Monday, June 18, 2012

Happiness at Home

Today it really hit me how fortunate my life is, and how my latest trip has allowed me to see beauty in every part of it. Not that I didn't notice it before, but somehow everything seemed to align in my life in one moment - the closeness I have with my family, the feelings of success in school and, well, a sheer happiness in general in my life. Lately, or ever since my latest overseas trip, the feeling of fulfillment in my life has been so great - enough to the point that I have felt its greatness every day. But this having happened only since my trip poses the question in my mind: Could this all actually be a result of my overseas trip?

Two posts prior to this one, I wrote about my trip through the British Isles and Paris, France. I think my current feelings of happiness stim from that post - what I wrote about perspective. I learned of the importance of stepping out of all that is native to you, literally, and even if you think it makes you uncomfortable. I mentioned that stepping out of Missouri in particular allowed me to learn which distinctive aspects of the state made it home to me. Having been home for a few weeks now, many of my favorite things about Missouri have begun to stand out, creating more meaning to me than ever. The exhilarating summer drives through the wine countries, the breathtakingly photogenic railroad paths that lay against scenes of agriculture and barn yards, the liveliness of the pond and river areas - the feelings of tranquility that I can experience now in my homeland are more apparent than ever, and they must add greatly to these feelings of my overall happiness; it correlates perfectly with what I want my life goal to be, which is to become as worldly a person as I can be in my lifetime.

But what is most happy-making (if I may quote Pretties, a book from a favorite author of mine, Scott Westerfeld) is the fact that I can find all the things I found beautiful in Europe in Missouri, a state where I have heard only bad things said about it in my whole lifetime. The miserable heat in the summer, the humidity, the unpredictable fluctuation of weather in general - it's enough to have some people in and out the state within a few years. But when we can look past that - the fact that, for some, humid heat sucks so much worse than dry heat - we can find beauty in this Midwest state that most people have not given it the chance to see. Now that I have given Missouri a chance with the new eyes Europe has allowed me to see home with, everything seems genuinely perfect.

I've found happiness and satisfaction from my home state, and though these new realizations of this native beauty are inspiring, I do not intend to quit travelling. It has just made me realize that there is beauty in every place, sometimes you just have to look hard enough to find it.

Or, in my case, you may just have to leave the country for a little while.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Thoughts on Future Communication

I never realized how dangerously distracting the Internet could be until I recently purchased my first smart phone - joining the current mainstream.

It feels as though I have the world at my fingertips. Within the first hour of purchasing my iPhone 4S, it was like I was in an unbreakable trance. Though the novelty of it has not yet warn off, I still question what all this much power could do if it was available to everyone. Would we still function? ...Would we need to? Though I do not think for a second that the smart phone in general will put us where the citizens of the distant future in "Wall-e" are, I do think that it will produce a dramatic change in the way we interact. Here I am, speaking like a real, ambiguous politician, stating that there will be dramatic change in the future. So to defend my speech, I've written about a few things that I found most distracting about having a smart phone and what current activity I think its features will easily substitute:

Also not a feature to lightly skim over in a topic such as this: the fact that Siri can actually KEEP YOU COMPANY. Yes, you can actually hold a conversation with your electronic portable telephone now. And if that feature may be a result of Apple, Inc.'s attempt to balance out the social blocks the new technology will allow, the answer currently will stay a mystery.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Perspective, the British Isles and Paris

Jumping around from country to country puts things into perspective in an extraordinary way. I haven't thought, exactly, how I felt about the city I've grown up in all my life until just recently, when I arrived home after my two week travel around northern Europe.

The biggest reality check I experienced did not take place when our plane landed in London. Nor did it when when we crossed, via ship, the beautifully greened expanses of land that made up the countryside of Wales, or the history-rich cities of Dublin and Belfast in Ireland, or even the amazing rocky shores and coastal mountains that made up Scotland's northern parts. The most moving prospect of the entire trip involved laying eyes on what I called home, after getting used to the brand-new, remarkable sights I experienced every day for two weeks in Great Britain, Ireland, and Paris, France. Seeing home, there in the middle of the United States, that was when everything became both eerily real and surreal.

Among the family members who were travelling with me - my mom, aunt, and grandfather - I think perspective, personally, hit me with the most force. I could tell when the ship first docked in Greenock, Scotland that, by the look on Mom's face, Scotland would be the place that moved her. The look on Grandpa's face when he saw the inside of O'Neil's Irish pub in Dublin (and had his first Guiness beer) told me how memorable those moments would be to him; and my aunt's face when she, well, found the first internet cafe where she could talk to her boyfriend at home spoke volumes. I knew straight away with how they reacted differently to all these things that they had found something in these unfamiliar places that gave the places weight and importance, despite the fact that they had never set foot on them before. (Except, of course, the case with my aunt, where her reaction at the internet cafe in London told me how being away from her boyfriend unveiled the magnitude of infatuation she had with him).

Though I loved every place equally (it was impossible to choose a favorite!) I eventually realized that the reaction that spoke volumes in me came within the moment on the way home when our plane crossed the Mississippi River. At that moment, looking down, I realized how different home was from the places I'd spent a fortnight through my camera's eye. The places that, in my mind, begged to be brought to life through curving and glittering words and stories. The places like Paris, where knowing that every week, millions of people had viewed the exact statues and buildings and landmarks that I had been currently viewing; Like London, where the city is so large yet so compact that history seemed to speak to me from every single corner; Like Wales, where year-long quenched-green hills battle with yellow daffodil hills and photogenic lighthouse coastlines, and sheep outnumber people four to one; Like Dublin, where the city itself almost smells like one big Guiness brewery; Like Belfast in Northen Ireland, where the artistry that has gone into the graffiti that line the city buildings is the only thing that establishes a difference in its mountainous landscape and Denver's; Like Greenock, Scotland, where your most stereotypical thoughts about Scotland are proven as you notice the abundance of kilts, bagpipes, goats versus people, and mossy/rocky hilltops; Like Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland, where street shows of locals playing folk music dot the entry ways of 15th century churches and castles (though Edinburgh proved to have the same thing, but with slightly warmer weather). After seeing all the places, the coming-home part of it all was what really struck me and made me think.

Anyone could see a thousand movies about Scotland, for instance, and never really feel how it's different from the United States. They could look at it in a two-dimensional sense, seeing the differences in the landscape, the way that people talk and interact differently, but not really feel what it's like to be there. The fresh moist air in your face, wafting off the northern coast; the temperature always predictably constant due to the warm air currents of the Caribbean; the sun always setting so late in the night on account of its high latitude. Physical perspective is where the merit is, where the beauty of an unfamiliar place is.

Because I had spent so long in unfamiliar lands, it came that I could see my own home land with new eyes when I came back this day one week ago. I was seeing St. Louis and all of the country over which the plane traversed with new eyes, realizing the differences between it and the countries I'd just visited. Though it held almost nothing when compared to northern Europe's history, America held its own kind of enchantment in that it inspired me to think of how different it really was. Where countries as old as Europe thrived in earlier times where sources of water and better chances of vegetation lay, I noticed that, since those times, European descendants have consensually agreed to stick with those particular lands and make the most of them (i.e. Glasgow, Dublin, London, Paris, Edinburgh, etc.). What makes America different is that we haven't stayed in one place long enough to establish such historically-sound cities as they have (though, granted, we haven't had as much time to). However, I don't think it's in our nature to. America is about newness and branching out - establishing a new city long enough to have made certain it would flourish on its own, and then moving on to another new portion of land (after all, this was mostly what our ancestors were all about). We need space because we always wanted for it, since the day Columbus set foot here. Just ask any American tourist in Europe. The difference is we don't like to speak a foot a way from other people; we don't like driving around in compact cars, on a road the width of one lane on an American highway; and we don't enjoy taking public transportation anywhere we go. We enjoy our space, our ability to drive anywhere, anytime (and without a compact-size car!)

I enjoyed my first trip across seas immeasurably, but mostly what I found most appealing was the new eyes I have allowed myself in stepping out of home for a while.