“Onism” – (n) the frustration of being stuck in just one body, that inhabits only one place at a time
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood…”
There’s something incredibly satisfying about rattling off all the places you’ve travelled to. Every new destination earns a new glossy red pin on the map until it is scattered with chicken pox. But a moment of pride and satisfaction is replaced by frustration as you take a step back and absorb the rest of the map, all the places that are unpinned and naked without one. All the places you haven’t seen and maybe never will.
My frustration stems from all the things I want to do and need about ten lifetimes to complete. I want to travel through Europe writing books. I want to live in the rain forests of Borneo and look after Orangutans. I want to own a little cafe by the seaside and spend my days drinking coffee and meeting new people. I also don’t want any of the responsibility that goes along with any of that, like cleaning toilets, fending off blood thirsty mosquitoes and working a crappy job to earn enough for a ticket to Europe. That aside, none of that saves me from the feeling of Onism: lamenting the fact that we only have one life, one body and about eighty years to do all we can with it (if we’re lucky).
For myself, I think Onism is the foundation for my itchy feet. Two years in London and I’m already thinking about where to go next. What great adventure awaits me, all the people I’m yet to meet, all the choices I’m yet to make and immediately regret. As humans, we have an obsession with marking our territory. We wage wars, we buy property and we lead social and political revolutions (not all of us and not necessarily in that order). We have babies, write books, make movies and take photos of everything. All in the pursuit of a legacy, a desperate yearning to leave something of ourselves behind before we depart this earth. We all do it in our own way with our unique signature etched on the proverbial walls of this planet that reads “I was here, please remember me”.
At some point I realised life is just a series of choices, a carefully sketched map of our history. But it’s like the universe ran out of pencils and we’ve had to illustrate our lives in a pen that can’t be undone. Some of us will travel and some of us will seek comfort in the familiar. Some of us will love our work and some of us will love the pay check that goes with it. Some of us will have families, some of us will not. Some of us will have dreams and achieve them, most of us will not. All of us, at some point or another, will wonder what could have been. All the alternate histories that we narrowly avoided, all those paths that we didn’t take. All of which led us here to where we are now. In this place and time, in this body that we occupy, weighed down by the gravity of our choices.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a tiny cafe on the Thames, with a sun on the horizon and ducks on the water. I pull myself out of my coffee addled, melancholic haze and realise that I made all the right choices. They took me to some amazing places. They’ve made the haphazardly drawn map of my life look like a piece of art. They led me to this moment, to this place, to you reading this blog post and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
*The photo is yet another picture of me on a beach in Albania, looking wistfully off into the distance. A legacy of my own floating aimlessly through cyberspace. Dhermi, Albania, 2011.