(Today I'll be taking a short break from my series of essays to write a more personal journal entry.)
While I've been traveling, I keep thinking back to Austin as not simply a home, but a sort of paradise. Rationally, I've known that it has faults, but I've glossed over them so readily that it's almost like I've forgotten Austin is anything short of heaven. Last night, though, I thought more seriously about what troubled me when I was home and how some of these same things were not an issue while away.
Perhaps the thing that bothered me the most was the desire to attain status. The groups amongst which I'd do this varied over the course of my ten years there, but the impulse never changed. In a similar fashion, I pretty much always have a crush on somebody, and the only way I can get over one woman is to fall for another. Well, the only way I could stop wanting to impress one group of people was to “fall” for a different one.
In some ways, I'd argue that this is a good and natural desire. By wanting to impress and belong, I'll more readily conform to group norms which, in turn, strengthens the group by improving cohesion. It's important for all members of a group to feel this way, as it encourages the group to work together. Beyond this, though, it has been a harmful desire for me. It has compelled me to do things I didn't entirely want to do, to assume values I didn't entirely believe in, and to ultimately disappoint people when my desire to belong in their group didn't fuel me enough persist with their values and projects. Perhaps beyond all of this, it was a distraction from doing the things I truly enjoy doing as well as from thinking with a clear mind. Maybe it would be possible to find a group of like-minded individuals, and then I could belong without the distraction of conforming. If this is possible, I have yet to find such a group.
While I've been away, this desire has entirely disappeared. There are no groups abroad, at least not amongst Westerners. We leave too quickly to form sub-cultures and little societies. Instead, all relationships are between individuals, and this I can handle without losing myself. So, while I've been away, I've had a break from this desire, which in turn has let me see it and the way it's affected my life. I'm unsure if I'll fall right back into doing this once I return to Austin, or if what I've seen while away will give me the buffer I've long needed to avoid losing myself in a group.
The second thing has to do with the uncertainty of dreams. There are people in Austin that lead so many different types of life, none of which seem too faraway from my own. There are people who play music and constantly travel across the country. There are people who live in the forest in homes they built themselves. There are people who live in the suburbs, work conventional jobs, and support conventional families. I don't do any of these things, but if I spend time around people who do, then I start to dream about doing them myself. This distracts me from my own dreams and also discourages me from putting down stronger roots. A part of me always wants to be ready to pick and go on a music tour, even though this is an absurd dream for somebody who can't play any music.
Third, crushes are a big deal in Austin. While abroad, there hasn't been a real chance to settle down with somebody, but in Austin this chance always exists. When I'm not on the path of settling down, then I feel like I should be. I pretty much always have a crush on somebody, and just as my desire to impress can steer me away from my true course, so can feelings towards an individual woman. Beyond that, there's also this lingering sense of “What the hell is wrong with me?” which has compelled me to make a lot of bad decisions, such as quitting jobs or distancing myself from friends. When I return to Austin, will I fall right back into this cycle?
I hope that perspective will give me strength.