Jack Johnson, Apologies, and Musings

Aberdeen Bird - Brazil

December 10, 2015

I keep sitting down to write a blog to keep you curious people updated, whoever you are.  I’ve done a lot here, had a lot of amazing experiences, I could tell you what my days have looked like, how I’ve started to learn how to surf, how I was homeless for a little over two weeks….,how amazing my apprenticeships are, how I’m no longer forced to fend off angry, stray dogs but every time I go to write a summary, I just can’t.  I instead find myself writing what I’ve learned, how my views are changing, writing messages I want to share with anyone who has taken the time to read my scrambled thoughts.  I realized that’s what’s more important anyway, isn’t it?  What meaning do my days here have if I haven’t taken something away from them?  Anyone could write about their daily activities, but I could have found more meaning in the mundane coffee cup than someone else could have found in a spiritual yoga retreat, you never know.  

As usual, you can’t expect a post that is sewn together very well, but you can expect an assortment of musings and fuzzy strings of thoughts.  I promise I’m capable of writing stories and pieces that are both put together and pleasing to the eye, but I’d rather these posts reflect my personality and gap year experience.  Life isn’t ever really sleek and combed down.  If it appears that it is, you’re not looking very closely.  I like to keep my posts honest and more raw than if I’d gone back through and edited and picked and corrected and brushed and gelled and erased.  All I can hope is that readers can connect to my thoughts and life experiences and leave with their own self reflection. Corny. Here it goes.

Things have turned around for me pretty drastically in the past month, I was pretty miserable before and wanted to go home, every single day.  Now, I know that April will come faster than I’d ever want it to and I’ll be sad to leave.  I’ve really had my life touched by the people I’m meeting.  Speaking of meeting new people, I never expected my name to be an issue.  Of course the people here are entirely capable of saying my name, but I know that it’s hard to pronounce so I’ve adopted an “apelido”, or nickname, for my stay here and so now I’m Abe.  You pronounce it “Ay-Bee”, I’ve gotten quite fond of it.  

Every time I meet someone new, our encounter goes as follows (but in Portuguese):

Me: “My name is Abe, nice to meet you.”

New acquaintance: “Amy?”

Me: “No, Abe.  A, B, E.”

N.A: “Oh…”  *cue eyebrow raise*

Me: “Well my real name is Aberdeen…”

N.A: “as;ldkjglsjdgoiwhaeegwlkj?”

Me: “No, Aberdeen.” *spells name*

N.A: “Yea, we’re gonna stick with Abe.”

Me: “Yea, I know…”

I don’t mind this, I just find it entertaining because it’s the same thing every time.  Oh, I’m also asked how old I am and everyone is shocked that I’m not 15… I cry a little on the inside each time I’m told that I look like a freshman in high school.  Yes.  THAT is the aesthetic I was looking for.  It’s very strange to me because back in the U.S people usually thought I was older but I guess that doesn’t fly here.

I like to think that I’ve chilled out a lot from being here.  I might have denied that I needed any calming down prior to coming here which is usually a red flag that someone is indeed, in need of some chilling.  Looking back at lots of the things I worried about, it all seems so pointless.  I think I used to feel like I had something to prove.  I had to try and prove that I’m intelligent, that I’m interesting, that I’m beautiful, that I’m confident, whatever it was, but I wasn’t proving it to myself, I was trying to show other people.  The interesting irony that I’ve come to realize is that in my attempts to “prove myself” I was just doing the opposite.  In the very act of trying to get people to like you, I feel that you don’t really even like yourself.  It’s like you’re trying to sell a lie.  If you liked yourself for you, you’d be comfortable in not trying to prove yourself and just let events unfold on their own.  What a ridiculous thing, to want approval, to try and make people like you.  If one person doesn’t like you, someone else will, but you should like yourself first.

I was always apologetic, worrying that I would bother those around me.  It ended up showing itself even in my physical actions.  Some boys from the gym (in the U.S) pointed out that whenever I walked past anyone, I would duck my head down and avoid eye contact.  I was apologetic for even walking, afraid I would be in someone’s way.  I would text someone, worry that I was annoying them.  Apologizing for my existence.  Sorry sorry sorry sorry sorry.  That’s not a healthy way to live, I think that ties in pretty closely with self confidence.  

I used to see myself as “mature”, what a joke.  I didn’t know anything.  I still don’t know anything.  I will never know anything.  I don’t think the point is to know anyway.  I was on a run the other day, listening to Jack Johnson (bless his soul) when one of his lines hit me like a wave.  “What is this place, who am I, why did we come here?  I don't know, I don't know, but I don't know that we're meant to know.” I love it.  If you’re ever looking for some inspirational words, I highly suggest Jack Johnson, in particular his album On and On.   Here is a link to one of my favorite songs.  Speaking of Jack Johnson, one of my bosses has met him and gone surfing with him, which he mentioned as if this were no big deal.  Which I guess it isn’t.  He’s just another person.  

I don’t feel like I’m as quick to jump in with my opinion and that I listen more.  Part of this came about from necessity, with Portuguese I couldn’t exactly just jump in with my opinion if I didn’t know what was going on.  Even if I did, I couldn’t form coherent sentences to express myself.  That’s not so much of an issue now but I enjoyed just listening rather than constantly talking… Oh hey, I CAN SPEAK WITH PEOPLE NOW.  I honestly thought I would never be able to connect with Brazilians because back in September legitimately the only things I knew how to say were “hello” and “thank you”.  I don’t have any real issues anymore, it’s one of the best feelings ever.

None of my core values have changed, I’m still me, but at the same time I’m also somebody completely different.  I feel like I’ve aged 37 years in 3 and a half months.  I can’t imagine if I went to college immediately, I think that would have been a horrible decision for me and I guess part of me knew that this spring when I decided to apply for a gap year program.  Nobody is going to save you except yourself.  You’ll probably need a lot of help but it’s ultimately up to you.  I also strongly believe that you can’t really help out other people that much if you haven’t dealt with your own demons first.  I saw a quote yesterday that said “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

If you’re anything like me, you might let yourself be surrounded by destructive people that are poisonous to your health because you know they’re good people and you love them.  Unfortunately, at some point this negative energy can deeply affect you and prevent you from growing as a person.  Moving away or distancing yourself from past relationships and friendships doesn’t mean you gave up on anyone or that you failed a connection.   Sometimes it just needs to happen, people have different lives and habits, that’s fine.  Change doesn’t equal failure.  It’s taken me eighteen years to figure that out and it will probably take a lifetime to actually accept.  

I don’t know if it’s just part of growing up, or if this year of my life has more of this occurring than usual, but many of those close to me have had someone close to them die.  I’m grateful nobody close to me has passed away (I hate that terminology) but many of my best friends have lost someone recently, both here in Brazil and back in the U.S.  I know that when I was younger there were just as many people dying, but I wasn’t told, wasn’t aware, didn’t want to know, couldn’t understand.  You can’t really ignore it as you grow older.  Well, I guess you can. People ignore it every day because it’s happening to people who are different than them, another part of the world, another religion, a list of excuses.  It’s hard to categorize isn’t it?   Willful ignorance or willful lack of compassion?  Perhaps one stems from the other.  Regardless, my point in bringing up death was that I’ve learned a lot from observing how different people react to it.  At least from the people I know, I’ve noticed a bit of a difference in how Brazilians have reacted to death.  There’s a subtle difference in that there seems to be a quicker path to acceptance here.  Everyone here that I’ve met who has had a friend die, some I spoke to the day after it happened, have all said “It’s life.”  Which is an interesting thing to say when someone has just passed away, isn’t it?  

I, of course, realize that I cannot truly know how these friends feel, it’s probably a bit different when they’re alone to process their feelings, but for many I’ve talked with in the U.S these words “It’s part of life” only surface after a greater period of time has passed.  I’m not trying to be insensitive to those around me who have had loved ones die recently, and I truly apologize if I am.  I guess I just wish people discussed death more.  I think a large part of this is my culture, where I come from, because I know many people do discuss death, more than they discuss life. I just haven’t experienced this.  If anything, this is something I would like to study more, the role that death plays in life and how it differs for each culture.  Day of the Dead has always intrigued me, probably because death is something no one understands until they’re actually dead, maybe not even then.

Moving away from death, I would like to leave with some thoughts about the ocean.  Someone close to me told me that “The ocean is good for the Soul”, he’s right.  There’s really an endless amount of metaphors I could create about waves and currents and wind and the sand, but  I won’t do that right now, it’s overdone anyway.  All I can say is that I’m really fortunate to be where I am this year.  I could sit for hours next to the ocean.  It’s a good place to think.  I highly suggest taking a visit if you’re able.  You can learn some resilience from the waves.  

Aberdeen Bird