“Half of life has no name.”
– Nassim Taleb
What you can tell others about is not what you experience.
I have been living in Australia for almost 3 weeks, and it now feels like 6 months, in the greatest possible sense. Since landing, new experiences, peoples, tastes, archetechtures, plants… have been hurled at me with such rapid intensity that I can feel the burden of sense-data sizzling my beleaguered neurons. My memories are beginning to blend together, like fever dreams, held separate only through photographic testimony. I take a breath and recollect:
oh yes, I did in fact ride a cable car down a mountain range and, while there, took a drink from an 18 million year old limestone waterfall, yesterday.
All this has been amazing, stupendous. Let no word of this article betray this gold-plated trip-of-a-lifetime vibe. However (and it is an important ‘however’)
I’ve had this feeling.
A feeling of uneasy yearning, like a sunset over an amusement park. A feeling of time-running-out, but never really starting. A feeling that is much stronger when I am doing public, touristy things with lots of flashing cameras, map-checking, and emotionally void “ooh”ing and “aah”ing. A feeling almost non existant as I eat in solitude at a cafe in the shadow of the Sidney harbor bridge, or walking through the cobblestone alleyways of a century-old Australian village.
That feeling, now named (by me) is forefiting being alive in the moment for being able to “tell others” later.
Now we can tell everyone you’ve been to the blue mountains!
Now I can show people I swam in the Pacific Ocean.
Now everyone can see you touched a Kangaroo.
These are benign statements, but they hold an insidious, limiting factor. For example, days ago I saw a vista that could have brought me to tears over a computer screen, but being there in person it just felt dopey, and not in a depressive, “tragically unfulfilling” way. I knew what was happening. I was in my own head. I was too caught up in what to tell people of this. Too enamored with the eponomus “later” in which I dream myself giving a really bitchin’ oration of just how fuckin’ beautiful this mountain was. This is often accompanied by photography, but it doesn’t have to be. What really is tragic is that often I feel myself waiting for the experience to be “over with” so I can anectotalize it and prepare it for verbage later.
It takes real energy to actually remain with experience as it happens. An intesnity that may or may not make you look like a brooding weirdo (if you aren’t too good at it). It’s so easy to get swept away into the tourist photo-booth reality of superimposing the image-catcher and anecdote-collector of formatory thought in lieu of actually being there. You are left with a great deal of rapidly digestible travel stories, none of which include you but a phantom ‘you’ waiting in the subconscious sidelines for said experience to end so you can file it away, or wear it like a badge.
This doesn’t just happen to travellers. You can spend a lifetime doing this.
Now I can tell everyone I’ve been to college.
Now everyone will know I have a girlfriend.
Now everyone on Facebook will see how great my kids are.
Look again. There is no real “now” in any of this. I’m looking ahead at how great this experience will be when it ends, and then looking back at how great my dream of it was as I use the tale to buttress my ego (like a butthead) in front of others.
So, how to stop this? I’m not sure. A Teacher of mine once said that “time = attention” that any part of your attention not completely swept up with mechanical experience can be “for you” or for your essence. Looking back I see a few examples where I achieved this.
I walked 10 kilometers through downtown Sidney because I wanted to earn the experience of looking at the Harbor Bridge (I took a page from John Kabat-Zinn).
I dragged my terrified mother through the NO TRESPASSING docking zone / performance entrance of the Sidney Opera house because it wasn’t a gift shop.
I thoroughly embarrassed myself on multiple occasions by playing gold as a total novice with a couple of family pros.
Among other things too minor to mention.