Monday, June 15, 2015

In Which a Sidekick Is Introduced

Whatever the time of day is where you're, dearest potential readers, I hope that it's good. My name is Guy, and I'll be co-hosting this blog whilst stumbling wearily at Shahar's heels on our titular fools(') errand: his own personal Sancho Panza, his Dr. Watson, his Robin the Boy Wonder. As I'm all but certain you soon would, if you haven't already, you'll notice that my posts can be easily told apart (all to more easily skip them) for their excessive verbiage, liberal smattering of misapplied terms from inappropriate linguistic stages and the implied notion that either of the two can be somehow justified if only they're ironically acknowledged beforehand by the writer. Shahar has requested that I make a post about my feelings regarding the upcoming trip and now he'll see what comes of it.

Since I'm going to spend the next six months or as such doing just that, I shall start by following in the man's steps and introducing myself in more detail (in fact, I've a gnawing suspicion that the vast majority of this post would consist of little more, given the thought processes involved). As I already half-said, my name is Guy Reisman, 21 years old male, from Ra'anana, Israel. Like Shahar, I am and have for some time been a nerd – perhaps not as extrovertly as he (and not quite entirely in all the same senses), but vigorously nevertheless and in the fashion that tends to consume one's whole lifestyle and mindset from childhood, as tends to happen to nerds. I'd like to be able to say with good conscience that I'm an eccentric, or quirky, but both terms would be disingenuous. "Eccentricity", as the word is most usually used, implies either wisdom or knowledge – as if to hint by description that one's strangeness has somehow been the price one has paid for the acquisition of such – whereas "quirkiness" tends to be used as a term of endearment. A "quirky" individual is weird in the fluffy, colorful way that the designated love interest in a teen romantic comedy is, just as much to make clear that they have the potential to pull the dreary protagonist away from their bleak daily lives and into a festival of experience and sensation the likes of which they literally haven't imagined thus far.

I'm neither of those things. I'm just weird. I haven't gone out with friends until I was late into middle-school, and despite being able to name from the top of my head the functions and titles of a dozen Mayan gods and explain the mechanics behind quantum physical phenomena, I still don't entirely know how to make use of the post office (or what the way there is, for that matter), much less the bank, change the oil on my car, or tie my shoelaces right. I'm deathly afraid of cockroaches and can't sit with my back against a chair. I spend hours looking up obscure titles of cartoon porn the contents thereof raise concerns about my sexual orientation, sanity, and mental lucidity (and I insist on there being a difference). I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night just to make sure that every single object in my room is lying at a 90o compared to the wall and at 5 centimeter incitements from all other ones (it bothers me when they don't), and I'd rather not eat for a day than leave my room and go to the kitchen if there's anyone there but my parents. I've never been away from home for more than two weeks at a time – and that was during basic training.  

I decided to go on a sixth month camping trip on a whim.

This, by itself, is neither a very informative statement, nor does it adequately illustrate both the absurdity and the decade-long emotional chain reaction which has (so far as I've been able to analyze it following the occasion) led to this strange and unexpected development.
As I've explained in some length above (forgive my verbosity, I've been dying to write some of those down for posterity for months now), I'm not exactly the type of person one would normally envision making that kind of choice. The fact to be mindful of, though, is that until not many years back, I was far, far further. What little progress I've made since then on the theoretical scale of functionality-as-an-adult-human-being I owe, of all people, to Shahar and friends.

We met for the first time over the internet (I used to meet most of my friends there), on an Israeli anime fandom forum that might no longer exist today, for all that I know of it. We hit of magnificently, with a furious argument about the precise definition of science fiction that he no doubt still thinks that he won. That's how you know nerds love each other. Several months later, I was introduced to the man in person (and through him, to many dear, longtime friends) on a "real-life convention" for the forum members, and to this day, I remember the decision to go on it – a very difficult one, mind you, for someone who until then and up to today faces trouble leaving his room when the time's not right – as one of the best I've made. Outside home, on the streets of Tel-Aviv, for the first time in life truly by myself and away from the comforts of family and home, surrounded (again, for the first time) by people with whom I could talk to and share both my feelings and interest, I stayed out later than I ever have. I've experienced joys the likes of which I'd read and written about, but which I was never able to thus far appreciate, which seemed to me as alien and wonderful as they were tantalizingly forbidden. On consecutive meetings with Shahar, which eventually became their own thing and separate from "real-life forum conventions", I spoke for the first time with kids whom I didn't know from school, and was astounded by how deep and friendly and interesting they could be. I had alcohol for the first time and went into a 24/7 grocery store to buy snacks in the middle of the night for the first time.

It feels almost pathetic to write that. By all means, I think that it should. These are things every young kid should find for themselves at a far earlier age than I did. They shouldn't seem nearly so magical as they did to me, who grew up coddled and with a silver spoon in his mouth not by my parents (whom I now know would've both been, for all their incredible understanding, ecstatic for me to strike out first) but by my own childish and emotionally retarded nature. I retell the events as they happened, however. The fact of the matter is that through Shahar, for the first time in my life, I saw the world. That the world was a half-hour's bus ride (I never took the bus before meeting Shahar. It was dirty and full of noisy people) away from home and made up of convention centers and cafes and late night meeting spots by the beach was inconsequential. To me, it might as well have been a place across mountains it oceans. It might've been as distant as Ghana, Brazil or Japan.

Years went by too fast and underappreciated. That is the nature of years. I grew, and though only by little, my thought processes and my understanding of reality and my place in it grew more complex. I became aware, on a different level of being, of how inappropriate it was for me to be as I still am – a juvenile, emotionally dependent manchild whose time and effort are invested solely in instant gratification and the consumption of media. I pitied myself, but even though I realized it, in my mind, my feeble heart wouldn't allow action on that self-pity was a form of escape. To wallow in misery means to punish oneself for real or imagined wrongdoings, so that one might feel that the scales have been balanced (wrong=punishment) and dodge the too-obvious conclusion that wrongs don't require punishment, but to be fixed.

It was one of my last nights in the tenth grade. Shahar and his friends and mine and I all went to the beach. It was becoming a ritual, of kind. The time was long after dark. The sky, a pitch black that melds with the sea. A cool, Mediterranean wind whispered wistfully east (there goes my alliteration). We were seated around a campfire.

The flames whispered calmly in kind. They spoke to the wind, and it answered.

We passed around us a bottle of the world's cheapest whiskey. We ate chicken that Shahar roasted, and as the hours drew on and the moon rose high with the tides, those lit in fire orange against the blackness spoke.

We spoke about trivial things, at first. We spoke about movies. Video games. Books. We spoke about trivia, and made jokes, and imitated fictional characters, and each other. We spoke to the group. We spoke to individuals. We spoke to ourselves. Every once in a while, one or two people would leave the group. They'd go a few meters away to take a piss, or to kiss, or to say something to each other that didn't bear anyone else listening.
I won't tell you, now, when it was that a dear friend named Lemmy took my aside to talk. I won't tell just what he said.

If you're wondering, it involved two anime quotes, and a dash of his own roleplaying experiences.

That conversation opened my eyes about many things. At times, I wonder if I should've followed more closely the guidelines Lemmy spelled during it. He offered me a bible to life. A roadmap of the inner universe. It sounds like something you'd hear from a cult member. In my defense, we used to joke back then that Lemmy was a facet of Christ.

(You'll probably hear more about him in before our journey ends).

One piece of advice he did give me, though, and that since then I've tried to follow at almost all times, was this: never say "no" to a challenge just because it's impossible. That's the secret of doing impossible things.

I kept it to heart ever since, and for the most part I'd like to believe that it has served me well. I chose to interpret it liberally – "when the prospect of doing something crazy comes up, first assume you'll accept it then work back from there", and minus a few minor falls along the way (I'm reminded of how, maybe two years before that, I chose after a moment's hesitation to sign my name on a page passed among us in class and thereby commit to a yearlong Boy Scouts' counselor course – all because a girl I had a seventh grade crash on signed a moment before that. We didn't even end up in the same group, and having met with her years later I can now say with certainty that she was an idiot and the grapes were totally sour. It was alike this, but out of dedication to an ideal, rather than puberty) it's led me to some of the most intense moments of my life. Each one was a new beginning. Each one was a piece of the world revealed, and thus guided by Lemmy's words, step by step, I began on the road towards becoming not the person I wanted to be, but the person I had to. Happier by a measure. More confident. Reliable. 

So when Shahar brought up, one day, the fact that he'd like to go on a six month trip in Japan and that nobody else would join him, I said "yes" without hesitation. Admittedly, back then the idea seemed so far-fetched (and so distant in time – there would be literally years until we had to, theoretically, go!) that it may not have mattered so much. A part of me may have even assumed, if only subconsciously (hoped?) that the trip would be cancelled before we even got started preparing for it. When Shahar called me several months ago and began, out of the blue, talking about buying a tent and a sleeping bag and making plans, it first took me a minute to recall what he was talking about at all.

Then came a momentary terror, then bemusement. Then that subtle dread, so much that you hardly notice it except in retrospect, that accompanies the setting of a countdown. Six months, it was? Maybe more?

For a time, I set the thought aside, or tried to. It lingered in the back of my mind, in the fashion of long-term plans ("one day, I'll write that book") and outside my conversations with Shahar, I paid it little attention. As more and more time passed, however, the more it became apparent that Shahar was serious. The trip was a serious deal. One way or another, it was going to happen.

The moment I resigned myself fully to it was when Shahar took me to buy equipment at first. A tent, special traveling clothes, water purification devices… All things Shahar understood and which never really interested me before (and probably still don't, at least not nearly as much as they do him. Woe to me if we ever part, I still don't know how I managed to mentally float through all the times I was instructed on how to use half the gear).

Regardless, they cost nearly 10,000 NIS (3500$, give or take). I figured that once I've spent that kind of money on the trip, I wouldn't be able to cancel it in good conscience. It's not that my family's struggling (thank God for that), but maybe it's precisely because I never worked a day in my life and all my money always comes from my parents that I forever feel terrible about asking for any amount of it. The feeling that I don’t deserve it is a burden to bear, in a literal "rich people's problems" kind of way.

And I made my dedication. Now, I'm waiting for the flight, that should happen in a couple of days. This part of the introduction is over. I've written almost 3000 words and haven't gotten near where I wanted (it's just something that happens when I write). The thing is, when I put my mind just to it, my words uncharacteristically fail me.

If I were to express my feelings right now in a painting, it would be one of roiling storm-clouds, seen through an old fashioned glass windowpane. Out there, the winds howl and the air gets colder and wetter. There's a hint of something terrible coming, in the original sense of the word ("which begets terror"). A powerful, majestic disaster, the manifestation of forces beyond human ken and representative of something supernal. The type of looming death one can imagine themselves, in a fit of madness, rushing forth to welcome with their arms spread open. The clouds are visible. Their force can be only imagined, but still. They move slowly over the horizon to cover the sky, and maybe the storm will flatten that dark, imaginary house, and maybe it won't. What matters for the imaginary viewer, though, is that the clouds are out there. Behind the window, their image is blurred. The sound of the wind is muffled to a faint and unknowable roar at the edge of perception.

That window is a curtain I've artificially erected between my everyday thoughts and what I can only presume to be an excitement which would've rendered me completely incapacitated if I hadn't contained it beyond. I can see that anxiety gathering, in the recesses of my mind – the worries and fears and regrets welling up, but safely, for now, as I smile and part with my current life in Israel.

There are all too many regrets. I find myself thinking, sometimes, that this sensation must be reminiscent somehow of that experienced by the terminally ill (with all due respect to them mentioned, for which I have as much as I have little knowledge, which itself has been gained mostly off cheap drama novels and tearjerking films). The words "this is the last" keep swirling eternally through my mind. Everything I do or experience has an air of dreadful finality.

This is the last slice I'll eat of dad's homemade pizza. This is the last glass of mint lemonade. This is the last conversation I'll have my friends together, on a Saturday morning. Last time that we'll meet at home, and promise ourselves that next time, surely, we'll play a good game of D&D, like in the old times (why did we stop?). This is the last episode I'll watch of that cool new series (and to think that the next season's about to start just a few days after we leave…). This is the last time I'll wake up in bed, at home. The last time I'll go to the toilet there. Last time I use our shower (should I've been more appreciative of those little pleasures?). Last chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring that I'll read to my brother before bed. We still haven't gotten to Rivendell. He'll never hear me making his first ever impression of Gimli (and why is it that all those descriptions of hobbits struggling to move under the weight of their immense supply backpacks, quickly through the moors and fields, now feel that much more ominous?).

Friends and family members try to reassure me that six months is not all that long. While not incorrect, and while I vastly appreciate their concern, the notion nevertheless fails to calm me. Firstly, any period of time has a way of stretching while it is being experienced – and far more so if it is spent somewhere unfamiliar, doing hard work or alternatively, not much at all (just ask any IDF soldier who has to spend eight hours a time on watch). As I've already explained above, I'm very much a creature of both routine and comfort. The idea of going on even a single day's hike is overwhelming to me. Six months might as well be forever, on this scale of individualized time. That statistically, most people return from their trips to Japan (and if they like mint lemonade, will probably be able to find some more once they're back) doesn't matter because what's then is then, and what's somewhere else is then, too.  It feels like I'm the person who worries the most and is excited the least about it all. Everyone else keeps patting me on the back and pointing forward. Telling me how much I'm going to have, and how easy it's going to feel thinking back on it, regardless of how hard it might look facing it now. Shahar, in particular, seems to me awfully unconcerned about things. I had to beg him to draw us a map, and my bag's packed with twice as many supplies as he'd asked me to because I have a feeling we're going to need some of them. Extra clothing, extra medicines, spare batteries. You never know, and I'd rather be safe than sorry. Shahar says I'm paranoid. I say people tend to complain about having to carry around extra gear on trips only until it turns out to be needed. That's how it was with basic training, in any case.
Secondly, it fails to reassure me because it misses what is, for me, the point. This journey represents more than just a physical trek across a land I've never been to (past a continent and an ocean). It represents a transition from one state of existence to another. One that I do not welcome, but acknowledge the fact that I should.

My life is and always has been the life of a spoiled child. Even back when I was serving at the army, even when I was at school, in the great scheme of things I did very little beyond what I wanted to do (that instant, stupidly). The last few months, since my service has ended, I've spent doing almost nothing besides. Each day, while my friends and parents work and study and grow as people I wake up whenever I like, and after having a quick and unhealthy breakfast sit down in front of my computer and spend the rest of the day, until bed, either reading or writing or sating whatever childish urge for media has been passing my fancy that day. I'd be lying if I said I don't like it, on some level. It's certainly a pleasurable way to exist, if not a fulfilling one. It's also, alas, not one that can be reasonably sustained – and if it can, then, do you know – it shouldn't.

I look up the screen and see the tabs open on my browser. A to do list in internet links. Over thirty series' I still want to watch, "some time". Over fifteen books I still want to read. New ones keep coming out. Ones on my shelf that I've never even opened, because, paradoxically, there never seemed to be enough time "at the moment", yet there always seemed to be an infinity of it "sometime later".

I look up and realize, now more acutely than ever, that I won't ever finish watching and reading all those. I won't write down all the ideas that keep popping into my mind. I probably won't fulfill all of my childish dreams, petty or grand as they might've been. Once I come back from Japan the time will come to set on my college studies, then work, then "life" – its entirety encapsulated in that short, frightful word – and there won't be anymore time or justification for continuing to act like a child. Leaving meaninglessly, for nothing.

Hopefully, by the time I return from Japan, I'd have grown up enough as a person to be able to deal with this more constructively. Independence, both emotional and in practice, is a scary but necessary thing to achieve. What better way than to make it the only way to, for a time, survive? (or at least convince oneself that it's so, rather than there always being the option of hopping onto the next train to Tokyo and from there on a plane back to Tel-Aviv, our dreams shattered upon the alter of cowardice).

Finishing writing, as opposed to starting, has always been a hard thing for me. No matter how much I've written, no matter how much I've said, there's always the feeling that I've missed something I'm going to regret. That at some later point, I'm going to think back to the text and then – "I should've also mentioned… I could've better… Maybe if I'd deleted, and then, instead…".

But texts need their proper endings. Blog posts, as much as any other kind. So instead of a proper ending (didn't we just being?), I'll say this:

As afraid as I am right now, and as worried as I’m, I try not to lose sight of the hope that this trip represents. Or myriad hopes, as it does. Immediate hopes. Hopes for the near future. For further than that.

I hope that it'll be alright. I hope that I'll be fun. I hope that I'll learn something from it. I hope that it'll change who I am. I hope the world stays the same when I'm back.

I hope that you'll join me along, for the ride.

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