spain, south africa, and second opportunities

June 9, 2010

i used to live in spain.  all told, i spent 13 months there, broken up over two years.  the summer before my senior year of college i worked for two different publications, one in madrid and the other in barcelona.  when i graduated, i moved to barcelona, ostensibly to acquire a master’s degree in photojournalism.

i soon found that course was a total joke, and instead of taking it seriously i fucked around.  i would go to class regularly, but it was always under protest, and during the breaks i would bitch about how stupid the whole thing was.

i had left my girlfriend at the time back in the states.  that was a mistake.  we had been together for all of college, and our relationship had been rocky for a couple years, however when i went to visit her right before i left we had a great time together.  that meant that when i got to spain, i almost immediately wanted to go home and be with her.

i ended up spending most of my time sitting in front of my computer, stealing internet from the next-door neighbors.  i would stay up until 4 AM most nights, and then sleep until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.  through photography i got hooked up with a group of argentine immigrants who had started a football club and played in the lowest division of catalunya’s football structure.  i would practice with them twice a week, and then take photos of their matches on sunday mornings.

i never went out.  i was in fairly good shape back then, but because i was depressed and had a girlfriend at home, i was able to give myself the excuses i was looking for to stay in every weekend.  i regret this.  you are only young and in barcelona once.

if it were not for the relationships i formed with my roommate and and the various people at the club, my time in barcelona would have been an almost complete waste of time.

i recently went back to BCN for the first time since i left in 2006.  i saw all of my old friends.  i realized that, bizarrely, i have more friends in that city than anywhere else in the world.  i realized that my anger at the place when i left it in 2006 was not because of the place but because of me.  i thought i was in a bad place physically, when in reality i was in a dark, angry place mentally and emotionally.  i realized that, whereas once i said i would never come back, now i would move back in an instant, that’s how much i miss it.

and i realized, for the first time, how badly i had fucked up before.  because i did.  i had this golden opportunity to learn and meet people and experience a different country the way i wanted to experience it, and instead i sat around doing nothing of real importance.  as several wise dead men have said, i mistook motion for action, activity for achievement.  i wasted not only a year of my life, but also an amazing opportunity to pull a thoreau.

i mentioned this to some of the people i saw while i was there.  and they all said the same thing – i was missing one important fact.  and the fact i was missing made all the difference.  for what i was missing, they all said, was the fact that by acknowledging my wasted opportunity, i had actually learned from it.

apparently this is rare.

so yes, i learned from it.  i wish that i had been able to learn this lesson some other way, perhaps by wasting a year of my life in peoria, illinois or something, instead of such a wonderful and fascinating place as barcelona.  but at least i learned it.  i learned that, if presented with a similar opportunity again, i cannot allow myself to waste it, to let my fears and angers and doubts get in the way of life.

and that brings me to south africa.  i am nervous about south africa.  nervous that the course i am taking is going to suck, nervous that i am going to be robbed, or worse.  but more than anything else, i was nervous that i would waste my time there they way i wasted my time in spain.  by going back to barcelona, however, i was able to realize that there is no way i will let that happen.

in general, i am a cynic.  i think the majority of people are selfish and petty and ultimately disappointing, and i think that the more you hurt people, the more likely you are to succeed.  however, in order to keep myself from jumping off a bridge, i’ve had to develop a bizarre sort of optimism – i continually hope, in fact expect, that the world will prove me wrong and present me with something so utterly beautiful that i am forced to change my views.  it hasn’t happened yet, but that doesn’t mean it won’t.

this is how i view the next year of my life.  i know that there will be terrible moments.  but, because of barcelona, i also know that there will be beautiful moments, as well.

2 Responses to “spain, south africa, and second opportunities”

  1. audrey said

    Well put cuz. I agree with your friends who say that awareness allows you to break the cycle of repetition and that therefore, you are right. You are going to likely have an entirely different journey in s africa…despite familiar fears and anxiety…and different “learning opportunities” will present themselves I am sure. I can’t wait to read about them- love your perspective.

  2. dicho said

    two thoughts:

    “What to do with a mistake: you recognize it, you admit it, you learn from it, and you forget it.”

    –University of North Carolina men’s basketball

    “The most important play is the next one.”

    –Dr. Marv Dunphy, Head Men’s Volleyball Coach, Pepperdine University

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