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.