Posts Tagged 'Friends'

Good While It Lasted: Managing Transience

Wellington, New Zealand

I may be a fan of The Power of Now and a proponent of living in the moment, but if I’m being honest, I don’t and can’t always practice what I preach.  We live in a fearful, future-focused society that encourages us to help our children plan for retirement rather than talk to them about safe sex.  Delayed gratification is a virtue, while instant gratification is seen as hedonistic, frivolous, self-indulgent, and worse, irresponsible. But I believe in the short-term.  I believe that we should allow ourselves to do the things that make us happy now, even if they won’t do anything for us later.  Call me a utilitarian (actually, please don’t), but I believe in the intrinsic value of pleasure.   Yet lately, I’ve been plagued by the question what’s the point?

Considering that I’ve only been in Wellington permanently (and given the nature of the current discussion, I use that term reluctantly) for a few weeks, things are going well.  I live alone and rent-free in a beautiful house, and I have a fun part-time job, friends whose company I enjoy, and a good-looking English guy to give me something to think about.  In other words, there are a lot of things to be happy about.

But happy is not exactly how I’ve been feeling lately.  And trust me, there is nothing more frustrating, obnoxious, or unattractive than being able to count your blessings but not being able to appreciate them.  It’s a little like finding out that your boss, who has a wife and twin girls, is having an affair with the young man who works in the mailroom, and not being able to tell anyone about it.  At first, hormones were my only explanation for this unwarranted and irrational display of indifference.  Until I realized that rationality was actually to blame for my bad mood.

Yesterday, after dance class, I met a friend for coffee.  She had spent the weekend in the mountains, interviewing for seasonal work at a ski lodge.  A lot had happened since we had last spoke, just a week before.  We sat for hours talking psychology, dating, and the hardships of being an expat.  It was one of those great conversations that graduate the relationship to the next level of friendship.  However, when we said goodbye, I didn’t feel satisfied.  I felt empty.  During the evening, my friend had revealed that whether she gets the job or not, she will likely leave Wellington within the next month. And it hit me just how temporary my life is at the moment.

The pleasure we derive from doing certain things, like buying treasury bonds, lifting weights, or shaving our legs is based on the promise that our actions in the present will pay off in the future.  Sure, the more masochistic among us may find such activities amusing (I, for one, do genuinely like going to the gym), but for the most part, we suffer these tasks in silence because we understand that they are part of the creative process.  All of these actions, and the subsequent sore muscles and nicked knees, are necessary in order to reach our objectives.  And it is the knowledge that we are building a foundation or nearing our goal that makes these steps not just bearable, but rewarding.

So, it’s a little disheartening and disappointing knowing with certainty that I will soon have to say good-bye to many of the wonderful things in my life, like the house, my job at the bookstore, and my friend.  And it’s discouraging sensing that the energy I am currently expending will not be compensated.  I just can’t help but feel burdened by the expiration date.  Which brings us back to the age-old question: is it better to have loved and lost or to have never loved at all? When I think about my time in Argentina, this blog, or the recent coffee date with my friend and how comforting it was to share stories, worries, and plans with another person, I would definitely place my vote on the former.

Besides, as my friend pointed out, as much as I need a certain amount of stability and control, I also need to explore, experiment, and evolve.  If everything were sorted and settled, eventually I would get bored and crave change.  Rather than resist or resent the transient nature of my existence, perhaps I should try to accept and embrace it, as it gives me the opportunity to constantly refresh and do-over.  The problem is when something ends before you’re ready to give it up.

It’s exhausting to think about starting anew, again. Especially for a girl who may or may not be writing this at 1pm from her bed because she can’t be bothered to get dressed.  I had been hoping to put on cruise control and just coast for a while.  However, in the immortal words of Bryan Adams, “Ain’t no use in complaining when you got a job to do.”  And there’s also no use in staying at home on a Saturday night, even if it is raining, just because your partner in crime won’t be around the following weekend.  So, I guess I’m going to get up, brush my teeth, and make dinner plans with a friend who is leaving for Asia next week.  I might as well enjoy what I’ve got before it’s gone.


Despedida: Saying Good-bye to Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I thought that I could get away without having a despedida. As much as I like being the center of attention, I don’t like to be the reason for or the hostess of an event, especially when the event is saying good-bye to my best friends.  I just couldn’t handle the concept of everyone getting together to talk about how much we’re going to miss each other.

When one of my friends decided to celebrate her birthday on Saturday night, I was relieved. She offered me the night first, but I liked the idea of being able to see my friends without ever having to actually acknowledge that I’m leaving.  I may not be the one getting married, but I was hoping to run off to New Zealand and elope without anyone noticing.  Besides, I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t be able to plan an evening more entertaining than Korean karaoke (you even get your own private room and machine).  Unfortunately, my plan backfired.

Before I had even sung my first Britney Spears number, my friends were already asking when we were going to get together again.  As I explained to them that I, like most women when they turn 30, wasn’t planning on dignifying my departure with a party, they nodded sympathetically before discussing amongst themselves potential places, times, and activities.   By the end of the night, nothing had been confirmed, except my sneaking suspicion that friends don’t let friends leave the country without saying good-bye.

Sunday afternoon, the designated social coordinator of the group called to ask if I had made up my mind about the despedida.  Of course I wanted to see everyone again, but I couldn’t decide which would be more depressing: spending time with my friends “one last time” or not.  Not to mention the fact that I couldn’t think of a good pretext for seven people hanging out on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

In the end, my friend convinced me that no planning was necessary, and gave me a moving speech about needing to give my closest friends the opportunity to say good-bye, as if I had just died and was trying to decide whether or not to have a funeral for myself.  I sent an email at the last minute, inviting everyone to my friend’s apartment that afternoon.  Hours later, we were eating homemade avocado dip and chocotorta, gossiping about the previous night, playing Apples to Apples, and making each other laugh.  The truth is that I was going to be sad no matter what, but it’s far better to be sad and in good company than sad and alone.

I think that what made my despedida so nice is that it was not anything out of the ordinary.  It was just another reminder of how wonderful it is to belong to a group of people who love each other, especially one that doesn’t need an itinerary to have a good time.  I’m glad that we had the chance to make one last memory in Buenos Aires, because I don’t know when, if ever, such a moment will arise again.

I’m great at being gone, but I’m terrible at good-byes.  I get overly sentimental, wanting to do, see, touch, and taste everything one last time because I’m convinced that good-bye is forever. But this time, I know that Buenos Aires isn’t going anywhere, and neither are the memories or friendships that I made here.  However, even though I will maintain my relationships and likely return to Argentina in the future, even if just for a visit, it will never again be exactly as it is now.

I think that part of what makes leaving Argentina so hard is that I’m not just saying good-bye to friends or a city.  I’m saying good-bye to an era.  When my friends came over to meet my mother, we took a Buenos Aires class picture. Staring at that photo later, I realized that three people were already missing – they left Argentina earlier in the year – and that nearly everyone else had plans to be gone within the next year or two.

Someone once told me that life is like a spiral – we go around in ever expanding concentric circles, passing by the same points, but always at a different point in our lives.  Of course, different can be just as good or better, but when you like things the way that they are, it can be hard to let go.  So, that’s why I don’t want to do anything special to commemorate my last few days in Buenos Aires. I prefer to carry on with business as usual, doing the things that have characterized and defined my life for the past three years, like run in the park, go shopping with friends, and write, because pretty soon, everything will change.  I may be ready to move on, but I’m still sad for what I’m leaving behind (including all of the clothes that didn’t fit in my suitcase).  In fact, I have to get going.  My friend is waiting for me so we can order take-out, eat dinner on her balcony, and talk about the guy she’s dating.

I Want a Pony: The Impact of Technology on an Expat

Buenos Aires, ArgentinaSaddest Pony in the World.  In front of the BA Zoo.

I want a pony. Not for my birthday, to deliver my mail.

Since moving to Argentina, I have developed a love-hate relationship with technology. Sure, email is great, enabling you to cross a hemisphere faster than a speeding bullet. But I long for the days of the pony express.

While my friend was living in Kenya, she and I became more than friends. We became pen pals, keeping in touch the old fashioned way with pen, paper, and stamps. Once, I made the mistake of giving her a hard time for not writing me sooner. In her defense, she argued, “If you ask me, 3-5 months is a perfect amount of time to pass between people on DIFFERENT CONTINENTS.”

She was right, of course. If I am living in Argentina and my friend is living in Kenya, it is only natural to expect that a birthday package mailed in June should arrive in September, with half the contents missing. Not only is it natural, it’s part of the fun. But technology has no respect for nature.

Technology is deceptive, luring you into a false sense of proximity. Features like Facebook, Skype, and Gchat trick you into thinking that everyone is more accessible than they really are. And make you believe that a 10-hour plane ride, a three-hour time difference, and a foreign language will have no effect on your personal life.

All choices have consequences and one of the consequences of moving, whether to a new city, state, or country, is that you leave behind many of the people, places, and things that you know and love. But when I moved, I secretly hoped that my life would remain frozen in place and time, patiently awaiting my return. In the beginning, I spent a lot of time online, relying heavily on my friends and family back home for support and companionship and trying to stay connected to my old life.

But each time I looked at a friend’s photo album online, I was forced to see with my own eyes that life had gone on without me. And I realized that no amount of emails, chats, and wall posts could compensate for the fact that my friends and family are no longer part of my daily life. At some point, I decided to look for opportunities to make my own memories.

Rather than surf the web, I began to volunteer and teach English, and eventually I found a full-time job. Rather than send a mass email after traveling, I began to invite friends over to look at photos, listen to my stories, and plan trips together. And rather than chat online, I began to have conversations, mostly in Spanish, over dinner and drinks. As the months went by, Argentina became not just my place of residence but my home.

Time spent in cyber space is time spent in limbo, suspended between here and there. You have limited mental, physical, and emotional resources. If you want to give yourself a chance at building a new life abroad, you have to be willing to take time and energy away from where you came and redirect it to where you are and where you want to go.

Recently, I received an email from one of my best friends from high school, who I had long since taken for lost. She explained, “I swear I’m not as much of a jerk as I must look like. This email went straight to my junk mail folder – I didn’t even see it until I was cleaning out my computer this week in prep for my move (departments not cities) and found it!  I was starting to wonder if you had completely disappeared…”

Relieved, I understood that while I was busy building a life in Buenos Aires my friend was doing the same in Columbus, Ohio. Moving abroad may magnify the challenge of growing up but all of us mature and move on. Some of my old friendships have been lost entirely and no number of new friends, regardless of how wonderful, will ever replace them. But fortunately, many of my previous relationships remain intact, albeit modified, and continue to grow across distance and time.

Choosing your own unique path in life is not without sacrifice. But lamenting your loss and trying to hold on to the past only prevents you from being present in the present and limits your options for the future. The best you can do is concentrate on the here and now, and hope that your path runs parallel to that of your loved ones so that when they do cross again, whether virtually or in person, it feels like nothing has changed.

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