Friday, October 25, 2013

About Once a Week, I Feel This Way

I saw this on FB and thought "This is my relationship to Laos", which surprised even me. I figured I should elaborate on that first reaction, if only to sort out my brain.

Strangely, it seems that when I am trying the hardest to be grateful and positive, when I am gritting my teeth and steadfastly refusing to go down inviting rabbit holes of velvet negativity, when I am setting my eyes high and holding my chin up and squinting at the picture and doing my absolute, honest, level best to see the good, that's when things really get hard. The juxtaposition of something that is nothing other than negative, with my anxious commitment to see anything but the negative, is so constant, so immediate, that in those moments it feels personal. I feel taunted, in some way that isn't sensible but I feel it nonetheless. 

It's not just in the day to day that I feel this duality- it's in the very fact that I have ended up here at all, suddenly solo at the end of a long line of wandering that has been, up 'til now, so thoroughly satisfying. I have traveled almost all the way around this earth, over land and sea, through tens of countries which have knocked me breathless with wonder and happiness. I have made incredible connections with fellow travelers effortlessly, conversation and laughs and stories and hugs flowing freely. This past year and summer was like a technicolor greatest hits feel good reel of the stunningly simple and profound ways in which people can so easily fall into rapport against a backdrop of a new time/place/language/culture, filled with learning and curiosity and advice and support. I loved those countries, and I loved those shared experiences. Albania gave me so much that I don't know how I got so lucky as to be in that place, in that time, with those people. And then to leave there and get to ant crawl my way through all those other places and faces? Beautiful, sorrow steeped Bosnia and the hostel that felt like a family reunion turned road trip; Serbia, between the coffee shop chance meeting and the pub crawl out under the damp dark tramping through the streets and dancing and sweating and laughing along the river with new people who suddenly seemed like my oldest friends; Poland with the travelers I met in the ER after eavesdropping on a motorcycle accident back home in Albania; Estonia and the stone streets of the old town deciphered by a group of college students who were so frank, witty, and kind that they seemed to have sprung from the pagan, forest mist dream of the country; trains all over Russia with stranger-travelers who curled up knees and elbows pressing against me to share food from far flung home countries and talk about where-to-next/where-from-before. This last year was what I was searching for when I said, for the previous six, that I wanted to leave my home and my family, in spite of how much I loved both, to go travel, to explore, to dig my fingers into the earth and see what I could find in the soft soil crumbles in my palms.

This summer, I rolled off the Trans-Mongolian into China and onto a plane where I was filled with happiness and excitement for what would be next. I roamed the streets of Bangkok laughing out loud at how much I loved it after waiting so many long years to finally be there. I found myself on a tile floor in a train station, my entire life heaped in bags around me, my partner next to me with his arranged the same, and I was so curious to get on the train that would take me, in my sleep, to my new home. I would wake up to Laos. To Vientiane. It would be different on every level, of that I was sure, and that was what I was expecting and looking forward to.

So now? To to find myself here? In Laos? Where everything feels filtered through funhouse mirrors and watered down, missed beats and awkward steps, with a palpable lack of energy in the air that leaves me exhausted and unsatisfied when I try to breathe it in? It hurts even worse by unavoidable comparison, and that's magnified by living here alone when here was chosen for two. I know how blood-deep joyful this vagabond life can be, I have seen it and felt it and it's why I keep going. To have to slog through such a relatively gray landscape, desperately trying to tap into that pulsing vein and coming up dry every time, pushes me into so much frustration and anger. I feel the absurdly awful truth of how diametrically and wholly opposite this experience has been thus far. The fact that I adore my job and my students, and I need to finish my master's degree and save money, is the only thing holding me here- a single thread of mundane commitments, no more. 

I don't find it hard to live here in terms of culture shock, or day to day lifestyle. On a variety of levels, it's easier than Albania. No, I am just uninspired, apathetic, and wholly unimpressed by the culture here in Vientiane. These episodes of doubt can vary from from "Well, that's unfortunate, but you can't love everywhere" to "ARE YOU KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW?" when I ponder the next 8 months of living here.

And here is where I say that yes, even the most beautiful and interesting place will be awful when you're going through a break-up, but I must say, dear reader, that this would be a bit easier somewhere else, of that I am sure. I've been to many Somewhere Elses, in the middle of much greater pain of loss, and dealt with it better than I am dealing with this. I stand resolute in my opinion that the problem is with Vientiane. Or, okay, let's share it: maybe it's me in relation to Vientiane. I just don't belong here, but I have to make a home here.

Teaching. Grad school. So many books. Writing. More writing. Back to the books. This is what Laos will mean to me.

Ah, but now I've laid it all out hyper-concentrated in the middle of an attack of spontaneous prose, distilled through the filter of a bad day, I need to tell you: please don't worry about me. Truly.

Six days out of seven, I'm golden; I am golden sparkling Buddha fingers in the sunshine.

About one day out of seven, I'm a gutter dog.

As long as I keep rolling numbers like that, I'll be okay.


  1. I loved every word Cortney. Even when you are feeling your worst you still find a way to poetically illustrate to us how you are feeling. If only I could write as vividly as you.

    1. Thank you, Henry. I am definitely feeling much closer to my worst than my best right now. But today I am feeling much better. Sometimes writing out the worst is the best treatment.