Sunday, 27 July 2008

Stateside Sisyphus

Who am I kidding? It's tough living here in the US of A.

Everything I wrote in my earlier posts is still true. Our surroundings are still way prettier than we can believe. Our neighbours are still incredibly nice, and strangers are still unaccountably friendly. We've had spells of miserable cold rain, but we've also had plenty of glorious sunshine on endlessly long summer days.

So what's the problem? Life, I guess, and what it takes to live it.

After the office-work and house-work have been seen to, there is little time and less energy left over for anything else at the end of a day. My long silences on this blog are eloquently mute testimony to that. I knew that living here would take some work, but so far it has been just a little bit more than I was prepared for.

I feel oppressed by the feeling that the my day is merely assembled from a sequence of tasks that need to be completed. Every morning I wake up feeling that I have a fraction less energy than I did the morning before. I'm tempted to make a to-do list to help me get things under control again. And I'm not making that list because I'm afraid that once it starts, it will keep getting longer. I'm scared I'll keep adding things to that list faster than I can check them off.

I've found it impossible to fully relax. I seem to have a constant semi-conscious scan running on my memory banks, trying to recall what 'useful things' I should be doing. As a result I have not truly goofed off in weeks. That does not mean I have been in constant motion; on the contrary it means I have often been paralyzed into inactivity, intimidated by all the things that I'm supposed to do that still stand undone.

Yes this is a whinge. I usually find a way to end these whinges with an upbeat memo to myself. This time I don't have the heart for it.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Behind The Veil

I knew that just because I'd been consuming American pop culture for years, that did not mean I should expect America to seem familiar when I actually got here. Still, I keep getting surprised by the things that surprise me.

I'm still getting used to the wholesomeness of suburbia. The weather is simply flawless. At least it's flawless by my standards; I've heard locals describe it as humid but coming from tropical Singapore that really does not wash. At any rate, it's all too easy to spend an entire evening in the park watching kids play, watching people walk their dogs, watching jet planes silently leave vapour trails high in the sky, watching the moon rise in a crystal clear summer sky. And people are nice here. I don't know how to put it any more expressively. They're just ... neighbourly. And being a bit of a grouch myself, that takes some getting used to!

There are other surprises. I always thought of the US as Political Correctness Central, but I'm amazed at how rude radio talk shows can be. The Presidential elections are a constant backdrop to everything here, and the radio hosts are openly insulting about whichever candidate they do not support. For instance one talk show host insists on refering to Barack Obama as YoBama (the emphasis is his, not mine). I thought I had a thick skin, but even I cringe at some of the remarks I get to hear.

An English colleague who's lived in America for years had an interesting comment to make. "America is more diverse than Europe," he said. "In Europe they all speak different languages but the people are the same. Over here they speak the same language but they're totally different from one place to the next." It's going to be interesting to discover the truth of that observation.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Where Noone Knows My Name

We all have them. The songs that mark certain chapters of our lives, like musical bookmarks. My first ever crush on a girl was set to the music of Dreams by Van Halen. When Sammy Hagar screamed "We'll get higher and higher, straight up we'll climb", he could have been describing my state of euphoria. Later, during my somewhat bipolar years in college, the Doors' provided the soundtrack with Roadhouse Blues. As they pointed out, "The future's uncertain and the end is always near." More recently, as I prepared to leave Singapore, the song that played repeatedly in my head was Leaving On A Jet Plane.

I'm leaving on a jet plane. Don't know when I'll be back again.
Oh babe, I hate to go

- John Denver

Years ago I read Dune because it was a terribly fashionable science fiction epic. I discovered it was also terribly boring. But somewhere in its ponderous prose was a passage I have never forgotten...
"Thufir, what're you thinking?" Paul asked. Hawat looked at the boy. "I was thinking we'll all be out of here soon and likely never see the place again." "Does that make you sad?" "Sad? Nonsense! Parting with friends is a sadness. A place is only a place."

And that's exactly how I feel about leaving Singapore. Even more so after the frequently overwhelming farewells of the last couple of weeks. What were they like? There were some gruffly spoken goodbyes. Some stiff-upper-lipped nods among the guys, because that's just what guys do. Some hugs. A few tears. Many pictures. A couple of beers. A couple more beers. One karaoke night. Lots of amazing presents, the sort you only get from people who really know you.

And one theme song

It's called Boston. I was introduced to it by a friend who told me I'd find it fits my situation perfectly. She was right.

I think I'll go to Boston
I think I'll start a new life
I think I'll start it over
Where noone knows my name

- Augustana

We knew we'd arrived in a new place when we landed at Newark and saw some boys practicing headspins to the sound of music only they could hear. We're truly going to start a new life tomorrow, when we move into our house. I've been a city rat all my life. Now I'm about to get my first taste of suburbia.

But that's the whole point of moving here: to shake up the life we were living. To change things around and make them fresh and new and exciting again. Exciting is not always pleasant. But then the only thing that's always pleasant is a coma.

I'd rather be awake.