I get antsy. This is no secret to those who know me. Novelty and change feed me.
I know there’s a ton of stuff out there on mindfulness, and on finding novelty in the things you’re already experiencing regularly, but somehow that itch seems to come back in the end in just about every situation. I don’t deny that I need to train my brain a bit more to find novelty in the familiar (notice the little things! use fresh eyes to see everything!), but daaaaaaaaaamn, completely novel experiences are delicious!
Several years ago, I found myself straining against the confines of Duluth after living there for seven years (multiple years longer than I had lived anywhere else in my adult life). In an attempt to find novelty in the familiar, I started a blog aptly named “One New Thing Each Week: Avoiding the seven year itch in my relationship with this city.” It’s not available anymore to view, but it was a series of new micro-adventures in Duluth (new beers! new restaurants! new events!). The blog kept me accountable, and I did log 52 new things in Duluth in a year. While it was all about exploring and finding novelty, perhaps the best thing that happened was that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone at least once a week in such a strong attempt to be able to stay put. Must’ve worked, because I still permanently live there!
I think as a society lately, people complete glamorize this desire to explore (read the online dating profiles of every man ever and you’ll see some derivation of either the word “explore” or “adventure”, regardless of how they actually live their daily lives). While I have come to recognize that there is a need for change at my core, it has also demolished some of the most amazing things I’ve ever had in my life. In this setting, though, I think I have found an amazing way to both be productive and experience change on a large scale.
There are few things in life that excite me as much as a “first.” But when every aspect of your life becomes firsts, things can become a bit overwhelming. I think this is what we people who are lucky enough to put ourselves into the middle of cultures that differ greatly from our own affectionately refer to as “culture shock.”
I may have mentioned that my current digs are in one of the nicest areas of town, with a high proportion of expats and tourists present. This makes for fewer experiences of feeling like an outsider (feeling like the record scratches when you walk into a space), but there are still so many situations where I do. I wander through the markets. Outsider. I sit down in a small restaurant. Outsider. I step outside of my apartment and smile at the guys playing cards across the street. Outsider. But with a good balance of what feels comfortable and new things, I feel like pushing myself to explore. This doesn’t feel like culture shock. It just feels shockingly good.
I was talking with a guy the other day who has been here about a month and he asked how long I’d been here. When I told him a week, he said he felt like a slouch for not having done any of the types of things I’d done. Now, I haven’t done anything that feels that outrageous, but it all does come from the seeking of firsts.
Every day, something new. A new food (malai helong flowers, mixes of things wrapped in banana leaves, Khmer curries). A new restaurant (that expat one that made me uncomfortable, that Khmer one tucked in the market). A new mode of transport (admission: tuk tuks aren’t new, but they were new to me here, and no driver ever knows where he’s going, a story for another day). A new person to meet (other people working with kids with disabilities in town, teachers just arriving in town working for an organization that’s sponsoring the course I’m coordinating, random people just about anywhere). A new experience of any sort (going to a new market, volunteering with the Khmer Sight Foundation, running in the city, meditating at a local wat).
Now, these firsts are not typically comfortable, as thoughts like, “What the hell is going on here?” and, “Where the hell am I supposed to be going?” and “Why the hell am I here?” creep into my brain. But ultimately, I know that this mild discomfort that can be inherent in new experiences is what feeds me. Feeds me the most delicious stories one could ever hope to digest.