Numerous thoughts rattle in my mind. Writing them helps me make sense of them. I realize Joan Didion has said something similar.
There’s this thing time does. I’m sure you know. It flows. Regardless of the situation or the circumstance or the nothingness of it all, it flows from one second to the other seamlessly. I say this because I realize, in the blink of an eye that I’ve lived in the US for over 6 months.
I say ‘lived in the US, but I wonder if I’ve really lived. How do we measure living, if there’s such a measure at all? I measure living with the thoughts I think, and those, I have plenty. So much so that sometimes I would love for it to stop. Thoughts aren’t always pretty or calming or satisfying. There are dark days when thoughts disparaging and draining take over every breathing moment. These are defeatist thoughts and I know I should trick my brain into switching to something else. I’ve heard meditation helps. And yes, I’ve tried it but I have a long way to go.
I measure living with the people that surround me. I’m lucky I moved country with my best friend (aka my partner) because I’m yet to make a friend here. The most conversation I’ve had here (in person) is with my physical therapist (for tennis elbow and I’m doing alright). Jessica and I talk about Indian culture, cuisine, Seema aunty – it was the perfect icebreaker for our first session. At a recent session, I got restaurant recommendations to try over the weekend. Even so, I could hardly exchange numbers or meet up outside of the PT sessions which are likely to end in a few weeks.
There are plenty of people I meet on the street and they’re friendly enough. They say hi and respond with a smile. But that’s about it. The college student at the checkout counter asks 'how's it going?'. I smile and mumble 'great'. I mumble because surprisingly, speaking (to strangers) seems to be a complex task I require practice at.
An echo rattles in my head and says you are different. I’ve always embraced being different and taken pride in it. One thing that's so different here is that it feels different. Even with the sense of wonder every time I see the beauty around me, I feel I'm in an unfamiliar place. It is new and exciting, yes. But I have to calculate the time difference every time I want to chat with a familiar face that's not my partner. When I look at Americans and Caucasians and Asians, I feel like the other, I wonder why this otherness feels massive. More than usual I feel like an island unto myself.
I quiz myself about all the things that keep me busy. I know I could write a lot more than I do. One of the things I read in ‘The Artist’s Way’ was that the self is scared not of failure, but of winning. Oddly (or maybe not so odd), it feels like truth. I’ve been reading, not as much as I could, but I’ve been reading.
I’ve been watching digital content endlessly – content that does not amount to productivity. And being productive has somehow become a critical measure of how I spend my time, of how I live. I feel productive during and after time at the gym, cooking and cleaning, doing some chores, reading, and writing.
As I write this and I hear myself go on about all this, I tell myself to be calm and exhale. I can see I’m pushing myself that’s resulting in overwhelm. I had written down words from the book I’m now reading (Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto), words that felt immensely relevant and soothing.
People aren’t overcome by situations or outside forces; defeat invades from within.
These words tell me it is within my reach, my power to change my narrative. In a way, I feel like a little, lost child who is complaining about having no friends and having nothing to do. And that makes me smile at myself. I realize I’m being impatient and that things will fall into place.
Subconsciously I probably believed that moving countries would give me a new life. I’ve experienced many new things, but new life, I have not. I continue to remain the same person that I was. Until I made the conscious effort to, I wouldn’t even step out of home because even that felt way out of my comfort zone. I always felt a shift in my mood almost every time I stepped out of my home. I felt my world broaden. Even the narrow bubble of my worldview clinging close to me widens to allow for experiences and notions and a worldview new and different from the ones I held previously.
As I sample a book by Yiyun Li, her words hit home the thought:
Altered sceneries are at best distractions, or else new settings for old habits. What one carries from one point to another, geographically or temporally, is one’s self.
That same old self who needed the comfort of one’s walls returned when I moved to the US. A simple walk alone feels refreshing, but I’ve done that so rarely. Life seems for now to work better when I slot various activities throughout the day. Wake up. Make my bed. Coffee. Gym. A morning journal that sometimes gets done late in the afternoon or at night. Cooking. Mealtimes.
I tell myself that time will be better managed when I’ll have a job. I don’t know when that will be because it’s one of those things that makes me feel other. My experiences feel hollow and irrelevant to the American setting. I know that there are a large number of people who move countries and find jobs here, so even for me, it will be a matter of time.
Anxiety builds and festers when it has no outlet. My head feels like a sealed cauldron that’s been simmering for ages, left on its own. It could explode any minute. Right now it feels like all that anxiety of needing to do something is taking over everything else.
Writing this feels like holding a mirror to myself. I had assumed moving to the US would automatically mean a glorious life. In many ways, life feels abundant and free here. I remember feeling a large weight off my shoulders in the initial weeks here. But as Li says, what we carry is our self. And that self, when it needs work, will need work wherever you feint to run away to.
So here’s to new beginnings and self-awareness and working on making things okay.