I have horrible anxiety about getting on planes, for three reasons: I don’t like the idea of being that high up for that long a period of time, I don’t like being near a lot of people I don’t know for that long a period of time, and I’m incapable of sleeping on a moving vehicle. So I knew that my eight hour trip from Toronto to Berlin (with one transfer at Zurich in between) would be far from enjoyable.
The red-eye flight left Pearson International at around 5 pm, and I almost felt like crying when I thought about my parents waving me goodbye at the gate, which is weird, because I don’t even like my parents that much. But then the corniest feeling came over me when the plane began to take off, heating up the runway and accelerating in a way that felt like a rollercoaster ride. I felt really afraid, but also really excited. This feeling (one which I haven’t had for a long time) is why I wanted to come to Berlin in the first place. As Pico Iyer said on “Why We Travel,” we embark on long adventures to “… become young fools again — to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
I’m from Toronto, and almost everyone I know went to one of three universities – McGill, Western, or Queens. I went to New York because I had become bored of Toronto. Not bored in the sense that Toronto is boring, bored in the sense that I had stayed in one place for too long and had fallen into too many routines with too many familiar faces. New York was new and exciting to me, and days felt both languid and stuffed; I felt no great need to be in any hurry, as anything I did in New York was important and special, and yet at the end of every day I was exhausted from everything I had taken in. After two years in New York, I found myself with the same familiar itch to want to go somewhere new. I came to Berlin because I want to miss New York, the way I deeply miss Toronto.
My concentration concerns history and writing. I don’t have a name for it yet, but my adviser and I are working on it. I’m specifically interested in the use of writing as a tool of communication, especially in communicating struggle or conflict. For example, I like books about war, or protest albums. The kind of history I like concerns Berlin greatly: the Cold War, and World War II.
I particularly liked one quote from Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel chapter “On Anticipation:” “If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest — in all its ardour and paradoxes — than our travels.” This quote explains almost perfectly the bizarre situation I found myself in upon flying away from Toronto, my state of mind both in dread and in awe. In my search for happiness and excitement and newness, I was putting myself through something that seemed to go against every fibre of my being. This is not to say that it’s exactly a chore to be able to get on an airplane and experience a new place — this is merely to say that I had a comfortable apartment, a nice meal, and a warm bed I could have stayed in on January 25th instead of in a cramped, dirty airplane seat way too high up in the sky. I usually choose comfort over distress, and so I’m hoping that my arrival in Berlin will help me make more uncomfortable moves, in a way that will help me learn.