This is me, seven years old. I live in a foreign country called Malta, a small island in the Mediterranean. There is a daily survival war at my school. My friends exchange secret codes unknown to me, and my teacher throws me impossible missions labeled as homework. All information is encrypted in a foreign language, English. More often than not I miss the critical part and self-destruct, sometimes faster than 5 seconds.
I don’t feel connected to the world I live in. Sometimes I tap the ground because it just doesn’t feel real; I am supposed to be in Japan but why am I here? Is it possible that it’s all a dream? All day long after school, I read books to channel an alternative (and safe) world called Anywhere But Here.
This is me, three decades later. I live in a foreign country called Taiwan, a small island in the East China Sea. There is a daily survival war at my company. My colleagues exchange secret codes unknown to me and my boss throws me impossible missions labeled as assignments. All information is encrypted in a foreign language, Chinese. More often than not I miss the…enough.
Deja vu. How come? Anywhere But Here was supposed to be my life objective, yet I am back to where I was practically born (= became self-conscious). I swear it wasn’t done intentionally. My adult life has consisted of jumping from one stepping stone to another, hoping each leap would show me a new horizon. I never saw any objective beyond the next move (or I half-consciously avoided paths with a clear view). Instead of reaching a place far away from the origin, I have traveled a big loop, like a salmon or turtle.
I took a look at what I am doing, then it made all sense. At Malta, I started struggling with English, my first foreign language. Now I still struggle with English (Who doesn’t?) and in addition I have Chinese and Spanish. Back then I just read. Now I read and write. In Malta my reading activities mainly happened after school and on weekends. Now as a technical writer, my reading (+ writing) activities fill my schedule 24/7, 365 days. I am just doing—and amplifying—who I was. I did reach an alternative world as I wished, but with a slightly different title: Nowhere But Here.
No, there is one huge difference. I am happy being where I am. I feel more so after realizing that I have essentially kept living the life that I hated. I am fine being in an alien culture, speaking foreign languages, doing the same activity (following texts) all the time. I am fine being happy. But I am not fine not knowing why.
And here comes our hero, Franney and Zooey by J.D. Salinger, recently introduced to me by my friends. (I had never read a Salinger. Did that rank me in the same position as Star Wars virgins?) Here is what Franney, one of the protagonists, says about the power of praying:
But the thing is, the marvellous thing is, when you first start doing it, you don’t even have to have faith in what you’re doing. I mean even if you’re terribly embarrassed about the whole thing, it’s perfectly all right. I mean you’re not insulting anybody or anything. In other words, nobody asks you to believe in a single thing when you first start out. You don’t even have to think about what you’re saying, the starets said. All you have to have in the beginning is quantity. Then, later on, it becomes quality in itself. On its own power or something.
It also perfectly describes what has been going on in my life. I never had any faith, nor choice, in my life at Malta; it happened because of my father’s job assignment. But it has grown into a gem—this life, now—by virtue of repetition and amplification.
I used to worry about what’s waiting in the future. I still do, but not as much as I used to. I will keep doing what I do and being who I am, and that will lead to a quality life all on its own.