The City that Rocks: Reflections on Reflections, and Reflections on ChristchurchChristchurch, Spring 2012

This blog post is going to be one of the more personal ones (as well as my first real reflection on the actual city that I’ve chosen to live in), so if you’re more interested in our activities or the New Zealand study abroad experience, this may not be the one you want to read (just a fair warning).

As a kid, I loved to write. Writing was an outlet, a channel for imagination, a temporary trip to somewhere that I would rather be. Sometimes this was in the form of poetry, sometimes essays, often music, but it was usually something I kept pretty quiet. Once the chaos of college for the type A personality student kicked in, my writing time diminished and most of my energy was spent in a thousand other directions. That is, until this past summer when all of that was put on halt and I had the time and energy to focus on the simple things that were really important to me.

When I moved away to the Adirondack Mountains of New York to live in a tent in the woods for three months, I brought a journal with me that one of my aunts had given to me as a gift (since then, I have accumulated several journals from close friends and family members, all of which I currently use). I started writing in it religiously, documenting my daily routines, goals, and interactions. A dear friend from those months once mentioned the value of writing with all five senses, and after I took that to heart, this journal has transformed into a time machine that has the ability to instantly bring me back to the times, places, and mindsets of the opportunities I took to really write. I bring this journal with me whenever I’m in a new place, and once in awhile I take the time to flip through its pages, observe my changes in handwriting, and reflect on the ways I’ve changed and the emotion behind the decisions I’ve made.

Tonight was one of those such nights, and I once again have discovered how much I appreciate this journal, as well as the times that I’ve sacrificed social time or sleep to write in it. The sociologist side of me was tempted to code all of these entries like some kind of quantitative data analysis research project, which would have produced high tallies for words like simplicity, contentment, and happiness from the summer entries. Reading this journal was a reminder that these months were a time of self-discovery and a state of true happiness that, for the first time, was a product of internal balance and inspirational surroundings instead of reliance on others’ acceptance and approval.

While I have read over my satisfying summer entries many times, tonight was the first time that I read over everything I had written in the fall. Once I returned to school, my faithful journal quickly became the outlet for the anger and intense frustrations that were experienced after a harsh transition from a wholesome, fulfilling lifestyle in the North Country to the inflated life of a middle class college student attending a private institution high on a hillside and far away from reality. This chapter consists of endless pages and pens worth of ink that express the thoughts that always seemed to be misunderstood or taken the wrong way: conflicted feelings of knowing I should be thankful for the educational opportunity and privileged lifestyle that others had worked so hard to provide (but simultaneously hating every minute of it), the suffocated feeling when I could never find quiet or it was never really dark, the absolute disgust over the fake problems that people created when real ones didn’t exist, and overall just a constant (although sometimes numbed) feeling of being out of touch, of out place, and out of patience. Everything about returning to this lifestyle felt totally fake to me: most of my classes, my desk job, my stuffy apartment, the gravel “hiking trails,” the basis on which I watched people form relationships, the constant rush of students walking by with iPods and smart phones, the drunken weekend parties that everyone seemed to revolve their existence around… the only exception to this fakeness was a handful of invaluable friendships that I cannot begin to express my appreciation for.

What is the point of sharing this? The never-ending aggravation that took place during this time was the primary motivator behind changing my study abroad location from a large European city with lots of people I knew, to the other side of the world with not one familiar face. A good friend at school who shared many of my frustrations described the situation as simply a lack of inspiration, and a lack of sights worth seeing in our daily life. That is exactly what it was, and now here I am writing about it in my flat in New Zealand!

What is the second point? Thanks to the five senses writing advice, those fall entries brought me back to all those emotions. In the absence of these emotions during my stay here so far, I had forgotten the intensity to which they existed. In this new and beautiful place, it has been easy to make comparisons to my summer life and see where the gaps exist: North Country wildlife and vegetation, the peacefulness of my tent, the comfort and confidence I felt in that familiar location. But comparing it to the negative times that produced this decision (I think it was Emerson that said bad times have a scientific value), I have a newfound appreciation and excitement for this truly awesome place.

So clearly from this novel of a post, anyone could guess that I’m not a city person; but I would like to talk a little bit about Christchurch. Unfortunately I will probably never get to see this city at its finest, due to the devastating earthquake that hit on February 22nd, 2011. Numerous people have warned me that this might not be the best place to go due to the extensive damage that still exists (the entire city center is closed off, and houses are destroyed every direction you turn), but this wasn’t much of a deterrent. Besides the jaw-dropping damage, three things have really struck me so far about this city: I have not seen a single overweight person, everyone is always friendly, and you can’t get on any bus without seeing at least three people in hiking boots with overnight packs. If I’m going to live close to a city, this is the one I want.

In an effort to get a better feel for the city’s culture, some of us went to one of the City Council sponsored concerts in the park a few days ago. Despite the fact that we were mere blocks away from the main city, we might as well have been at a campfire for 500 people. Camp chairs, headlamps, hiking backpacks, sleeping bags, and trail mix were every which way. But most importantly were the good-natured people, and the lack of fakeness or trying to fulfill some image or expectation. There is very little rushing around in Christchurch, and when people ask how you are, they actually want to know. They live in the moment, and I think that is something that we very often forget to do when we are distracted by smart phones, mixed up priorities, and obsessing over our perceptions of others’ perceptions of us.

Due to the continual aftershocks that occasionally wake us up in the middle of the night, Christchurch is affectionately known by its people as “the city that rocks.” And I must say, it certainly does, in more ways than one. This, quite simply, is a good place to be.

If you know me thanks for reading, and if you don’t, you probably know way more about me than you ever wanted to! Cheers.

 

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3 Comments

  1. I look so forward to reading your blog and I’m always amazed at your writing skills and the person you are. You are an inspiration and I am so proud of you! Love MOM :)

  2. It’s refreshing to know that after every step forward you take you stop and look back and live for that molting perspective. You are an Excellent writer (I wish you would have shared some of it this summer!), and because you are making a conscious effort to be fulfilled in everything you do and everywhere you are, it’s wonderful and beneficial to read. It’s like you already know how much your next experience is going to change you for the better, no matter what comes. Best blog on the web!

    Did you go to Ed Kanze’s talk at the HPIC? He has a book about his travels in New Zealand. Might be great inspiration, and probably very informative.

  3. Jackie. Wow. I LOVED reading this post. Your writing is fantastic as well as the purpose of your piece. I think it’s really neat that you not only avoid getting caught up in the chaotic, materialistic lifestyle at home but also you’re able to learn something from it, like how to value the important things in life. AWESOME job. Can’t wait to go on some trips with you!

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