Sunday, May 15, 2005

Or maybe it's just the jet lag ...

Sometimes random thoughts swirl together in my little brain and try to collide into one cohesive idea. This time, my Unified Theory of Nothing Much brings together travelling, relationships and Venn diagrams. I have discovered my ultimate answer to life, and it's not 42. It's exploration.

I just got back from a vacation in Spain, whose historic Muslim influences most fascinated me, despite my having no ties to Islam. During the trip, I reluctantly ended up in a partly intriguing, partly agonizing two-week conversation about relationships, especially what draws us to people we may be incompatible with. That reminded me of a decade-old conversation with a former boss, who drew a Venn diagram for me to show his view on relationships: that we can only connect with others in the place where our experiences and interests intersect with theirs. But that doesn't work for me.

Exploring the differences, the otherness, of another culture, another language, another person - that's where the joy of life lies for me. Maybe that's why I choose to travel to destinations where I can't blend in and don't speak the language. It's not that I don't want to travel to England or more extensively in the United States. I do, very much. But my list of dream vacation destinations is far longer than my available vacation time and money, and the top of my list has always been dominated by non-English locations with cultures more different from my own. I'm blindingly pale, reasonably tall, and Canadianly reserved, yet I've been drawn to Latin countries over the last several years. In Spain, I didn't quite feel like the glow-in-the-dark Amazon woman I did in Latin America, but I was never mistaken for a local, and I struggled with the language more after encountering a mixture of Catalan and Spanish. Plus a short foray into France brought to light my pesky brain's binary language switch – English and Other – that had me throwing out long-forgotten French words while trying to speak Spanish.

Maybe we need the commonalities to make us comfortable, but comfort is overrated. I think we need the differences to keep us interested. I'd hate to travel in a world full of Canadas, much as I love my country. I'd hate to live in a world full of me – as would you all – or be romantically involved with my male equivalent. I want people and experiences to challenge me, expand my world, prove my preconceptions wrong.

"My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is, and why it exists at all."
Stephen Hawking