S A R I S H A K U R U P
I am recently coming off a six day trip in the Northeast, and being back on this shore is disorienting to say the least. To fit back so neatly into my life after collecting so many new experiences is odd, and it makes me wonder if everything I've just felt, seen, touched, made much of a difference at all. At the same time, the very fact that being back is so disorienting is a reminder that something has shifted. I think that when I take time off like this, I become acquainted with a raw essence of my personality, one that is very often masked by the familiarity of home and routine. Being thrown into new places for extended periods of time, I become more aware of myself and what makes me tick. I start to re-prioritize. Usually, when traveling, I am too entertained or exhausted to keep regular contact with people back home, and thus the reminder of who I am perceived to be also fades into the background. I spend hours with myself, walking, sitting in flights--and the sound of my own thoughts become so clear and unfiltered. I've always thought that was one of the greater goals in life--to see yourself clearly, without the lenses and perceptions of other people clouding your vision. It's the deepest sense of understanding of oneself, and something about the solitary nature of traveling, as well as the adrenaline rush of the constant stimulation of new places, makes me feel much closer to myself.
This particular time, I was in Maine for a couple of days to visit Bowdoin, which I will be attending in the fall, and then to New York City to visit my friend Maya. Needless to say, the two legs of the trip were very different. I fell in love with Bowdoin and with Maine last summer, and spending a few idyllic days there this Spring--on a campus that seems so quintessentially Liberal Arts College--only solidified my vision of the place. Now, I can see myself there more clearly, and my fear that I might have squandered other choices is far less prominent. (I do not think that that feeling can ever be eliminated--that is the nature of choices--and I am sure I will experience many times in life going forward.)
Maine in the Spring is just slipping out of winter, the sky perpetually gray and moody. The perfect weather for me. Something about that gloomy atmosphere is so profound and thoughtful, I have always felt. There's a particular delight in being inside with warm food and soft music on days like that. In California those days are few and far between. One afternoon I went to a coffee shop in the town of Brunswick (where Bowdoin is situated) called Little Dog Coffee Shop, bringing my journal and a handful of handouts on the different departments at the college, and I sat there for over two hours, writing, reading, and just watching life move around me. It was in that quiet moment that I could truly see myself there for the next four years.
When Saturday came about I flew to JFK, and felt a particular pride as I navigated the Airtrain, the LIRR, and the subway to get to Maya's doorstep all on my own. For so long I have wished to be a New Yorker, and my ability to navigate the public transportation always seems like a validation of my New York heart. I always get a certain thrill, a flutter in my heart, each time I land in New York. It was still there this time, but it was less pronounced because I already missed the quiet beauty of Bowdoin, but the moment I emerged above ground on 103rd street on the Upper West Side, the city filled my lungs as it always does.
I love that in New York, every day, you collect stories, and this trip was no different. Maya, an avid singer, took me to the International Acapella Finals almost an hour after I arrived, and so I spent four hours at The Beacon surrounded by people I thought only existed in Glee. Afterwards we ended up at a little hole in the wall restaurant near her house called Jerusalem (because I had smelled pita on the LIRR and I had an acute craving for Mediterranean food) and we sat at the counter right in front of where the man was cooking and we got to talking to him (he was from Algeria, and liked us enough to offer us jobs). I have not talked to new people, it seems, in a long time, and being at Bowdoin, and in the city, I was constantly experiencing that rush of making new connections--I'd forgotten how thrilling it is.
We spent the next couple of days sifting through thrift shops in Williamsburg, brunching in airy, bright cafes, strolling through Manhattan--awash in color and foliage, evidence of Spring. With Maya, who does not see me as often as most of my other friends, I find myself discovering little things about myself, noticing the way I laugh, or think about things. To be around someone who does not assume to fully know you is challenging, because it forces you to consider how much of who you are is the product of the people you spend time with on a daily basis, who you are without them.
On Sunday night we found a little Thai restaurant that didn't card us (and is notorious for not doing so, apparently), and I drank some mango cocktail that made me a little bit looser and I remember the city seemed so beautiful then. As we sat by the river on the Upper West Side, the Victorian streetlights glinting upon a path lit for late night runners, I remember thinking that in that moment, I could not think of one bad thing in my life. I am rarely able to experience moments like that, moments that sink so easily into perfection.
The next day we awoke in a lazy fashion and made our way down to a bagel place (Black Seed Bagels) in the East Village, in a little part of the neighborhood where there was a brunch place on every corner. It was a tiny, well decorated place, and New York bagels are my deepest guilty pleasure, and we sat there for almost two hours, talking and working on our food instagram (instagram.com/eattowest), which we started over a year ago from that day. At one moment on the train there, Maya looked at me as we were sandwiched between throngs of people, and said "Iowa seems such an irrelevant part of our friendship now." It was true, I realized. Our two weeks spent together at writing camp in Iowa city, where we met, seem so small in the face of what has now grown into a two year friendship, with multiple cross-country visits. I tend to worry about the quality of my friendships, whether they are fulfilling as I always believe they should be, but this is one friendship that I have never had to worry about. Another moment of perfection.
That night I went with Maya's mother to see a preview of the Broadway play Six Degrees of Separation, with Allison Janey as one of the leads. It was a play that moved me so personally that I came out of the theater into the Midtown night time air stunned. Art, class, race--it dealt with everything that seems to relevant to my life at the moment.
I left the next day still thinking about it. As my plane rose high above the ground, I experienced a familiar anxiety of watching the city disappear below me. I thought of the life I would have to go back to, one that I was lucky to have but was far too comfortable for me. I decided it was a good thing that I would be moving to college next year. I would be challenged, to be a person closer to my essence, to work hard at deciding who I am, to myself and to others.
So many writers used travel to "discover themselves." Jack Kerouac in On The Road, Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. I've seen that J.R.R. Tolkien quote everywhere, on college dorm walls, scralled in notebooks, on t shirts at Urban Outfitters: "Not all who wander are lost." It seems so cliche now, after I've seen it around every corner, but it's still remarkably true. In fact, some who wander are found.