Just because I wander, doesn’t mean I’m lost.
I wonder how my life would have panned out if I had stayed on the little island where I grew up. Coronado is a special place. What was once an island off the coast of San Diego is now a man-made peninsula, connected to downtown San Diego by a two-mile long bridge resembling a blue Brontosaurus. Coronado is the typical small town from American films, with its perfectly aligned and gridded street blocks boasting beautiful homes and well-kept gardens. There are awards for the best gardens, and everyone wants a blue ribbon to hang proudly in their front window, just beside the post from which the American flag hangs proud. There are concerts in the park each and every summer, where everyone gathers religiously. Children play in the sprinklers and soccer moms lug their children in their SUVs to Spreckles Park for practice. Cut up orange slices and brownies for treats! Though everyone drives cars, it is not really necessary as you can bike ride from one end of town to the other in approximately 10 minutes.
As a peninsula, Coronado is naturally surrounded by water. There is the San Diego Bay to the east, full of sailboats and seals, windsurfers and wakeboarders. Across the bay towers the “toolbox” of variously shaped and shiny financial buildings and hotels of downtown San Diego. To the west of the island, waves from the more furious Pacific Ocean crash, where the sun sets just above the horizon and dolphins dance in the pounding waves, playing with the surfers and my Dad’s ashes.
I think if I had stayed in Coronado I would have been happy there. But I left. And as everyone knows, once you have taken a bite of the apple there is no going back. My first trip out of the USA was to Europe to visit my sister that was living in Germany at the time. We traveled around Europe for two weeks and then I met up with my Spanish high school teacher, and fifteen friends, in Spain for a summer language immersion trip. I fell in love with Spain. The second I stepped foot on her soil I knew deep down I would be back. I was only sixteen at the time.
Two years later, with a U-Haul packed full of my high school keepsakes and must-haves, my Dad drove me up to Berkeley, California to start my first year of college. If such a thing as “black and white” existed, the contrast between Coronado and Berkeley would come awfully close.
Coronado: Population – 24,100 people. Military town housing two major US naval and amphibious bases. Right-wing conservatives. In 2000 84.4% of the total population was white. Petty theft was the major crime.
Berkeley: Population – 102,743 people. College town known for its political activism and hippie movement in the 1960s. Radically left-wing. In 2000 59.17% of the total population was white. Homicide was right around the corner.
Everything and everyone was different.
It was scary.
And very, very exciting.
I found the differences fascinating …
… and wanted more.
With ants in my pants, I spent two college summers working in Germany and England, and traveled all over Europe on the Eurail pass – back when backpacking through Europe happened in sketchy overnight trains when you could not fall asleep for fear that someone would rob your bag. Nowadays these cheap charter flights make it much, much easier. Then I headed down south to visit my best friend in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I learned to get over my fear of speaking Spanish. That was when I realized I needed to live in a Spanish-speaking country. It made me feel really alive for some unknown reason. After “graduation” I moved to Barcelona on a total whim to study for one year, slightly upsetting my Dad when he asked to see my diploma at my graduation ceremony. “Uh, there isn’t one. I actually have one more year of school left…in Spain.” Just pack my bag, and go.
Pack my bag and go. Seems to me I am constantly packing my bag, and going.Barcelona has been my base for the past eight years, not my anchor. I move around quite a lot, sometimes out of need, sometimes out of want. Twice I have moved back to California, and twice I returned to Barcelona. I have been fortunate to explore other fascinating places, like Ghana, Costa Rica, Thailand, Senegal, and lived/worked in the south of Mexico just recently for five months. I returned from each of those places with a yearning to move there permanently. But of course I never do. I always return to my base. To Barcelona.
I first learned the word wanderlust through my good friend, and amazingly talented and open-hearted human being, Suzanne Hansen. It is her favorite word, and she was the one who finally named that uncontrollable, raging desire to pack my bag and go (minus the actual packing part. I hate packing. I am a horrible packer.).
Then there is wanderlost. I am sure that someone has coined this word before me, but it sprang to mind today as a new thought tends to do. And I started to think about the implication of wandering…it sounds a lot like moving without a purpose. Like being lost. Hence wanderlOst.
After giving it quite a lot of thought, I have come to the conclusion that I suffer from wanderlUst, and not wanderlOst. I base this decision on another word: “going.” This verb can be so easily misunderstood when used alone. “Going” usually implies “leaving.” But used as a phrasal verb it can imply something else entirely. My “going” of preference is when joined with another word, such as “forward” or “to” or “up”. It is a motion moving forward and upward, and not backward. It is positive, not negative. It means “searching for” and not “running from.”
Without a doubt, I am wandering, in the sense that my interests pull me in various directions, and that I am trying to work out quite a lot of things on both personal and professional levels. But I am not lost. I have direction, and each day just a little bit more. But there is no map and there are lots of little side roads that distract me from time to time. Side roads that end up adding to my life much more than if I had followed the signs and walked straight ahead.
Slowly and surely I am becoming more conscious of what I want. And when I want it. The problem, and where I struggle, is with the where? So until I figure it out, I just keep packing my bag, and going.