Letter to a friend: Life since J-School

So I wrote this letter to an old professor of mine.

Professor Vos:

So I’ve been thinking the past week or two about the request you made in your previous e-mail – for to tell you about my travels since I left the J-school.

I’m always sort of baffled and intrigued by the premise of Summing Up. As you may recall, my grad thesis was 178 pages long, when 78 may well have sufficed. Brevity has never been my strong suit. Despite that, or perhaps even because of that, distillation in any form strikes me as a useful, if slightly maddening, exercise. So I sat down and started writing out an answer and I guess in the end it was mostly a letter to myself but I’m going to send it along to you for posterity and whatnot. Onward!

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Current counts

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So we’re back in Palolem, India, and settling into that tremulous and mystical moment in a longish trip away when time and travel sort of slow down. Lately, life has been less about recording and more about observing. Also, less about moving and more about standing still. We’ve no plans to leave the beach anytime soon, because life here is comfortable and warm and the big cities in this part of the world strike me as a bit haggard and harried and charmless, just like the big cities in every other part of the world I’ve visited. Cities make me nuts.

I’m also working remotely, now, so my days are a strange brew of big thinking and non thinking, in punctuated intervals. We’ve got a bit more than a week left of the trip, though, so perhaps our physical and mental slowing is a way to prolong the magic.

The current count:

One morning of dodgy stomach

Two countries and about a dozen cities and towns visited

One headlamp lost

One gigantic cockroach discovered in my clothes

One blister packet of Diazepam

Two packs of cigarettes (jeez, I know)

One journal three pages from full

One bag full of exotic spices stinking up my luggage like nobody’s business

A pocketful of trinkets for friends and family

Four postcards purchased but neither written on nor mailed. Sorry, guys. Not my strong suit.

Oh, yeah, and half a dozen bizarre and elaborate dream sequences, courtesy of my anti-malarial pills. In the best-worst of these, I was wandering the countryside barefoot and in tears because I’d lost both my travel partners and my shoes. The solution was easy: I put on an old pair of shoes I’d forgotten I had in my backpack and then kept on moving alone. There’s a metaphor in there. Plain sight, but it’s got nothing to do with this trip, or my travel partner, Emily, with whom I am getting along famously. Probably, it’s more about needs versus wants, and stomaching losses with minimal wailing and gnashing of teeth in general. In the “Real World,” to which I will soon return, and where I struggle mightily to stay centered and calm.

The hope is always that the lessons will make their way home with you, and continue to work on you well into the future. Adversity begets character, for sure. Even the good kinds of adversity, the kinds you hurtle at yourself, just to see. Like traveling to rag-tag countries full of wild smells and sights. Pretty much a sure thing.

Goodbye to the Big Rock Kandy Mountain

Kochi Chiles

Last night in Sri Lanka and we’re spending it in Negombo, a little beach town not far from the airport. We left Kandy early this morning on a second-class train that seemed to spend as much time moving backwards as it did moving forwards. I’m not sure why, but we passed the many hours making friends with a little bindied Sri Lankan baby seated next to us. He spent most of our time together trying to eat our hands and faces, and we placated him in return with coconut biscuits and mixed nuts.

Negombo is pretty but hot and bizzy and mosquito-y and we’re more than ready to get back to the India beaches. We just ate some amazing street food – kotu and rotti – and dudes are setting off M-16s in the lobby of the hotel. Shit is crazy!

So this week I get back on the work wagon. I’ll be editing remotely from the beach till we return home and am a bit conflicted about the occasion. It’ll be nice to get cashflow going again, but vacation … I haven’t had three weeks off since I finished grad school in 2009, but I’m so quickly acclimated to doing nothing it should be a crime. Anyway, lots to report, but I am desperate for a shower and sleep so it will have to wait.

Colombo – Bangalore – Goa tomorrow. It’s gonna be a 12-hour experience, for sure!

India: Dispatches from the In Between Place

Today marks one full week here in India.

It has been seven days packed full of revelations, to be sure. The biggest and most mind-altering revelation so far has perhaps been how quickly you can accept an altered state of reality when you land in a place that is so utterly, bafflingly, bewitchingly foreign. How the instinct is always to start plotting out coordinates, even after the map has been wiped entirely clean.

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