To Stay or To Go

I was in the library the other day working on my thesis when a woman came in and seated herself in the lounge chair across from me. She looked familiar but I couldn’t place her. I tried to make eye contact and smile but she was staring intently at something outside the window; I might as well be invisible.

An hour passed. I noticed the woman across from me had not moved once. Still, she sat, staring out the window. I followed her gaze to the outside: nothing but trees and parked cars. I observed her, happily indulging in a distraction from my paper.

Still, she sat, not moving an inch. Resting into the lounge chair, her hands folded in her lap, she stared, not at the world outside, but into the maze of her thoughts. It’s a process, reaching into one’s own soul searching for answers. Here lied the question: to stay or to go? Still, she sat, while her thoughts revisited the aggregate of cities and places she had collected in the past five years.

Every time she arrived in a new city, she gave herself an adjustment period. It varied depending on whether she needed to learn the local dialect, how much she liked the food, how easily accessible the city was via public transportation. Just when she’s mastered it all, when she’s learned the streets and adjusted to the customs, she began to grow weary of the same scenes. “I’ll come back,” she told herself. There are so many places she hasn’t seen yet, why stop here?

How was she supposed to pick a place to stay when they all bled into one another? How could she pick the right place when she hasn’t seen them all? So she kept moving.

It can’t last forever, this moving around, going from city to city, forming intimate relations with no long-term plans in mind. She longed for an anchor, a reason to stay, without which she had only her heart to guide her. And through five years of travels, she has not yet mastered the map of her own heart. So she sat, contemplating her next moves, immobilized by all the possibilities.

I looked out the window and there you were, five floors down, in a white tee and pants the color of the Caribbean Sea, the color of your eyes. Out of a city of tens of thousands, I picked you out. I recognized you by your walk. You smiled and I knew we were kindred souls, two pieces of the same puzzle. I packed up my bag and walked out of the library, leaving the woman there in the lounge chair, with her possibilities.

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Two Steps Closer

Work and studying, it was my life for so long.  Work, LSAT class, work, LSAT class, then suddenly it’s all over.  I find myself on the other side of the finished line and truthfully, it doesn’t feel as great as I thought it would.  I have to wait 2 more weeks to find out my LSAT score, I’ve already waited a week.

I should be more relaxed, I’m now more than a week into my year-long vacation.  I should be excited, Shanghai is only a month away.  But mostly I worry and I stress.  I’m so used to being stressed, maybe I’ve forgotten how to relax.  It feels strange to not have all these responsibilities weighing down on my shoulders;  I don’t know what to do with myself.

The first week of my vacation was rather uneventful.  I was sick in bed for all of it.  Less than 24 hours after the LSAT, my body gave up.  I’m certain that I had willed my body into staying healthy for those terrible weeks leading up to the test.  For two months, twice a week, I would rush to Berkeley after a full day of work for 4 more hours of class.  There wasn’t always time for dinner and there was never enough time for sleep.

Those were difficult days, but I loved them.  I loved the hustle; I loved being productive all the time.  In two weeks, I get to find out what it was all for.  No pressure.  I already felt all the pressure during the test.

In less than two weeks, I’ll be back in sunny San Diego.  There really is no cause for complaint — the weather is beautiful, the food delicious, the shopping extravagant.  But it is not the Bay Area.  I can’t express how difficult it is for me to leave the Bay.  I’ve worked so hard to build my life here and it feels like I’m throwing it all away.  I wake up every morning feeling like I just went through a breakup and two thoughts keep me going: (1) I haven’t started packing for the move and (2) Shanghai.

I think about everything I’ll miss here in the Bay Area: my apartment, the food, my friends.  Then I think about my dad in Shanghai, my grandparents, the intolerable summers and the excruciating winters, and it all seems worth it.  I’ve thought it through a thousand times, and now a thousand and one.

Still, quitting my job and taking a year off to live in Shanghai? I’m pretty crazy.

Possibilities

It’s been 12 days since my last post and I’ve been itching to write.  Many topics have crossed my mind: a review of The Invisible Man, a look at the “Mission Impossible” cars, a photo of my new coat from Tobi, my current view on relationships, and the weather.  The first sentences always come to me easily, as beginnings usually do.  I try to see the rest of the post and it just doesn’t happen.

There’s the daunting task of facing a blank page with only the slightest inclination of a direction and the fear that paragraphs of careful crafting will lead to nothing.

My coworker recently mentioned his dissatisfaction with the way Hemingway ends his short stories.  There seems to be a lack of commitment to an actual ending; the stories simply trail off ambiguously.  I can sympathize.  The endings are the hardest part! We demand so much from the end of stories, as if the climax is at the finish line, as if we’re watching a display of fireworks instead.  The ending has to wrap everything up nicely without being too trite or clichéd; there needs to be a lesson learned, a conclusion.  And if the story is really good, if the journey is truly everything we could have hoped for, then the ending inevitably brings loss and regret that it had to end at all.

There’s also a lot of pressure on the first blog of the new year.  Ideally, it should be both a wrapping up of the previous year and a looking forward to the next.  Some would say the first post sets the tone for the entire year.  Others demand a list of resolutions and goals.

How about I just write instead?

I love the open road, nothing but endless possibilities ahead.  I drove to Sacramento recently for the first time.  The crisscrossed number/letter streets and the idyllic movements of the place reminded me of D.C.  I never appreciated D.C. because it was always the place away from home, a foreign and seemingly random city.  Its beauty was completely lost to me.  I couldn’t take in the majesty of the White House and I barely remember the Capitol.  Whatever it was, it wasn’t home.

There’s a walk I take five days a week, between the hours of 12:30 to 2:30 pm, from lunch back to work.  Quite often, that walk takes me from the middle of San Francisco Chinatown to the Financial District.  It’s a sad walk, and not just because I’m going back to work.  I always pass by the park on Kearny Street, packed with elderly Chinese people playing chess, and that quintessential image never fails to make me homesick.

If not now, then when?

For the next six months, every task I accomplish will bring me a step closer to home.  Maybe I’ll go back only to realize that nostalgia has its place in the past next to the fading memories of my childhood.  Maybe I’ll discover with certainty that I don’t want to be anywhere but in the Bay Area.  Or maybe, quite unexpectedly, I’ll never want to leave Shanghai again.

Whatever the answer is, I’m tired of feeling like I’m helplessly floating along as the current of time takes me farther from home.  So I’m taking matters into my own hands.  I’m going to take a risk, follow what my heart knows to be true, and see where it takes me.

I’ve always loved the open road, the landscape constantly unfolding, promising to take me exactly where my heart desires.