Friday, July 8, 2011

Getting comfortable about operating outside my comfort zone

Ten days ago the only things I knew for certain about Bali was that my mentor worked here, and that I trusted her enough to fly halfway around the globe because she said 1) it would further my scholarship on gender and how it relates to mass violence, and 2) because she said it would be fun. Going on that, and the fact that I felt God/Universe/Spirit/whathaveyou had lined things up too perfectly for the series of events that made it possible for me to come here for it to simply be ‘coincidence’, but rather that I really was meant to come…whether this is for some greater purpose or simply because, like Leslie said, it will be good for me, I have no idea.

I do know this, though, ten days ago I had never:
1)Danced (badly) to salsa/low caste Balinese music under the stars with fifty people from another country, much less ones that called me friend from the second we met.
2)Eaten rabbit (delicious).
3)Eaten snakefruit (not so much).
4)Been in a Hindu temple.
5)Seen people go into trance and stab themselves in trance while being protected from getting cut by the gods embodied within them while in trance.
6)Brushed my teeth using a drain as a sink.
7)Eaten out of a paper bag.
8)Ridden on a motorbike without being scared shitless.
9)Ridden on a motorbike with a helmet that I actually own (it’s cute, too!).
10)Slept in an airport.
11)Explored a foreign city on my own.
12)Been afraid of a twelve pound, eight week old puppy (seriously, my host family’s new puppy is not a super friendly guy).
13)Eaten eggs with a spoon.
14)Had a friend whose name literally translates to “second child, upper caste”.
15)Been really, truly ok with using a dipper and airdry in place of toilet paper.
16)Felt safe sleeping in my own room without my partner. Everyone in the village here is related, and goes generation upon generation back. Being a guest of the family I am staying with, extended relatives of Leslie and Degung’s, I have felt one hundred percent ‘safe’, even though it’s an open air house. In the U.S., 'safety' is about being afraid of people breaking in, getting murdered and raped (not in that order, necessarily), whatever. Here, I conceptualize safety much more as access to clean water, medical care, and enough sleep to be able to function without making an ass of myself (at least not with any greater frequency than I do at home).
17)Had a massage on the beach.
18)Regretted having a massage on the beach.
19)Embraced the wonders of a bucket shower as actually just fine and rather efficient, once you get over the cold water.
20)Taken “if Laura Ingalls Wilder could do this shit, so can I” as a personal, frequently invoked mantra.

Yes, I feel super vulnerable in about a million and four ways: I’m out of my element, I am surrounded by people who I don’t know and who don’t know me. I am, on even my best day, somewhat socially awkward in intimate social settings with people I am just getting to know. I’m self-aware to a fault, and often end up coming off as stand-offish when I’m trying to be mindful of not dominating the conversation and being the center of attention. I have a super big personality, and can slip into ‘look at me, look at me’ without even knowing I’m doing it. My awareness of this lovely little personality flaw and my overcompensation for it often come off as stilted and reserved. This has been really, really hard over the past few days, but looking over this list, I don’t regret for one second my decision to come here.

This afternoon I had a conversation with someone about the hopeless dread I feel when I sit down to write anything ‘academic’. It’s like looking over a vast chasm devoid of any light. Staring over the abyss, I have no idea how I will possibly turn my lack of understanding and inspiration into something readable, much less something that furthers thinking on gender and violence. The process of jumping into the abyss, however, has always yielded not just decent- sometimes even good- writing and sound theoretical discussion, but has also helped me to, one abyss at a time, trust the process of walking (or writing) through the unknown.

Perhaps the awkwardness and self-doubt I feel is the personal abyss I am here to work through. Gazing into its frigid depths at the beginning, I really wasn’t sure I would be able to emerge on the other side. The above list gives me hope that, yes, there are glimmering stepping stones dotting the horizon of personal and professional growth before me. Just for today, that’s enough of a reason for me to keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that the stones will continue to appear on my journey to the opposite shore.

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