I am about to embark on a cliché. Two days ago I handed in my resignation to the manager of the research institute where I have been working for almost five years in order to leave my settled life for that of a nomad. With no plane ticket purchased, nor a clear idea of where my round-the-world trip will commence, I declared that I am leaving, flying away to travel the world and write.
“What can I do to change your mind?” my manager asked. My decision seemed impulsive to those around me and it was, considering that I woke up two days ago with not much more than the intention of eating breakfast and driving to work. Yet this has been something I have been fantasizing for many years: to leave my comfort zone in Tel Aviv where I have a home, friends, a job and journey into to the world alone.
But all of that doesn’t matter. Each word that is written in this first blog entry is a testimony to the ordinary within my odyssey. The World Wide Web is laden with blogs that start with “how I quit my job to travel the world.” If I were to describe it in a way that avoided the clichés (see above) would it make the act any less ordinary, any less of a cliché? What’s unique about my fantasy is the awareness of how utterly ordinary it actually is.
The Clichés of Our Seasoned Lives
The search for the extraordinary life, as mundane as questioning the meaning of life, is an affliction we all carry. It makes me think of Tomas—Milan Kundera’s notorious womanizer surgeon who searches for what makes each person unique in other women’s vaginas. To him, all men and women are almost clones of one another, not much separating one from the other except for a few inconspicuous details. Only when he undresses a woman and looks in her insides is he able to see a spark of the inimitable. His philandering is not a manifestation of his inability to commit or uncontrollable desire to fuck as many as women as possible just for the sake of fucking.
Tomas’s search for the unique–that which separates us from the Other–in the groins of strange women is a reflection of the search for his own sui generis. He believes that the unique is hidden so deep inside that he cannot possibly find it on the surface; he must cut open his patients on his operating table and look under their organs in order to see them as individuals. Yet the deeper he reaches, the more vaginas he smells, the further he gets lost in the maze of the ordinary.
My search for the unique began long ago and this voyage will not be the first, and it probably will not be the last. I am not an unseasoned traveller, even being an expat is something I could write a book about. I have lived on three continents, in three countries, and in seven cities. (I’m not even counting the places I’ve lived in for less than a year.) Immigrating is the vagina to my Tomas. But no matter how many moves I’ve made, the itch to see and to discover has never subsided, perhaps because I have yet to uncover my own sui generis.
At the end of Kundera’s novel, Tomas finally discovers the unique in the ordinary. In that which seems the most mundane—a monogamous life with the woman he loves, working as a pseudo-farmer in a small provincial town outside of Prague—he discovers that the answer lies where the search ends, when he stops looking. He finds the phenomenal in the cliché. This journey, unlike the ones I have taken before, is my quest to expose my insides, to pick through them like a surgeon, so that I may discover the ordinary of my extraordinary.
Photo credit: “Birds” by Medi Nahmiyaz