Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Surfacing

Sun rising in southern Sweden, as seen through a rain-wet window of a bus that is heading away.
I am back and struggling with an overwhelming sense of disorientation. Once I have successfully recast all my experiences and memories into the neutral adventure everyone thinks I had, I will probably feel better.

I found something I wrote at a midway point through the trip:
"This is as painful as a birth or a metamorphosis, so that I dream of it at night and feel like a creature caught in a flood, groping sometimes for a rock or a branch, something stable to hold onto.

I'm not even sure how I feel about my American-ness anymore. A week ago, my heart yearned toward Sweden, a mythical, unknown Sweden, and I wanted to reject America outright. Do I still?

I now realize there are things inside me that are American and that I value and want to keep: I am strong, capable, independent and I live in a world of possibility."
This trip has changed me, which I am told is normal.

I also came home to a terrific mess -- of unpaid bills and looming deadlines and maxed out finances -- which I'm also told is normal.

I have to scramble to get ready to teach my class, have to hurriedly revise my syllabus and daily plan. My creativity and personal vision elude me, however, so the result is quite generic.

There is a flood of work-related email to wade through, academic politics I'm not ready to engage with, budget cuts, protests and administrative requirements.

Somehow, I felt beautiful in Sweden. It is a land full of beautiful people and I felt like one of them. But here, I feel utterly invisible. Why is that? Something shone its light on me there, and here I am in the shadows.

I missed some important meeting yesterday, and then showed up today for one I didn't have to attend. It was good though, because suddenly I was surrounded by professors, greeting me enthusiastically with hugs and smiles, delivering good news that lightened my spirit, saying yes to requests I had already given up hope about.

All these wonderful, smart people whom I get to call my colleagues for a few more months, this is surely something to count among my blessings. Everything will feel better when I finally fully remember who I am.

10 comments:

steviewren said...

Something about being in a foreign country and discovering that you are blossoming...that is what makes you feel beautiful. I know, I felt the same as the result of my 1st trip. At home my husband was rejecting me. On the trip, my companions thought I was smart and capable. My sense of adventure was in full gear. I felt fully alive. As a result, I put away the fear of the unknown that had plagued me all of my life.

I'm glad you are back online. And I'm eager to hear more.

Anonymous said...

K, I don't know what to think of what, let alone what to say to you. To me it seems you're like a teenager, having discovered the world arond you. Finally coming to grips that America isn't the navel of the earth, which is good. Discovering your family history is always great. Still I don't understand why you did this out of the blue and all of a sudden, and I'm glad that you at least made some time to write a tiny blog. Congrats on the granddaughter!!! Either way, keep me posted, we'll talk soon, I'm sure? R.

Indie said...

Stevie, yes, you understand exactly, except that I was completely incompetent there, competent here.

R, I just had that little window of free time, between the end of the summer class I was teaching and the beginning of the Fall semester.

I wonder if I will ever do such a thing again?

Anicca said...

Right on K. I know it is painful sometimes, that traveling-returning to the older life-rebirth shuffle. I admire you for letting it deepen you and teach you and for allowing it to be a presence in your life. I couldn't really put perfectly into words how much it changed me, my own travels, but it is heartening to see you exploring some of those same types of paths. You are wonderful!

Anonymous said...

What? No jet lag?

Petra H said...

One of my fellow Swedish expat bloggers in the US has coined the expression "jet lag in the heart" or emotional jet lag - it usually takes a while to "land" back in your everyday life after a few weeks away (or home in our case when going back home to Sweden).
So, did you find the answers you were looking for in Sweden?

Indie said...

Jet lag of the heart, yes, that describes it perfectly. Petra, maybe we can have a private email exchange sometime, so I can tell you some things that happened there, and maybe you can help me make sense of them.

Now that I've had time to settle down, I realize that I want to go back. It is a beautiful country, the most beautiful I have ever seen. And I feel I have only scratched the surface.

I promise to write more soon. I have several ideas for new posts, coming soon. Thank you for reading everything!!!

Anonymous said...

"A week ago, my heart yearned toward Sweden, a mythical, unknown Sweden, and I wanted to reject America outright. Do I still?"

Could you be more specific? Would you offer more detail about how you came to this frame of mind? And if you have decided one way or the other, would you be willing to explain how you made your decision to reject America outright or to adopt some other attitude.

Indie said...

Having always felt like a misfit in America, I imagined that Sweden was my true homeland. There, my views would make more sense. There I would fit in at last. That was my idealized view.

I love that Swedes care for nature, that the state takes care of its people, and that people don't tend to overconsume. Those are the things I wanted to reject.

And I still do. And I still believe those things about Sweden.

However, I am just as much a misfit there as here, just in different ways.

And also, there are certain things about being American that I appreciate more now. Before I left, I just didn't recognize them as American.

One of those things is the sense (however true or false it may actually be) of social mobility and endless possibility. However bad things get in my life, I always still manage to feel like the sky's the limit, things will get better, and that I could change things at any time I wanted. Freedom.

Also, and this is not specifically American but is simply a symptom of being in my own culture (I think), I missed the certainty and confidence I usually have-- what is going on socially, interpreting social signals, knowing how to get things done and take care of myself, etc.

Still, I want to back, I want to spend more time there, and I want to know more about it. It is the most beautiful place I have ever seen on this earth.

Petra H said...

Indie, I will send you my email address (I have it since you have commented on my blog) in case you want to ask any questions or discuss any experiences...