It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a month since returning to the States.

One of the most common questions I’ve gotten upon returning home (other than, “What was your favorite place”, to which I now have a well-rehearsed answer to), is, “Is it weird? Being back home?”

In a way, yes. It feels strange. Mostly because I didn’t expect for nothing to feel different. My neighbors all have the same cars on their driveways. There’s still traffic on Thursday’s. Sprouts still has the same weekly sale ad. It could be June 2017 and I wouldn’t notice the difference. Like time has been standing still.

One of my favorite metaphors for describing this past year was that it all felt like a dream. When you’re in the middle of a dream, fighting zombies with four arms and eating burritos on top of skyscrapers and walking through walls into new time zones, everything seems perfectly normal. It makes sense, despite being completely nonsensical.

And then you wake up—the world is still the same as you left it, your walls are solid again and your brother isn’t begging for a nibble of your brain. This suddenly feels normal, too. And only when you wake up do you realize how strange and extraordinary everything was when you were asleep. This world feels real, solid, grounded. The world of your dreams transforms into blurred lines and endless possibility.

The part that always fascinated me most about my dreams was the passing of time. In the span of a 20-minute power nap, you might get married, have children, and grow old, only to be reborn as a lizard and do it all again. Then you wake-up and see how little of time really passed. You spend the next few moments in a semi-delirious haze, sorting reality from fantasy and wondering if your mother really died in a car accident in space.

In all of those ways, being away from home is like a dream. You’re eating sheep brain and flying over canyons and having tea dates with shopkeepers over the tidal flats of a tiny fishing village, all of which seem like perfectly normal activities, and then you come home. You wake up. Life is suddenly family, and grocery shopping, and sitting in traffic, and you wonder how you ever thought that any of what you experienced could ever be classified as “normal”. It feels so separate, so different from the world you’re used to, that it feels like it almost never happened. It feels like it was all a dream, infinite and expanding in its moment, but a flicker, merely a tick of the clock, in real time.

Another common question I get is, “How was it? How was the past year?” And it’s funny, because I should have an easy answer to that: It was amazing. Life-changing. Incredible. But it’s hard for me to say those things—not because it wasn’t, but because I don’t really have a broad overview of what I experienced. There’s no fitting summary to give, just as there’s no fitting summary in any year of your life. Life is more complex than that, and it’s difficult to remember everything, all the time, in a way that can be put into words upon request. There are brief flashes, and fleeting memories, and portraits of people that I recall. But there’s no core. No blurb to slap on the inside of a book jacket.

I often forget the most important moments. I remember meeting a little boy in front of a bahn mi stand in Hoi An, and I remember walking down an ordinary road to the local gas station just outside of our hostel in Ljubljana, in search of a late-night snack.

Yet sometimes I forget that I woke up at 3 am to watch the sunrise over Yangshuo, or that I even visited entire countries.

There are too many noodle soups, bed bug scares, and long bus rides swimming around in my mind. It’s too big. It’s too much to wrap my head around. There’s so much that starts to surface when someone asks me these questions that my brain starts to malfunction and all I can muster is a vague and somewhat ironic, “It was fun.”

That’s one reason why I’m grateful for blogging. Those who are close to me know that I’m 1.) an organization freak and 2.) an obsessive documenter. One of the ways this manifests itself is in my Day One journal, which I’ve meticulously kept up for over five years now. That’s right—I literally have a journal entry for every, single, day of my life since my sophomore year of college.

As much as I’m grateful for those records, and as much as I plan to continue with them until the day I die, they’re not very helpful when trying to grasp the bigger picture. I can search for what I ate on Easter of 2015, but I can’t see what 2015 felt like. I can’t see all the good moments, bad moments, ordinary moments all meshed together in a neat summary-of-events.

It’s why I’ve started projects with a different approach in the last few years; for example, I’m working on my third One Second a Day video, which is a great visual record of my life and a way to literally see-your-life-flashing-before-your-eyes. I’ve also compiled an “annual reflection” for the last two years, which summarizes my highlights and lowlights, media events, and favorite memories, among other things. I’m constantly striving to find ways to documents, digest, and present what I’m experiencing every day, every year. It sounds crazy to most of my friends (and probably to most of you reading this), but it’s how I make sense of the world. It’s how I make sense of my life.

I’m a strong believer in the power of the mind, and particularly, the power of memory. I believe that the past does not exist save for our memories. Which is why documentation is so important—without history textbooks, how would we ever know that WWII happened? That earthquakes are possible? That the Harlem Shake used to be a thing?

And it’s interesting to think about how memories are inherently inaccurate. We emphasize beginnings and endings, skim over middles, and retell our experiences in a way that’s consistent with how we wish to perceive ourselves. Memories are fluid, as is the mind, and there are only so many details we can recall when retelling an event. Those details that we choose to retain and those we choose to ignore are everything.

In a way, my obsession with documentation is an attempt to take control of the memory-shaping process. It’s so I can write my story as I intend to and can shape my life and my history in a way that I’ll be proud to share with my grandchildren someday.

It’s all about perspective, really.

Blogging gives me a lot of that. Instead of a daily play-by-play, I’m choosing to write based on snapshots or perspectives or ideas, which is a higher level of documentation than what I’m used to in my personal journal. It gets me thinking differently, and best of all, it forces me to look at my life from different viewpoints.

I originally meant for this post to be about all the things I missed while being away. This was intended to be the introduction. I got carried away, clearly.

I guess I’m just still processing everything.

Am I glad I did it? Yes.

Would I do it again, knowing what I know now?


Those are the questions that matter most. And those are the answers that best and most accurately reflect everything that’s happened between now and last summer.

The world is a beautiful place, life is a beautiful thing, and our memories are beautiful artifacts of our attempts to explore it and make sense of it all.

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