04 July 2010

Catharsis - Don't Look Back in Anger

"Our greatest glory is not in never falling but in rising each time we fall" - Confucius

Running the danger of being criticised of inflating established classifications of certain groups of people for what appears to some a perhaps terribly cheesy and self-pretentious post, I nevertheless decided that taking some notes on my ongoing reflection about this academic year's events would be a good start in reaping their lessons and moving on:

A while ago, I found myself in a tutor's office in the rather uncomfortable position of the formal necessity to share a (true!) tale of homelessness, poverty, illness and betrayal and feeling rather silly for being so worked up about these problems' impact on my future when - at least to me - there are people with seriously worse problems in the world: Famine, house shelling, exploitation, enslavement, war - you name it.

At the same time, during my rushed account, I couldn't help but notice the irony that my story was vaguely reminiscent of a refugee's (or maybe I'm just really fixated!): I kept thinking to myself, "How on earth did I turn into a nano refugee?" and instantly mentally flogged myself in disgust for even remotely comparing my situation to that of a refugee. But hold the thought right there - are the two really so different?

- I left my house because I was not feeling safe there
- Homelessness
- Government authorities were not much use
- A clandestine stay in a place where it was hard to breathe and where it was not possible to drink or use the toilet. I was not sure which scenario was worse: Losing consciousness and not being found for several days or being found and having my library credentials revoked right before exam period in addition to other problems
- Asset depletion: I sold several books to Blackwell's second hand section to buy a few day's groceries with it in lack of other funds
- Periods of malnutrition followed by eventual collapse of immune system due to stress
- Frustration at the external interruption of my life and a strong will to reclaim control over it
- Finally, if you knew my tutor, you would find this even more ironic for there were quite a few rather strange coincidences which results in...
- ... fear of not being believed one's story of expulsion and flight, in a formal setting.

Sound familiar?

Is this one of the lessons I am supposed to take from recent events: To experience the financial hardship and emotional distress in the face of general daily insecurity to make me a better aid worker? Is it life's lesson on the impatience of youth? Or is it a warning reminder to review my priorities in life and be less of a workaholic?

And yet, I found it entirely justified to be concerned about my future. After all, there has been considerable financial, emotional and energetic investment in my studies. Life is short, time is costly, dreams are aplenty and patience is running out. Call me an idealist but I like to believe that anyone can achieve their goal if they are dedicated enough. The road there can be longer for some and shorter for others and of course, a pinch of confidence always helps. Luck also never did anyone any harm.

In spite of all this focus, I realised with shock sometime later that I believe that, exacerbated by the stress of exams, I slid dangerously close to being "taken over by the dark side", in other words: Doubt, rage and bitterness. I guess this reaction is only human. The short trip to Vienna was therefore a soul-saver: Distancing yourself from a certain context and from your stress factors is the 101 of putting things into perspective.

And so, keeping in mind that after every crisis, there usually is space to reflect and reorient yourself, I thought of fun things I would like to do which are not related to study or work at all and which I neglected for a whole year to score at uni.

When I moved to Oxford, the city's vibe struck a familiar chord - the rich and accessible cultural life I am used to from Vienna. I was suddenly surrounded again by posters for events regarding classical music, jazz, renaissance chorals, drama, fine arts and poetry. Plenty of inspiration!

I realised that there were actually quite a few things I would love to do (again), such as finally taking up professional vocal classes, attending a creative writing workshop and playing the piano again but this time exploring other music genres apart from classical music. I also set eyes upon a local documentary film-making workshop which is quite good value for money and which I hope to be able to afford in a few months' time.
I still want to learn how to bellydance and should contact a professional bellydance goddess who I used to study anthropology with and go to one of her affordable and always over-booked classes.
I could also try to learn Silat, a Malaysian/Indonesian martial art; or Eskrima, a Filipino martial art which was developed in resistance to Spanish colonial rule and teaches self-defense with sticks or interchangeable items of everyday use, for example umbrellas. On the more long-term and pricey end, I would like to do a proper course on rock-climbing techniques (the highest I ever climbed up was 12m, I think) and learn how to ride a horse.

Yes, I believe I should try to unwind a bit from this year's study craze and enjoy what I hope to be ultimately be earning a living with to preserve - life.

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