Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Clueless in Seattle

I am in Seattle this entire September. It is not even Christmas break or April Fools’ Day. The last time I was here this long was in 2010, right before I was moving to Virginia to start a PhD. This time however, I did not take a flight to Seattle. I drove, all the way from Nebraska. Actually I did not drive directly to Seattle either. I took a rather circuitous route. I first went south, to Houston. Then I went north, to Chicago. Then I drove east, to Washington DC. From there, I drove west, to Seattle. I still think that I am reasonably sane. I just wanted to drive all four directions. Alone, in my car. And I did that. Three weeks and 8,000 miles later, I reached Seattle. I met many friends on my way, 42 to be exact. I made 10 new friends as well. For years, I have seen people do cross-country road trips, creating their trajectories using Google maps, and posting them on Facebook. Someone once did a smiley trip, driving from Boston, dipping down to Texas, and going up to Seattle, drawing a smiley on the US map. Then someone drove four corners, from Maine to Florida, to southern California and Seattle. There is no dearth of crazy people. I think I have finally enrolled my name in that list too. It takes you 8,000 miles to drive from Washington DC to India, via Europe. That is how far I went.

I had a lot of realizations in this road trip. It is only natural, when you are on your own, sitting for hours inside a car, doing nothing but driving. The music keeps you distracted initially, and so do the landscapes. But there is only so much music you can hear and so much scenery you can see. When you have had your fill, you go back to thinking. About life, about people, about the sky and the ground, and everything in between. About the past and the future, and everything in between as well. So I thought about a lot of things. And realized that I have nothing much to show in life. Certainly not if I held out my social checklist and pen, trying to check boxes.

Of all the 42 odd friends I met, I found a pattern. The people who were graduate students, doing their PhD four years ago now definitely have a well-paying job and a wife, a car, if not a home. And the people who had a job and a wife and an apartment then now have a house, a few kids and a pregnant wife, a BMW or an SUV, and a permanent residence in the US. The F1s have moved to H1Bs, the H1Bs have changed to green cards. The sedans have become SUVs. The rented apartments have become self-owned houses. The singles are all parents now, single or not. People have progressed, and have much to show from this checklist of achievements. They have run marathons, taken the ice bucket challenge, climbed Mount Rainier, created their own photography website, and have at least visited Alaska, if not South America. And all I have to show is a PhD. An effing PhD on a topic no one cares about; not enough to help me get a faculty position anyway.

I know that I had never signed up for a traditional life by any standard. Predictability bored me. When people went one way, I wanted to go another way. In the mid-twenties, when my friends were preparing to get married, I was preparing to move to the US. Later when more friends were getting married, I was busy changing jobs, running analyses for my PhD, or traveling. When people were raising babies, I was taking salsa classes, performing in plays, and dancing on stage. And now that those friends are about to celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, I am pretty much still where I started from. And this makes me realize that I have nothing much to show in life, except for hundreds of travel magnets and hundreds of friends I have collected over the years.

Do I regret it? No. Is it freaking me out? Maybe a little bit. Given a choice, would I live their lives? I don’t think so. For better or for worse, my journey has been my own, and I own it. But once in a while, I pause and wonder, is this what I wanted? Of course the constant Facebook updates of people living wonderful lives and eating gourmet food has a lot to do with this. At 33, I didn’t think that I would have no job stability, no stable source of income, no savings, no one to call a spouse or a partner or a sugar daddy, and would be so lost and clueless about where I am headed. I didn’t know that I would be living my life in one year contracts, changing jobs and going to new places every year. Who would I be, given a choice? Well, I would be a professor in Seattle, working at UW or Seattle U. Or I would be working for the UN, the WHO, or the World Bank. I would like to live in a little condo overlooking the bay, and Mount Rainier, sharing my life and living space with Mr. Pi (a mathematician and a fictional character in my head). Mr. Pi is also a professor in rocket sciences, a field that not many of us understand. I write academic papers in the day and fictional stories at night. We go hiking, biking, and sometimes indulge in late night desserts at Dilettante, or take a stroll by the Alki beach, marveling at the Seattle skyline.

But I don’t see myself anywhere close to these fictional dreams. Instead, there has been a little bit of a situation. You see, my life has been caught up in an intricate web of uncertainties. I thought that as people grow older, they become more stable, accomplished, and sure of themselves. But now I know that sometimes, people get lost, unable to find their way out. They see their friends zoom by them, and wonder what they could have done differently in life. So now, I suddenly find myself a little lost, with my close friends telling me, "I told you so." Not too long ago, when I was finishing my PhD, I thought that I would next be a professor at an American university. But none of that happened. I moved to Nebraska, spending the worst one year of my life in America. Three days ago, I sold my car, something that I was very deeply attached to. Tomorrow, I will complete my eight years of stay in the US. And in less than one month, I will start the next chapter of my life, in a new country, in fact, a new continent. 

I am moving to Europe.


sunshine

14 comments:

Dew said...

You have achieved a lot, you are overlooking your achievements. Truth be told, people would be envious of you. You have always been an inspiration to me.

Glad to hear that you are moving to Europe. Good Luck !

Pavana Mallavaram said...

Hi Sunshine,

I have been a silent reader of your posts since 2011.I don't think I have commented more than twice or thrice. After reading this post, I strongly felt that I should..
Firstly, hats off to your driving adventure!! Not many people can even think about it. You have actually done it. Simply awesome!!
All the best for your new endeavour in Europe. Sounds exciting and it's the beginning of a new chapter in your life. Take care of yourself.

VM said...

sounds nice...hopefully it turn out to be good...
where in Europe?

Thirteen said...

Well, Europe is fantastic, so I will say good for you. Your journey so far has been interesting, intriguing and definitely unpredictable. You will have a lot of stories to narrate and look back on when you are older. Isn't that what they say - it's not about the destination, but the journey? Where in Europe are you moving to?

Snigdha said...

Hi,
I have been reading your blog since many years, I guess this is the first time that I am commenting on your post. I love to read your blogs. Sometimes, I feel so jealous of your life. I always wanted to have a life where I can travel alone. But that never happened. They say, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Do I regret on the decisions I took earlier? Yes, for some of them. If I would have taken some other decision , then I might have been on that other side you know…
As of now.. all the best for your new endeavor. Hope to read about your life there in Europe.

Regards,
Snigdha

Ram said...

Best wishes on your journey ahead! Life is beautiful!

Rahul A said...

I am sure you will be first from India to travel 8K miles at a stretch!

Rahul A said...

I am sure you will be first from India to travel 8K miles at a stretch!

Sid said...

Loved reading your post. I find myself in a similarly lost place for different reasons though and keep longing for those roadtrips but maybe on my bike. But Europe and a new adventure awaits! Sounds awesome :)

Argentyne said...

hello. A long time reader here. I felt really sad when I read this post especially about your car, but I also feel hopeful at the same time that you have new adventures ahead of you.

In Islam, one of the names of God is also Al-Fattah which means The Opener. I think Al-Fattah just might surprise you. I hope that everything you want is waiting for you a continent away, just with some different views, that you might discover are better than what you thought you wanted. I hope this move will be great for you in every which way and I also hope you'll update this blog soon! :P :)

Hugs,

Dewdrop said...

Hey Sunshine, I had been a long time reader of your blog. Life sure has a way of underwhelming us; but success is different by every other person's standard. Chin up girl! All the best on the move to Europe. Lots of more places to explore now :)

David Romero said...

I really like it. Im from colombia and have a basic english, excuse me if you cant understand me. But i feel the same as you ;i have 20 years old, but for some reason i think that im like 50. Im studying literaty creation, and im little depressed with it. I dont know, but i like your honesty, and i like a lot the landscapes. My country is so beautiful but i cant travel for money issues. Take that, you have the money for travel, i have to grow up in my house without see at least a sunshine.

David Romero said...

I really like it. Im from colombia and have a basic english, excuse me if you cant understand me. But i feel the same as you ;i have 20 years old, but for some reason i think that im like 50. Im studying literaty creation, and im little depressed with it. I dont know, but i like your honesty, and i like a lot the landscapes. My country is so beautiful but i cant travel for money issues. Take that, you have the money for travel, i have to grow up in my house without see at least a sunshine.

Rajarshi said...

You sound quite low in this post but considering my own life's trajectory so far, I can relate to each and every word of it though in my case, my bane has been predictability - point A to B, B to C. And you know what sometimes gets you? Still nothing much to show or check in the list of trophies/things you mention - so much for predictability and 'safe careers'. So, if it helps to know, I have often ruminated on similar lines.

In any case, we all need something to keep us going - some of us discover meaningful hobbies while others raise families. As I have remarked here earlier, I admire the sort of life you have led, the risks you have taken. "My journey has been only my own" probably sums it all up.

So, probably at the end, we shouldn't listen so much to those who say "I told you so" or bother too much about "conventional wisdom" (though I can't say that for myself, really). And should be glad that we saw a bit of the world, developed some ability to separate wheat from chaff and in the process probably, overcame some of our own demons.

With best wishes,
Rajarshi