I lost a battle but I won the war. A war against myself… I started it because I couldn’t handle a situation that I used to handle very well.
There comes this moment in life when you feel like you finally managed to take control over certain things. You did it. You progressed. Time to straighten out some other mess. And at that very moment you run into a glass door. You have no idea how it got there…
Hanging out without anyone to hang out with. I rarely go out without company, even to the movies, and therefore any individual nighttime escapades were always quite a challenge for me.
But I was already quite good at handling them. I was first taught this art by the social butterfly – Valentyna – and then got my new skills reinforced by the ever courageous and happy Mariam. On Bali, in Israel or in Barcelona – I was already doing well and going out. I looked the bartender in the eyes and ordered my drink and then, cheerful and smiling, I was observing people, talking to them and getting to know them.All by myself!
Maybe I did not master it but it was close enough. And yet… Puerto Madryn turned out to be my Everest. A single bar in the town. One bar. One. You have no choice – if you want to get a drink that’s the only place you can go to. So, you go to the bar. You order a drink. And then, gently and cheerfully, you observe.
That’s the modus operandi of Valentyna and it always worked.
I was so certain I could handle it that I did not anticipate a problem. None of the previous bars I went to was a… family bar. There were only families in that place and you know how Latino families are – they are not the meager 2+1 or 2+2. They’re more like 2+2+4+3+infinity (at least in my head).
I went there for the first time and I wasn’t ready for what I saw. All the tables were filled with families! Every stool at the bar was taken! Maybe some of those groups were not families, but even if so, they were large groups of friends. Everybody was looking at me… Usually I don’t mind that anymore. But they weren’t looking at me because I was colourful and strange (I’m used to that), but because I was the only person in town who was not a PART OF SOME FAMILY. Of course it’s more about what I was thinking, because I have no idea what was in their minds, but I’m my judgment relies also on the question that I get asked a lot in bars and restaurants: “alone?!”! I was almost seeing speech bubbles over their heads with the question: “ALONE??!!”
I felt as if I was on a stage and it turned out that it was not my performance. Wrong play, wrong place, wrong time…
In such moments I don’t know if people are judging me and what they are thinking, but I feel judged and analyzed and I SEE that they make comments about me. And then I don’t know how to act.
Before I came in for good – I went out. Still, there was a small victory in it: I didn’t give up. I decided to try again on the next day.
So, the next day came. I looked through the window – again 100% of people inside are families or large group of friends. I felt like a cartoon character, like a Mickey Mouse who comes to some place it wanted to go to and hits gas instead of brake, again and again, until all the children had enough of a laugh…
Usually I handle such situations in the same way I handle a diet – if I break it even a tiniest bit, the whole diet is forfeit and meaningless and then comes a period of self-flagellation for not being as strong as I should have been. Since I suffered one defeat already, I decided not to allow another one to happen and to focus on how much I managed to achieve. I got in, I made an order, I was observing people and talking… No one can deny I was doing good. But then the situation changed and I wasn’t prepared for that. I was like a California driver suffering a breakdown due to not being able to cope with Alaskan roads. Different situations require different skills.
My greatest progress of the last year consists in the fact that I decided that a situation is only what it is… And I finally took advantage of my teacher’s piece of advice:
If you are not able to something, identify the problem and ask someone who handles it better for help.
Valentyna was in Dubai and Mariam in France, so I had to find another expert. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it alone, and only Mickey Mouse can afford running around in circles. There’s no point in tormenting yourself, you have to accept the current level of your skills.
I logged in to couchsurfing. I wrote to 5 people, three of them answered. Two of them wanted to hang out on the same day’s evening in the Margarita bar. I went there with my head up high and a lump in my throat . I went to the bar (since all the chairs were taken and I was the only person standing). I ordered a drink. But I already knew someone was going to come. I halted any interpretations of the looks that came to my head and focused on a single thing – that they are probably curious of a new person in the bar.
Finally, Favia came to me and said: “Juju – how nice to see a new person in our town – welcome to Patagonia!”
From that moment only things were only getting better. As usual. It always gets better. When you stop thinking and start to relax.
Normally I wouldn’t even describe such a trivial story, but it means a lot to me, since I managed to interpret a failure not as as a “regression” but as a change in context. When you think of something as a failure it is very hard to look for a solution to it. On the other hand, when you consider it an obstacle you just look for a way to go around it.
It’s much easier to find a solution when you are not confined to your own torture chamber. This is the message of my story – sometimes you just have to take a single step back. You have to wait until the pressure (coming from myself in my case) goes away and you are able to think about what you can do. You need to do something else than just analyze. Sometimes it’s no use thinking – you just have to make a to do list and start implementing it…
There is no failure – there is only a wrong approach.
When I was looking through the pictures from Puerto Madryn I noticed that they are mainly pictures of me. I’m not sure if I had ever managed to be alone of my own free will for such a long time and not make an issue out of it. I spent my time running – because beaches there are excellent. Everyone who loves long, sandy and empty beaches would love it there. I was writing in my room, because it was a place with the best view. I was taking pictures. I was sightseeing. I was watching penguins and… working.
While staying in Puerto Madryn I wrote the most blog posts ever (we are still publishing them since that was about 15 texts). I checked several reports and devised several methods for changing the world.
Martin was the best guide in the world – we spent a lot of time together. I know that almost no one is going to believe me, but we barely talked… Not because we don’t like each other but on the contrary, because we like each other so much that we allowed ourselves to remain in total silence, interrupted once in a while by stories. Important stories. Stories about family, dreams, death or love.
Juan was the first person to tell me about margarita and from that moment I started my own attempts at making it.
Penguins are very silent creatures (well, when they are not screaming their heads off) and when they have nothing to say they remain silent and do… well, I’m not sure what they do… maybe nothing… maybe their own penguin things. They were happy alone… I empathized with them a lot during that time… I could watch them for hours… And at some point I had the feeling that I’m starting to become a penguin myself.
Patagonia is a very introvertically oriented place. NOWHERE in my life have I seen a road so beautiful and a horizon so extraordinary, so despite travelling in a car all day long I wasn’t much into talking with Juan or Martin – it was a time devoted to BEING and it was not about any sulking or sadness – it was just focusing on the present place and moment.