Resolutions II 12-01-2013

At the beginning of last year, I posted a short spiel about my New Year's Resolutions for 2012. It was my first time truly caring about the concept, and I laid out three primary things that I wanted to pursue: Travel, Photography, and Learning. More specifically, I wanted to travel to at least one place off of the East Coast, in order break the static geographic constancy of my life and to dig deeper into other cultures. I wanted to "explore photography further" to help me "see the world around me with greater clarity and more penetrating insight" and to help dispel some of my misplaced cynicism. And I wanted to learn something significant about at least twenty of the thirty topics on the Learning List that I had created beforehand, in order to help drive my post-collegiate education forward.

The question to be asked, however, is did I follow through? New Years' Resolutions are notorious in popular media as being the thing that people have difficulty pursuing for more than a few days. Be it the relatively long-term scope of the Resolution or just a general human malaise, we seem to find it hard to maintain focus and interest beyond initial foreplay. Did I fall into that trap? Before taking a closer look, let us note that each Resolution is, for me, not an end in and of itself. They are means to ends, to important personal goals that I have laid out for myself. It is entirely possible that I could say, "Yes, I accomplished all three of these things that I set out to do," while also having to tack on the unfortunate addendum that "However, none of these things actually accomplished the greater goal that I had hoped they would." That would likely be just as bad as not doing any of the three.

So. What actually happened?

Looking Back

One: I traveled. A lot. All over the place. If you recall, I had stated the following about my self-imposed adventure starvation:

In my life, I have never been: north of New York City, west of West Virginia, off of the eastern seaboard of the United States, on an airplane.

Each of those thresholds was shattered, with style and panache, might I add. My first time on an airplane was a trip from Washington, D.C. to London; I've been on some thirty more flights--including one that I jumped out of (with a parachute, I assure you)--in the ensuing eight months. That flight to London was also my first time north of New York City and off of the East Coast. The remarkable excursion to Western Europe was a very important milestone in my life, but it was not the only travel that I saw: a non-exhaustive list of locales that I visited includes London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Detroit, Windsor, Ann Arbor (about a trillion distinctly wonderful times), New York City, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, Olympic National Park, Vancouver, Virginia Beach, and Richmond, along with day and weekend trips to a dozen nearby spots such as Shenandoah Valley, Lake Monticello, Great Falls, Fort Belvoir, Bedford, National Harbor, Alexandria, and every single block in D.C.

There was a period of time in the Summer, and again in the Autumn, where I found myself on a plane or an extended car ride to somewhere new every week for over a month. So yes, I travelled. Nonstop. It became a central focus of my life, one that continues to drive much of what I do to this very moment (more on that later). But did it meet my ultimate goal, to provide greater insight into and deeper experience with different parts of our world? Absolutely! My experiences in Europe, the Northwest, and Detroit, in particular, threw me out of my typical comfort zones and forced me to see the world from drastically different perspectives. I learned a great deal about that which is external and, consequently, that which is internal. This time that I have spent on the move over the past eight months has been the most enriching of my life. Resolution met.

Two: I photographed. After my research and initial trepidation, I finally purchased a sweet camera and got to work recording anything and everything. I had to learn lessons along the way, not just about the mechanics and technique of photography, but about the concept. I had to learn, like my teacher before me, that just because something is beautiful doesn't mean I need to capture it. And I had to learn not to let this consume me on my travels, to not let the central focus of my experiences become subsumed by the camera. But these were good lessons. And I think I have possibly even gotten a bit better with much practice. After initial flirtation with Instagram before deciding it just wasn't my taste, I set up a Flickr to keep track of my adventures through the lens. It is lovely to be able to go back and see where I have been and to recall fond memories, to have something visual and visceral that I can hold onto and in turn share with the people that I care for.

But was the bigger, deeper lesson learned? Did the capture of particularly fascinating instances in space and in time help to break the morose fog that clouded my perspective? I think so! Though I still at times struggle with "soul phlegm" as it was once so eloquently put, I do believe that I've grown to find more joy and wonder in the world. It was always there, I just needed to figure out how to see it. Getting behind a camera, being compelled to capture that which truly enraptures me, being able to retrospect and look back with a smile and a knowing nod: this has been remarkably therapeutic. It has changed how I see and interact with everything around me, and I look forward to seeing its continued effects take shape.

Three: I learned. Though perhaps not in the way that I expected to. I'm not precisely sure what my thought process was, but I think that perhaps I was expecting to proceed through my Learning List almost mechanically, that I would sit down at pseudo-designated times and learn about some particular item on the list. I think I was expecting the list to drive my continued education by providing a rubric of sorts that I could return to and check off subjects.

That is not at all what happened, and I see now that it was a flawed approach. I learn best organically: when something piques my curiosity, I like to dive in and explore, at my own pace, with my own destinations in mind. Much like my approaches to travel or to rendezvous with friends, I prefer to let things flow without much planning or intervention. When something strikes me, I know it, and I learn about it as I wish. Being told what is worthy of learning, even by a past iteration of myself, is not something that I respond to well.

So though I did learn varying amounts about many of the topics on the initial Learning List, I did not refer to the list even once throughout the year. It sat on the desk in my den, where I would give it an occasional glimpse and ruminate passively and dispassionately about it for a scant few seconds. In this regard, the resolution was not met. It was mostly ignored. But the aim--to continue to self-educate in a time when I no longer have a structured academic environment enveloping me--was met. I've learned how I want to learn, and it is happening, with every moment of every day.

Looking Forward

This year I have one primary resolution, and one secondary resolution which follows dynamically from the first. That primary resolution is a repeat of last year's highlight: Travel. Keep exploring. Keep seeking out the new. Keep scratching the itch, embracing the bug. There are few greater thrills and highs than being in a completely new place, seeing something you've never seen before, knowing in the moment that you are experiencing something you've never felt, never tasted, never realized. In 2013, I want to continue to push my jetsetting, globetrotting, perpetually moving mode to the furthest reaches.

And there is already a great deal to look forward to. In less than a week, I embark on my first trip to San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, I take off for a familiar place, New York City, with an exciting, similarly restless travel partner, my totally awesome sister. Immediately after that comes an extended stay in Brazil and Argentina. Oh gosh yes. When I return to the States: a jaunt to Los Angeles and a not-quite-resolved excursion with my fellow Opower engineers that is sure to delight. Beyond that, my sights are set, albeit somewhat hazily, on Africa. But ultimately I have no idea what comes next. Some of my most memorable trips have come completely out of the ether. Here's to new adventure.

But that secondary resolution? One goal of mine, that I would like to pursue sooner rather than later, is to spend time living abroad. The current trajectory that I seem to be following makes this a real possibility in the not-too-distant future and, when I do go, I want to resolve to attain fluency in whatever the local language may be. At present, I speak reasonable Spanish and questionable English. I've been learning French and Portuguese in my spare time. I've always wanted to learn Italian. So: if I do find myself in the trip of all trips, my resolution is to become fluent in the local language as soon as possible.

That would be something.