much has yet to be learned. But this is not the right reaction; an attitude needs to be changed.
No, we do not magically become equipped to cope with all of life; life isn't some long series of test questions. We don't have to answer a chain of challenges with the "right" response. Sometimes there may not even be a right response. I'm not missing out on anything by encountering things I don't know how to cope with; it doesn't make me less qualified or less human or anything of the sort. I'm not missing some vital equipment, without which it is impossible to defeat the Boss of life, whatever that may be.
Quite the contrary. The charm, the power, the noble bittersweet allure of life is precisely in encountering that which we do not already know. That is why the sight of stars on a clear night still stirs my heart with a deep, aching longing to be out there. That's why discovering and exploring and learning are so important, and so rewarding. That's why, despite all common sense to the contrary, I still harbour the quiet dream of a kid who thinks he might be the first person ever to explore the woods behind the vacant lot.
I'm about to leave home for the first time. I can't pretend that the understanding I've gained in the course of writing this has really helped much to calm the anxiety. It's still big and unknown and more than a little scary, and I still feel profoundly foolish (and maybe a bit self-obsessed) to be so caught up with it.
But it's OK. It's the kind of OK I once could only identify as the hug of a concerned parent, of getting tucked in at the really late hour of 8PM, of that last glance to make sure everything's alright before they turn off the lights and shut the door, and go off doing adult-type things while I imagine flying spaceships and invading castles and try to fall asleep.
I'm scared as hell and I have no idea what comes next. But it's OK.
I have some packing I need to do.