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Posted by on May 25, 2010

The Moon and Sixpence, the overseas life, and a list of love

I had a conversation floating around my head all day, I suppose exacted from my subconscious by a chat I was having with my sister, and then my wife, and then a friend. The topic was innocuous enough, but for some reason it seemed profound to me. At least for today. This wasn't the exact question, but it is how I am paraphrasing it; my answers were slightly different, but with a few hours of hindsight perhaps I am editing them a bit. Either way, the gist of it all was as follows.

What do you love?

Simple enough. So, as I always do, I started to make a list. In no particular order (except for the first):

1. My wife
2. Travel
3. Study (more to the point, learning)
4. Reading (ideally archaic books)
5. Music
6. Living overseas
7. Helping
8. Sharing
9. Writing (in whatever form)

And that was the end of the list. Simple enough, as I said. But what is evident after you take a few minutes making your own list is not what is there, but what isn't. What seems to shed away is anything to do with the 1000 natural shocks I make myself worry about daily. What is there is what I gravitate to, what I have gravitated to for years. After reading that list and talking with a few people, I noticed I have both travel and living overseas there. They are two separate things, most certainly. But as my sister (a former expat) and I were talking, I realized I am suspicious of those who don't want to travel or live overseas. I don't trust the instinct. Not having the opportunity is one thing, but not having the desire…Well, just color me suspicious. And what is it about living overseas that changes you? I suppose it is only perspective. A different take on things. On the world.

I am not sure exactly why I think this is the case, but when I think of living overseas I think of the following quote by a wonderful novel, The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham. The story revolves around this character Strickland, who lives this conservative life in England, but then suddenly leaves and heads for bohemian Paris and then eventually settles in Tahiti. In his British life, he is this staid, dull upstanding member of society, but in these other worlds he becomes this artist. This quote is the end of the story where someone eventually tracks him down in Tahiti, far in the wilderness as he lay dying and blind.

His eyes grew accustomed to the darkness and now he was seized by an overwhelming sensation as he stared at the painted walls. He knew nothing of pictures but there was something about these that extraordinarily affected him. From floor to ceiling the walls were covered with a strange and elaborate composition. It was indescribably wonderful and mysterious. It took his breath away. It filled him with an emotion which he could not understand or analyse.

He felt the awe and the delight which a man might feel who watched the beginning of a world. It was tremendous sensual passionate and yet there was something horrible there too something which made him afraid. It was the work of a man who had delved into the hidden depths of nature and had discovered secrets which were beautiful and fearful too. It was the work of a man who knew things which it is unholy for men to know. There was something primeval there and terrible. It was not human. It brought to his mind vague recollections of black magic. It was beautiful and obscene. "Moh Dieu" this is genius. The words were wrung from him and he did not know he had spoken.

I don't know if living overseas is primeval and partly terrible, but it can be as profound as all of this. It just seems like you are seeing the world for the first time. The images are from my old apartment in Seodaemun (서대문) circa 2002-2005, Seoul. It was profound in its own little way for me. So, get out there and make your list and go back and edit it every so often. I do not doubt that the vast majority will be the same years from now. Pay special attention to what you chose not to include to remind yourself to let those things occupy no more of your time than is absolutely required.

Posted via email from michaelgallagher’s posterous

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