Sunday, August 23, 2009

Magpie on the Rocks

I fell asleep on a pile of rocks. After six and a half days of non-stop planning and preparing for the upcoming semester in India, I sought the lowest point on the rustic campus where our collective of trip leaders is plotting the resounding success of semesters abroad in five countries just to remind myself that the top (i.e. my head) is not the only place to be. I nestled myself into a depression in the dry creek bed, and slowly felt the details reeling through my mind stutter into silence. The blissful broad touch pressure of water-softened stones between my shoulder blades and at the base of my spine relocated the locus of my awareness from September 6th (the first day I will meet my young charges) and beyond to about 6pm this evening. Yes, it did happen to be 2:58pm at the time, but what can I say, my thoughts never stray far from dinner. At least I finally landed on the right day.

Though I am returning to this place and this particular job for the second time, I find myself on unfamiliar terrain. The experience of re-visiting familiar places and challenges, rather than constantly seeking out new situations to bumble my way through feels oddly exhilarating, though not quite as relaxed as I’d fantasized. It turns out that when fate hands you a second chance, it can actually mean more work. With the smeary goggles of ignorance whisked away, you see all of the places where your uncertainty had you waltzing off a cliff, and become tantalized by the prospect of doing things more efficiently, with less pain and a smidge less drama. So you create new templates, you flag the dead ends, and you walk the cobblestone streets in your itchy town crier uniform cautioning all of your colleagues to beware the pitfalls of semesters past. I am developing a bit of a complex around being the voice of “Well, what we did last semester was…”, and suspect I may be gagged and shoved into a utility closet at some point . So be it. I am finally a veteran something. I am soaking in the exotic thrill of the novice know-it-all, because I know this job is not a resting place for me. At the end of the semester, I will once again begin casting about for the move that makes the most sense. I will be tired, wrung-out, and utterly aware that my health, my remaining professional objectives, and my more domestically-oriented yearnings will no longer stand for the cold shoulder they’ve been getting for the last year and a half.

When I was living in the quaint hamlet of Charlottesville, still giving the “normal” life the old college try, I went to visit a shaman. When you are me, and living in a college town in the south east with actual furniture and a mailbox, this is what you do, just to remember who you are. If you are wondering what this has to do with sleeping on rocks or the illicit thrills of being a know-it-all, bear with me.
The shaman actually looked more like a kindly pharmacist or kindergarten teacher, complete with orthopedic shoes and bedazzled reading glasses on a silk cord around her sweetly wattled neck. Her house smelled like grilled cheese sandwiches and vanilla spice potpourri. I went to see her because she was a fellow practitioner of the healing arts (though perhaps a shade fruitier than my own repertoire), and was willing to trade a session with me for an experience of her own work, which involved guiding me through a “shamanic journey” in order to encounter some of my animal spirit guides . Apparently we each have our own loyal astral menagerie, just waiting to offer helpful hints, sound sartorial advice, and insight into our essential nature. Long story short, I’ve got a magpie in my belfry. According to the shaman, it was VERY excited to meet me, and anxious to be getting about our business. The magpie is an unrepentant generalist and scavenger. It collects experiences, drawing strength from change, though home and family remain central values. I must admit to some disappointment that my spiritual sidekick wasn’t something a bit more… charismatic- a jaguar perhaps, or even a vaguely menacing ocelot.

I did, however, get a big boost from the magpie message. No need to lock it down as a doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief. It’s simply my nature to let way lead on to way and walk through doors as they open. Phew, finally validation, and I wasn’t about to turn my nose up at it because it wore feathers. I hope this doesn’t mean that I will spend more time bumbling than contributing in a substantial way, but I suspect that the world that awaits on the other side of all of those doors won’t have CNN (or even Regis and Kelly) dialing me up for my expert commentary on anything much. So here in the halcyon days of 20/20 hindsight, I’m keeping my cell phone charged and my sound bites poised and ready. Ask me about the best momo in Mcleod Ganj, or the typical reaction of a college student when the first bout of Delhi belly comes a’calling. That’s what I do.

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