I’m writing this post in the air. According to the LCD screen above my tray table, we’ve passed the Bering Sea and are somewhere above the Pacific. The screen also says that it’s 5:29pm–or, at least, that it is in Seattle, a relativism that my computer and I are more than happy to accept as true for a few hours longer.
It’s finally happening. It seems impossible, but here and now, at 5:29pm somewhere over the Pacific, there’s really no denying it. The next time I set foot on land, it will be in a country where I won’t know the tongue, or, as Sam noted earlier today, be able to read the signs. It’ll be a country where I can’t get peanut butter or Kettle chips, where every sentence I speak will be the product of careful deliberation. My seat here on the plane doesn’t have AC power for my woefully short-lived computer, so I had to move to an open seat further up the cabin that did in order to write this. I spent more than a couple minutes planning out my approach, in the likely event that I had to ask someone in Japanese if the seat was open or if I could sit there. 「すみませんが、このいす、すわっていもいいですか。」 When it came time to actually execute my best-laid plans, of course, it was more a matter of pointing, gesturing, and mumbling something quietly because the person I was asking was wearing headphones, but I wonder if I didn’t get practice anyway in just figuring out how to say it and going for it. I’d like to think it counts for something.
It’s one of my main goals for myself with this trip: to cultivate a habit of accepting challenges. While it’d be foolish to say that I don’t do that to any degree already, I do feel as though I’ve been a little lax lately in actively taking on things that are difficult. I’d like to get used to seeking ways to improve myself and enrich my life through challenges. After all, as one crazy old man once told me, “Only through suffering comes enlightenment.”
Lately, I’ve been thinking about life as a collection of stories. There’s something magical to me about the stories people tell. I was talking with Sam about it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I developed an appreciation for good tales after my family’s many camping trip “adventures.” We always joked that no family trip would be complete without an “adventure,” whether it was the brakes in our car going out as we towed our trailer down a mountain; choosing to stay at a shady, unpleasant motel in Washington, DC because it advertised a “FunDome”; or me falling off a dusty Colorado cliff when we were assembled to celebrate my grandparents’ anniversary. I’ve come to realize that what we call our “adventures” are experiences that, despite being unpleasant or difficult at the time, make fantastic stories on return. Maybe they’re funny. Maybe they’re terrifying. Maybe they’re just plain interesting. Whatever the reason, a broad enough perspective turns misfortune into an adventure.
(Of course, “adventures” like that aren’t the only stories worth telling. There are stories to be told in pleasant experiences, too.)
I’ve been finding that thinking in terms of the stories worth telling changes my outlook significantly. It’s certainly a more optimistic perspective, since it allows me to glean value from situations that might immediately seem frustrating or worthless. Having not had to apply this philosophy in actual times of ennui yet, I can’t be certain that it will actually be useful as an antidepressant or mood lightener, but it seems to have that potential. At any rate, it helps me to make my life more interesting.
And that’s really what I’m looking for. There’s nothing I’ve experienced as resoundingly meaningful as sharing stories and conversation with friends. I think that if I scraped through life penniless, I could be happy as long as I felt I was doing enough to lead an interesting life. There are more layers to what I want, naturally, and other goals I will work toward, but if I commit to leading an interesting life filled with stories worth sharing, I think I will find it hard to be ultimately unhappy with my time spent living.
So to that end, I’m trying to cultivate a habit of recognizing and accepting challenges. Ask any middle school literature teacher, and they’ll tell you that the central element of any plot is some sort of conflict. If I want to write the stories of my life, a very good place to start would be with tackling difficulties. Overcoming challenge makes for great personal development as well as great storytelling.
I haven’t got Wi-Fi on this flight, so by the time I post this, I will have stepped off the plane and onto Japanese soil for the second time in my life. Once we’ve got our stuff unloaded in the hotel, Sam and I are gonna go out and get lost in Kyoto. See what we can find.
I get the feeling there are stories waiting around every corner in Kyoto.