Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right…

One of my recurring thoughts while I was living in Hong Kong was this idea that I was spinning my wheels. I remember – acutely – looking at my life and wondering what I was doing. I remember thinking to myself, “My goodness, all my peers are doing things. Like buying lots of houses, and having lots of babies, and accumulating lots of things and planning for lots of days lots of years down the road.” At which point I would look around at my life and say, “My god, how did I get here!?” I was not buying lots of houses, or having lots of babies, or accumulating lots of things, and I certainly was not planning for anything anywhere down the road. It seemed like I was doing something wrong. Maybe everything. But, so was everyone else around me. Of course, I judged these people, my friends and allies, equally as harshly: “Look at us, escapees all, avoiding the reality that is life in Manchester, Liverpool, Ontario, Paris, Melbourne, London, Sydney, Wellington, Seattle, and places far less interesting in between. What were we doing? Where were we going?

The wind in the willows playing Tea for Two
The sky was yellow and the sun was blue
Strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand
Everybody is playing in the heart of gold band
Heart of gold band

The reality I was doing tons (tonnes) of things. I was traveling and reading, and writing and taking endless snapshots of it all. It was not perfect, and there were bumps in the road, but I can say with confidence, I was on the road. My friends at home used to say to me, “Oh, I wish I could do…” And I would say, almost glibly, “Well, you can. Why not come over and just do it?” And they would say, “No, I can’t, I have to….”

As I was walking round Grosvenor Square
Not a chill to the winter but a nip to the air
From the other direction she was calling my eye (note 1)
It could be an illusion, but I might as well try
Might as well try

Now I am back in the US… [You don’t know how lucky you are, boy… Back in the US, back in the US] and I find myself checking in on my friends in far off places, who continue to live the way I was living and it looks different now. Now I look longingly at the photos of the Chinese New Year holiday spent in Saigon, the weekend in Samui, the quick trip to Shanghai, to Tokyo, a little sun session in KK. And I say, almost audibly, “I wish I could do that… but I cannot because I have to…”

Have to what, exactly? When pressed to answer… I have nothing.

Well I ain’t often right but I’ve never been wrong
It seldom turns out the way it does in the song
Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right

Right now we are studying empires and imperialism in World History class and we are focusing on the cyclical nature of things. How history doesn’t exactly repeat itself, but if you pay attention, you can make fairly accurate predictions about how things might go – because once in a while you get shown the light. And it is not by accident that this unit of study coincides with the Lunar New Year, because that is a tradition I also like to share with my students and we talk about the cycles of the Chinese zodiac and the patterns and the pleasant predictability of certain elements that make the less predictable shit a little easier to deal with.

My students drew visual representations of cycles at one point last week. There was no limit on how they interpreted this. They could choose perpetual, repetitive cycles, finite cycles, patterns… here are some of the things I got:

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And in the midst of all this, while feeling a bit sedentary these days and frustrated at my go-to response falling somewhere between “I cannot do — because I have to do —” or “You can’t just —” I woke up to a beautiful New Year of the Snake feeling all pleased about my clean house and the wonderfully familiar sense of a new beginning it dawned on me in the most obvious way, I’ve been here before: When I was there I thought I should be here, in spite of the radness of my life (and it is important to acknowledge that the pull to live the life you feel you should and enjoying the life you are living are not mutually exclusive…) and now that I am here I find myself stymied by reasons why I cannot be there. But as the series of thoughts marched across my morning brain, they felt far less significant. After all, they were marching, after all. And truly, I had been here before, so it follows I will probably be there again sometime too.

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I glanced over at Max as he carefully un-straightened all the pictures I had equally carefully straightened the day before. The whole pattern played out in the sunshine, and then I got up and readjusted the pictures.

And reserved my rooms in Bali.

As I picked up my matches and was closing the door
I had one of those flashes I had been there before
Been there before…

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One thought on “Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right…

  1. In this year of the snake (the sloughing off of old skin; a cycle of renewal) and two months to the day after my mum died, I find myself asking, why am I still living on Lamma? Why am I still in Hong Kong? Why am I still at this school? And I do have to wonder if I’ve just become lazy or unimaginative. I’ll let you know when I’ve figured it out. Am in a very weird headspace right now but am beginning to feel, if not a wind, then at least a breeze of change blowing.
    By the way, what you’re doing with your kids is awesome – and that counts for a very great deal.

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