Friday, August 22, 2014

Counter Culture Shock: Nothing Is Different But Nothing Is The Same

Hello Invisible Audience,

I have just added an option for automatic monthly donations to my blog, and realized I have only written one post for August. That probably doesn’t inspire people to want to donate, now does it?

But what do I have to tell you? So much, and not much. I am sitting in Wenatchee, in the house where I lived before I left for Panama in the first place, and barring the strange traffic ‘updates’ to Wenatchee’s roads, there is little that has changed in the 18 months I have been gone. By that, I mean that much feels the same, even as much is different.

It is both comforting and confusing. It suddenly seems like my life has accordioned – that the two years I was gone and all I have accomplished have become a closed chapter, and a single memory, made more apparent at the health food store today.

“You were in Panama? How long were you gone?”
“Two years.”
“Wow. What were you doing there?”
“Uhh…I was writing a book.”
“How inspiring. Did you finish the book?”

Did I finish the book? Oh Jesus, invisible audience. I have written novels in journal entries, gone from 10,000 visits in five years of blogging to 21,000 in a year and a half. I have written, rewritten, edited, sobbed, laughed, shared my book with a few people, and then, ultimately decided not to publish it. The last time I looked at it, I found myself brought back to a painful, stuck place that I was writing to get out of, and writing it accomplished its task: I finished the book, accordioned my life and closed out a chapter of daily rainbows, sweet tropical fruits and honking and whistling when I walked anywhere, because that is how it works when you’re a woman in Panama.

Back in the U.S., I stood for whole minutes in a health food store, reveling in the joy of being able to find pretty much anything at my fingertips. I have eaten spinach by the handful, texted friends from Panama about the rediscovered wonders of Mexican food and gushing, constant hot water, and tried in vain to summarize what was an amazing couple years that is now over in a way that conveys the value that time deserves to have.

How was it? It was amazing some days, and awful others. The food was often exotic, and other times mundane. The people were amazing and also crazy. It was life, invisible audience, but a different one, with different rules and caring people, although that rarely translated into great customer service.  

This is counter culture shock at its finest. I am enjoying the friendships that picked up right where they left off, the new babies I get to see in real time, the kids that have grown like weeds in my absence, the hot dry summer days of North Central Washington and the beauty of Seattle on sunny days. All this, and yet I still find myself thinking, “it hardly feels different to drive down this road, although the last time I did feels like a lifetime ago.”

And as much as things feel the same, they are different – I am different. People have already commented on it – on this new me, who is less rattled and less capable of being rattled; glowing, still, and not just from my Central American tan.

I want to hold onto it, this new me that has come back to the old me. I want to capture my happiness and hold it close to my chest, and when people ask me, I want to let it burst out at them, without needing to explain in words how different my time abroad has made me. Because from now on, it’s all time abroad: all my time needs to make me more me. I have left the old me behind, and the new me is much more interested in staying new. Glowing, without any of the old fears I left behind when I left here, before my now-finished time in Panama. Time may feel like it has accordioned, but it is still there. I don’t have to be able to explain it for it to be obvious. 

Love and new old kisses