Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Where am I, you ask?

I'm in Moscow.

Why am I here? Great question.

A few years ago, at the recommendation of several friends, I started reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. She writes about her travels to Italy, India and Indonesia on the heels of a wrenching divorce in an attempt to rediscover meaning in life. But I found myself resenting Gilbert and all her exotic wisdom so much that I had to stop reading after the first few chapters.

Nice for you, I thought, that you can just pack up and travel the world to mend your broken heart. Nice that you have the means and the time and everything to do whatever you want. If I had that luxury, I could also write full-time about the purpose of life, have more spiritual epiphanies and sort through all my personal psychoses.

But I don’t have that luxury. I’m stuck here in what feels like a dead end life with crushing student loans, an hour-long commute to an unfulfilling job, a crisis of faith, disappointment upon disappointment in my personal life and no idea what to do next. And all I’m getting from reading your "inspirational" book is that if I want to find purpose and meaning and healing I need to have a ton of money so I can travel the world. What about the rest of us? What about people who have to find a way to sort things out on a budget, while still juggling life's responsibilities?

And yet, here I am. I’ve arranged for 16 weeks of leave from my job to work on an important-sounding writing project. I've put all my earthly belongings into a 5' by 8' wooden crate. I’ve scraped together enough money to get to Russia and (hopefully) survive there for ten of those weeks. Maybe I bought into it after all. Maybe a part of me really believes that leaving my life behind, even temporarily, and living a foreign life in a foreign country while writing about foreign people is the path to life's answers. Maybe I resented Elizabeth Gilbert because I wanted to be her. Or maybe I just bought exactly what she was selling, without even realizing it.

A few weeks ago, I said to M., Maybe after three months in Russia I’ll know exactly what I want to do with my life. I’ll have direction and answers.

Probably not, he said.

Wow, I thought. That's a little mean.

But he was right, and that's when I realized how hard I was trying to be Elizabeth Gilbert. Life's answers aren't just out there for the taking, growing on mango trees in Thailand or currant bushes in Russia. It's not like there's an on-demand channel for them. I'm just as likely to come back and be right where I started as I am to find answers to any of life’s questions, solve my crisis of faith and have clear direction for my career and my love life.

And you know what? It's a relief to think that maybe I won’t figure it all out this summer. Or ever, for that matter. And so in the end, the answer to why I'm here is that I want to be here. Sure, maybe I'm trying a little too hard to find meaning. Welcome to my world. And yeah, maybe I'm just running away. So what? (Thanks, Dad, for helping me come to terms with that one.) It comes down to the fact that I just want to be here, and I can. And so I am.

It's like this guy said, after quitting his fancy New York City engineering job (what is it with our generation?) to walk across America. (Yep, just walk. He loves walking, apparently. And he’s meeting people and seeing the country and getting to walk.) He said:

"I didn't want to be too ambitious about what I would figure out on this walk. I didn't want to tell myself that when I was done, I knew what I wanted to do with my life. But maybe in the back of my head somewhere, I'm kind of hoping that."

Amen, brother.


Whitney said...

I'm glad you are back. I'm glad you are in Russia. I'm glad you've adjusted your expectations before arriving there. I can't wait to read of your adventures! "What is it with our generation?" you ask. Well...I think we are all craving a little bit of slow down, quiet, unleashed (digitally, perhaps?), simpler life. We've been told there are many things we need--need to own, need to do, need to be. Bottom line...that is garbage and we aren't buying it. Our needs are basic...live life how Christ would have us live and "Come what may and LOVE it!"

P.S. I miss you and our chats!!!! If you have Skype...we'll have to chat while you are in Russia...I'm big with child and Drew is in Iraq...I would love to hear more of this life you are running away from and this adventure you are on. Love you!

Julie Bradshaw said...

You know, I should probably leave most of what I want to say in an email, so maybe I will, but I just want to tell you that I'm proud of you for taking control of your life and doing something different. I have heard many times that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result each time. It takes breaking out of our routine in order to begin to see things (ourselves, most importantly) a bit more clearly. At least from a different vantage point. And that takes courage. A lot of it.

I hope you spark the beginnings of a new vision while in Russia. I love you. I'll email you more later.

Kate Hansen said...

I am so excited for your new adventure. I hope you love every minute!

We are having life changing experiences too. We sold are house, moved to Mt. Pleasant, Utah and are having another boy in August. Perhaps not as exotic as Russia . . .

Gilly said...

Allison - so great to read your voice. It is interesting - I just read Eat Pray Love for book club and will be discussing it this weekend with the girls. I am sensing that we will all feel somewhat frustrated, annoyed and jealous with her year long journey. I was talking about it with a friend from highschool, whose life hasn't gone as she had expected in the marriage department - and she did take off and travel for a good long while, and it did help her see her life and her choices differently. She realized that she was living her life instead of waiting to live her life. She said it was worth all the expense and time and she wouldn't trade it for anything. She is back now in a job she loves and doing better than ever. Regardless of the reason or the outcome I am glad that you are out having an adventure in Russia. I have a soft spot for that place and I can't express how excited I am to read about all you are doing. I am such a lucky person to have got to know you on our way to Russia, it makes me feel closer to those memories to hear you back there. Didn't things seem to clear. Life is not so black and white as it was then. Anyway -My adventures this week involve potty training, basement renos - so a little world adventure is great. Good luck.

Allison said...

These comments remind me what incredible friends I have had at so many stages of my transitory life. I admit I'm terrible at keeping in touch, but gosh I love you guys.