“Exulansis” – (n) The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it
How many times have you told someone a hilarious anecdote that fell flat and left you having to quickly follow it up with an “oh, I guess you had to be there.” People who have lived and travelled abroad will understand the frustrating experience of exulansis. We live abroad for various reasons – adventure, escape, work, a journey to ‘find ourselves’ . When we return we’re buzzing with a kind of confidence, a glowing sense of achievement and a burning desire to share this feeling with our loved ones. The words have been bubbling beneath the surface, always threatening to overflow with the force of a pending storm. Suddenly, they evaporate as quickly as they appeared. Where do you begin? What do people really want to hear? How do you describe a chain of experiences that impacted you in a significant way for, sometimes, no particular reason at all? Instead we summarise our trip in three sentences and spend the coming weeks reciting them over and over until the words become stale and tasteless on our tongues. We let the finer details fall to the wayside like we might let a sock fall into the back of the couch. We store the photographs on our computers, safeguard our journals and surrender to our new routines. Eventually, even the memory of our experiences become displaced like they happened to someone else or in another lifetime.
I lived in Madrid for a year in 2011 and it was one of the most magical chapters of my life. It was a whirlwind decoupage of culinary tastes and smells, colourful people and wild flapping hand gestures. When I returned to Australia I struggled to describe my experience and after a few months it felt as if it never happened. My life before Madrid merged with my return like a well oiled assembly line. The people I had met, the food I had sampled and the places I had visited faded into obscurity and the proof existed only in the photographs I had saved on a piece of plastic. Of course, the photos I shared with others over social media were the ones where I was happiest – where the sunlight was hitting my face just right, I was drinking sangria and smiling like the feeling was invincible. There was no hard evidence of the more obscure moments. Like the time I was walking through the cobbled streets of Madrid and stopped to watch a woman smoking on her balcony in the middle of the day. She was wearing a sundress and humming along to flamenco music that escaped her living room and floated through the sun drenched alley. Time stood still as I watched her, as stagnant as the summer heat. I wanted to pocket that moment and carry it with me like a valuable trinket forever. Unfortunately, these memories are not tangible and I can feel them slipping my mind more and more as the years go by.
Sometimes, I am struck by a wave of nostalgia and all I want to do is share it with the people around me. Instead, I let the memory wash over me like a warm bath and the people around me can see that I am changed. I realise, then, that it’s not the nitty gritty stories that people are interested in but who I have become as a result of my experiences. The less self assured and comfortable side of my old self has been replaced by a confident, open and somewhat impulsive person. The memories themselves can remain private and serve as a respite from a long day and an opportunity to quietly express some gratitude for everything that the world has given me.