Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What I Learned on My Summer Vacation

While in the world's largest inland swamp, we were fortunate to meet a family from Sweden. They impressed not just because of their easy going demeanor, cosmopolitan background, excellent sense of humor, and adventurous choice in family vacations. They were also superb conversationalists, mostly because they asked good questions. This is one skill that I have definitely not developed. I tend to think of a nice chat as more an opportunity to speak than to listen, probably because I have so many intelligent, well thought out things to say.

One question in particular caught me off guard. Momma Swede asked what it was that I had learned about myself during the first 8 months of The OC. I have spent a lot of time writing in this blog about things that I have learned about the world, but rarely do I consider what I may have learned about me. It seems that my level of introspection is roughly equal to my level of modesty. The following is an effort to record whatever insights I have gained into self during the year of the OC.

Lesson 1 - I do not need much luxury to be happy. The OC only roughed it for periods of days at a time, but I see no reason why I could not live in a hut and bathe in a stream for periods of years. Seeing the way the world really lives has left me feeling a bit awed and embarrassed by the largesse of the West. We spend a lot of time cleaning things that are clean enough and expanding homes that do not need new features. All this luxury seems symptomatic of skewed goals. I call for less DIY and more time with family and friends. Furthermore, possessions are a giant pain in the ass. Unless you can pay somebody else to maintain something, it probably isn't worth owning.

Lesson 2 - I am at my best in situations that require immediate action. That is not to say that I can not make and execute a plan, but it is to say that I really shine when I am thinking exclusively on my feet. A large part of this is the willingness to make immediate decisions with the expectation that some of them will be wrong. I only feel paralyzed by choice when I have a long time to think. I reckon I might be a good low-level military officer, as they are put into situations where making a decision immediately is almost more important than making the right one. Thankfully, cocktail party banter is probably as close to an actual firefight as I will ever get.

Lesson 3 - Learning is a great joy, but it easily frustrates. I get turned off of things quickly if I do not feel like I am making steady progress. During the trip, I managed to learn a bit of Spanish because I could see immediate progress and results. I did not mange to become a video editing expert, because the tools require patience and careful practice. When I need to learn something to achieve a goal, I have learned to continually remind myself that short term frustration will be totally erased by long term accomplishment.

Lesson 4 - I have strong preferences, and I stick to them to the point of what some might consider irrationality. For example, I do not like to wear short trousers. They make grown men look like little boys. Even in situations where I might be more comfortable in shorts, I prefer to wear trousers and keep my dignity intact. Similarly, I do not care for semi-colons in my prose. They are just the right combination of showy and pointless to really raise my ire.

Lesson 5 - All of my biggest regrets in life - the ones that haunt me late at night when I can not get to sleep - involve backing down from fights. Despite all the civilized logic to the contrary, sometimes I think that receiving or handing out a beating would be much better than a lifetime of nagging shame. Even if you get a good kicking, at least you stood up for yourself. It may sound a bit silly, but I do not feel like a fully grown man because I have never been in a decent brawl. Also because I can not fix a car to save my life.


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