In Colombia one sometimes has to adjust to the circumstances. By sometimes, please feel free to read ‘pretty damn much always’, in whichever accent you prefer.
This was a gigantic learning curve for me. I have pushed back, pressed forwards, asked of my body and mind much much more than they were willing and capable of giving. I accepted the challenges of life, and research, and academia as part of the PhD process, because if it were not difficult, what would be the point of doing it? That is what separates the winners from the losers, and who wants to be a loser? But now I am coming to the point where I am dissecting the completely flawed arguments and mind-views built into those statements. I am now asking myself ‘what are my goals?’, ‘what do I want to do in my thirties? Fourties? Fifties? Will I be a happier/better person if I have more letters next to my name?
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver
I did not know how to be idle and blessed. I want always to have an answer, a plan, to be doing SOMETHING and moving towards SOMEWHERE. After all, that is how one measures success right?
If you are intelligent, it is your duty to produce intelligent products. If you are athletic it is your duty to be the most athletic that you can possibly be. If you are both, well you better get to work being perfect. You must set an example, never accept anything less than your best, measure yourself by impossible yardsticks and always strive for more. I have so many personal heroes and they have achieved so much. I should be doing more!
I don’t even use yards. I am a child of the metric system. And why on earth should I tangle myself up in knots in order to define my self worth by someone else’s idea of success?
Bici y yoga
Last year I was in Suesca, a beautiful place in the Andes that siphons off the stress caused by a week in a major city, where I am surrounded by people I care about, and have positive activities available at every turn. I had been away, and then sick, for about three months. Because of this I had been coming to grips with the idea that I could not do what I was doing in the Spring (but lo and behold, my friends still wanted to be my friends). So there I was, in Suesca, reminded at every turn that I did not have much energy, but still enjoying myself. I had to get my motorbike fixed because it had not been started during the whole time I was away. I also had to get the insurance renewed. For these two activities I had to rely on others to help me. The bike wouldn’t start and had to go to a mechanic on the back of a truck (this after an extremely complicated manoeuvre to get everyone in the right place, figure out what was wrong, somehow get out of the compound with locked gates, and send it off to town) . The insurance place in the next town was closed, the other one would only accept cash payment, the cash machine would not give me money but charged me to try, and when my friend lent me the money, they started the insurance from the next day and sent me to yet another town to print it even though I had to pay it there and then and receive no receipt. ‘But I wanted to drive home this evening’ I despaired. ‘This is all horrible’. But, as my friend gently reminded me, if I stayed another night I could have coffee and cakes with friends, watch a movie, and wake up early in this earthly paradise before heading back to the city in the morning. In the end, the bike got fixed, I got the insurance, had coffee and cakes, watched a movie, and woke up early in order to head back to the city. Nothing had gone according to plan, but it was all ok.
I built on this kind of experience and began to accept that it was ok to just be happy. I convinced myself that I would hate to live in London and ‘work on my career’. I started to look for ways that would allow me to live the life that I had right there and then. But I couldn’t ignore the cracks at the edges.
I wasn’t being challenged. I was having an amazing time but in a very short time I was going to outgrow the pond that I was swimming in. Little things about my adopted culture started to bother me every day (HSBC/GNB, housing agencies, the traffic, and Claro Colombia, you played a big part in this) and I realised that it was time to reconsider before the relationship turned sour. Impossible yardsticks are what we use to drive ourselves forward, and by dropping them at the side of the road and hoping that a dog would pick them up, I was only letting myself down.
So I measured myself, and I took the next step. I left neverland behind, and flew to a window in the centre of London.
I do have to caveat this ‘leaving of neverland’. Every weekend I think of my friends, and am wracked by jealousy knowing that they are off riding the trails around Suesca. I fantasise about flying back for a quick week trip, bike in tow, just enough to go to the department I didn’t quite explore, or climb a few more routes, or summit another snow peak. I miss it, and I think that today’s technology (the Twitters and Instagrams and Facebooks) makes it even harder to walk away, because we always know what is happening, and exactly what we are missing.
Now that I will be moving to Hackney (watch this space), and having a place to hang my hat, I need a new challenge to help me feel at home.