The voice in my head scolds me.
"What did I tell you about sunsets already? Never look away for a second. Not a SECOND! That's how fast it can change. You pay attention because these perfectly lit-up moments don't last forever. They go away so quickly, and it's up to you to capture them."
The voice in my head is smart. witty. impatient. My conscious has developed at the same rate I have as a person, perhaps even faster. I can think of many a time my inner voice had clearer foresight and a lot more wisdom than the Mary with legs and feet. Impatient as she is, she had the patience to stay, reflect, and comment on the feelings, when even without using my legs or feet, I preferred to flee.
I caught the sunset from my balcony just a few minutes ago. It was glorious, the fluffy baguette of clouds overhead glowing an electric pink against the blue water. Now, the sea-and-skyline has begun to melt into a calm, blue-gray, and the floor lighting on the beach has turned on for the night. My conscious is right. I missed my moment. I missed it in the sense that I didn't take a photo to revisit it from time to time. Tonight's sunset over Onna Beach in Okinawa, Japan will not make it to my Sky Porn folder, not at its peak of beauty. But I did capture it. I looked up and I had a moment to myself. It isn't one that I'll get to see again or share with others. But in that respect, I did not miss it. I did capture it. If only for myself.
I think back to the times that I missed moments like these after forgetful frenzies that caused me to forget my phone. I think of one day in September 2014, when I went to work in Banff and returned to my windowless room in Canmore. While walking back to the condo before the highway crossing, the sky overhead was unlike anything I'd ever seen. It wasn't even sunset yet, merely 4:30 pm with white and blue swirling overhead. Yet I remember looking up to the sky and getting lost in its beauty. I'll remind you that I don't like the mountains. This happened at the tail end of a difficult nine months, when I carried mental exhaustion, heartbreak, paranoia, and isolation until I emotionally and physically could no longer. I was struggling to make it on time to a job I hated, and could no longer come home to a man who no longer loved me in that way. I remember this time in my life as being acutely painful. But I also remember the sky that day. And how in not having my phone with me, I couldn't capture it forever, but the clouds burned a feeling into my mind that I'll never forget, for the rest of my life.
The benefits of my generation also become its flaws. While the tendency and sometimes obsession to overshare makes this journey of mine permissible, and even praised, unlike any other time before it, we millennials are also trapped in our constant search for approval. This society we built that idolizes perfection, where we perform to stimulate a certain outcome, instead of for what we gain from the action - weakens us. We are potentially the smartest people who have ever lived. A plethora of resources at our fingertips. So much of the hard work has been done by the generations before us. And on top of that, this is the generation of "I deserve to be happy." It is never enough to have it all, even though that very pursuit is done in vain. You must have it all and smile every day, and share that smile with the millions of people watching.
In 2009, I completed an art project for my Art IB portfolio, where I sculpted the base of a snowglobe and built the rest with a barbie doll and a large, spherical vase. The only thing is, this wasn't a regular snowglobe. My instructor helped me tape the glass and arranged a few minutes in the former woodworking room, where I took a hammer to the taped glass to destroy it. The point was the leave its spherical shape while cracking a hole into the top and down the sides. Somehow, I did this successfully. The project was one of my proudest in that portfolio, and I look back on it now and see that I had foreseen the shift that would change our society. My message behind 'The Snowglobe Analogy' was that our desire for perfection as people puts us on display to others, and the more perfect we are, the more likely we are to get used - occasionally, whenever others find us interesting enough. My destruction of the snowglobe was meant to show the liberation of human souls from the chains of perfection. It communicated my desire to deviate from expectation, and to save myself from drowning in the sparkling water which encouraged me to smile for the camera.
Seven years later, this desire has evolved into a twenty-five year old woman's crazy ambitions. It is 2016 and people all over the world are living their lives for likes and comments. And as much as I try not to get sucked in, unfortunately, I do. I'm mindful of this fact, and I feel as though that's an edge I'm fortunate to have. But I have most definitely deleted my less popular posts. And I know how to market my work accordingly, but as an artist, a creative, a part of me always wonders if doing so diminishes its authenticity.
Luckily, like the Mozarts and the Einsteins, both ancient and modern-day who came before me, I am mentally ill and a mess. I have been to nine countries in five weeks counting layovers, and I have lost - physically misplaced and unable to continue to use - thousands of dollars worth of very important things. I misplaced a $900 cell phone while disembarking a twenty-five minute flight. I lost a bluetooth selfie stick (the millennial's magic wand), several charging cords, a power bank, a pair of $270 Tory Burch sunglasses, and now - my last pair of contact lenses. I should mention that I'm almost legally blind, unable to read large text just a few feet in front of me. With a high susceptibility to migraines caused by heat and sun exposure, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses are a must. Instead, I have a massive ocean, a thirteen-hour time difference, and five more weeks between me and my home, and I am now forced to traverse those spaces with one pair of glasses.
I told my niece I'm a horrible traveler. And since last night, when I realized my contact lenses were missing, I have certainly felt that way. I messaged her on Facebook once I got to my hotel and tore apart my backpack and luggage, ultimately realizing the horror of the new thing I'd left behind. I didn't realize my sunglasses were missing until the flight I'd just taken in, and on the way to the hotel, my mind was already consumed with that issue. Let alone the fact that losing my phone three weeks earlier meant that my replacement phone didn't have a SIM card. I would have to use the hotel phone to call my bank and find out why I kept hitting my cash withdrawal limit in every country. The familiar wave of mixed emotions, from frustration to disappointment to sheer disbelief - even after losing this many things, washed over me when I realized I'd left my contacts on my niece's headboard yesterday morning. I sunk into my shame and frustration, sleeping a solid nine hours last night. I didn't update my Facebook status telling my ever-anxious family I'd left in the Philippines that I made it to Okinawa. Instead, I asked my niece to tell her parents just that on my behalf, and requested for her not to tell anyone I left my contacts behind. I am a mess, I concluded today for the ten thousandth time. I woke up this morning well-rested but like my life had become a bad dream. A stunning ocean view wished me 'good morning' from behind sheer curtains, but I rolled over and buried my face in my pillow. For the first time this trip, I became homesick - not for new destinations, and not for the home I want to build - but for my own bed. And perhaps, in an ultra-gratuitous memory, I even longed for my head to collapse into the lap of my own imperfect mother. I was homesick for a place that I know I can never fully return to.
It is only in personal, undocumented moments that the weight of that shame is lifted, and the pain of that disappointment can heal. It is in the minutes and seconds of perfection that never look the same from behind a lens, and that hundreds of thousands of likes cannot validate in the same way. This is why I travel. This is why I get lost in places, sometimes becoming no one in a crowded sea and other times, no one in a foreign country, on a beach where nobody knows where to find me. It is in becoming insignificant and unknown where I gather the most strength and power, and in getting lost on purpose, I always accidentally find myself. I did not bring a camera on this trip. And because it is 2016, and the selfie generation prides itself on having cameras built into its phones, I didn't have to. Yet whether it were now or 1976, today's sunset would still have been one I didn't capture. Not because I was forgetful, occupied, or ill-prepared. Simply because some moments are only mine for the taking, and not meant to be shared.
The voice in my head has saved me. As critical, argumentative, and logical as she may be, the Mary inside my head is still a part of me. As smart is she is, she is trainable, and I have trained her to be my ally. In a world that is still driven to glorify the perfect, the happy, and the overshared - all, of course, done in vain - my conscious is the first voice that calms me in times of trouble, and can transport me not into the past, nor into a shining, embellished future, but into the magical, ever-changing brilliance of being here, right now. This moment is enough as it is. Whether documented, shared, reproduced, or witnessed by any other bystander apart from my own two eyes, blind as a bat - this moment is enough, even when I am not. Even when it feels like I don't have enough, because I'm worried about losing things, it is in these quiet, private moments that I gain it all back. It is alone, in the middle of nowhere, when I know that I have everything.