Monday, November 12, 2012

How are you?

When people ask me how I'm doing—I mean actually ask, not out of politeness—I think they must see the perplexity on my face and fill the initial lack of a response with their own conjecture.  I usually have no answer ready. After that it’s an uphill battle to convince them that I’m not actually doing badly, and I’m probably doing well, even.  But the reality is I’m not sure exactly how I’m doing right now.  Somehow ever since getting back from the USA in late August, it hasn’t been quite clear to me. 

There was a long stretch where I think I was, for the first time, battling boredom and isolation.  Boredom because this is my second year, and everything is more familiar.  School is easier, and though there are some unique second-year challenges, it does not take up the same share of my attention as it did this time last year.  Isolation because there was a six-week stretch during which I only spent two nights outside of my village.  I was left with a lot of time to myself, and most of my spare mental energy was devoted to considerations and preparations for life after Peace Corps (which, in turn, only increased the detachment I felt from my physical environment). 

I’m applying to six graduate schools for programs in International Affairs/Public Affairs/Public Policy.  My applications are mostly finished, and I will submit them in the next six weeks or so.  I should hear back from the schools in mid-March, and I think that should be about the time I decide what to do with myself after these 27 months have passed.  A third year in Indonesia remains an option.  A lot depends on finances and where I see the best opportunity for myself.  I’m not worried about it now, and I find that since I’ve paused working on graduate applications, I’ve felt better about life.  I have been in more contact with other Volunteers, which always lifts my spirits, and I mustered the discipline to take care of a few things at school that had been nagging at me. 


One strange thing I’ve noticed since returning from the US: I don't miss it at all anymore.  I wasn’t homesick before going, but from time to time I would find myself longing for something specific to the US—or more precisely, something specifically not available to me in Indonesia.  Physical comforts, foods, entertainments, activities.  That longing has disappeared to a degree I would scarcely have believed possible.  Lately, nothing in me has been reaching back across the ocean, and it feels like my sense of home has been uprooted. 

The other day I was trying to think of where I would feel most at home, and the image that came to my mind was looking out over the smooth sea in Sulawesi with DP and John and Elle and Nicole.  The friends I have here…well, any accurate characterization of my fondness for them would sound preposterously exaggerated.  For me, it seems the idea of home in any given place only achieves resonance when people are added to the picture.  Very few people still live in the places in Florida that I used to call home.


Growing up, I’m realizing more and more that being an adult often means living far away from the people you really care about.  At least in my generation and demographic.  It’s easy enough to see why: everyone is pursuing their own best interest, and now that the world is massive web of niches and opportunities, it’s both natural and highly probable to end up separated from your close friends. But it makes me stop to think about my priorities.  The two things that make me happiest are being utterly engrossed in a project and being in a cocoon of love and friendship.  I need to be wary not to lose sight of that and strive to keep them in balance.

I have read that people’s happiness as they age is a U-curve.  They are happy as children and young adults and become steadily unhappier until their forties, after which they seem to figure things out and they get happier as they grow old.  Well, I don’t want to be 40 before I figure out that I’ve arranged my life in a way that makes me unhappy.


Less than seven months remain in this commitment.  Close to three-quarters through.  It is interesting to see how the pace of blogging has slowed to a crawl among my cohort.  No one, including me, feels like sharing all that much.  I write infrequently because I don’t really know what to say anymore.  I no longer need to write to process my environment.  And I have little motivation to try to make people understand what I’m living.  No one in the USA or Europe who reads this is going to absorb the details or get a true notion of my life and work here, unless they talk to me regularly and at length.  And, of course, why should they be all that interested?  I’m not asking everyone the gritty details about their lives and jobs.  Ha, speaking truly, the person outside of Indonesia who I feel has the clearest and deepest understanding of my life here is my mother.  She asks good questions.

But that does explain why these Peace Corps friendships are so precious.  I feel it more and more—as long as I live, these friends I’ve made over the sea will never be replaceable.  No one will ever get it like they do.  It’s a remarkable phenomenon, the way friendships form here.  It was something I looked forward to before joining Peace Corps and something I could not truly anticipate before getting here.  I am so grateful.

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