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Halloo! When I found out I could go to med school with a Humanities degree with an Ethnomusicology emphasis, I almost peed myself. Here's to me holding it in.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Comfort Buttons

My wife left me.

But only for a few days. Ha - got you goin'.

Disclaimer - those of you allergic to sap may want to skip this paragraph. For about a week in the Fall I went to a meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in San Diego to present research on the Nigerian Udu drum. It was hard being apart from my wife, but I was so busy and excited to be presenting (and enjoying the beach when everybody back here was bundling up for snow) that it wasn't as terrible as it could have been. This time things are switched - Lori is in AZ with family, attending her brother's wedding. It's been much harder than I thought it would be - I've had plenty to do here, but it feels so empty without my love by my side. I have wonderful friends here, but nothing and no-one can replace the companionship and comfort my beautiful wife provides. I am realizing more and more that we are as one, and living without her is like trying to live with only half a body, half a soul. She flies back on Tuesday - hecks yes for Valentine's Day!

When I was on my mission, our mission mom gave a lesson on "comfort buttons" - those things that make the world feel okay when everything seems to be going wrong. The problem for missionaries is that many of those comfort buttons - family, friends, foods, entertainment (movies, video games, music), and even things like particular blankets, beds, stuffed animals, whatever - are gone, and cannot be had. Her encouragement was to develop other comfort buttons, to find things in mission life that center and ground you and make you feel at home. These could be things like a particular letter from home, or a picture of the family, or taking a moment to revel in the lush green of Seattle, or going out for lunch to a place that has exactly what you love, or a particular verse of scripture, or taking time during breaks to do a hobby like drawing or listening to some favorite classical music, or... Every person is different, and will find different things that work.

Going to India, I am lucky that I will have my greatest sources of comfort with me - my wife and my faith. I have learned, though, through experiences on the mission and afterward, that it is good to have some other things around as well. What are some things I should take? Let's brainstorm a list:

I'm going to have an iPhone by then (thank goodness for those free periodic phone upgrades - this saves me from having to take a laptop or suffering through having to use only cafe computers for doing homework), and iPhones are beautiful storage devices. They have up to 64 gigs of memory (I don't know if I will be able to spring for that one or not, though - the price jump is considerable), but even 16 gigs will hold the most important things.

1. music. A list of "comfort button" music will be forthcoming. But it will at least include Dave Matthews Band - there are a lot of other bands that I love, and I don't even listen to DMB that much anymore, but one snare hit of "Ants Marching" brings me back to the band that got me through high school and served as a bonding point for my brother, my best friends, and me.

2. pictures of family and friends.

3. skype ability. Lori and I just skyped for over an hour, and the sight and sound combination makes the world feel like a much better place.
4. a camera. The iPhone has an 8 MP camera, so I might even consider just taking that and not bringing my little 11-ish MP digital. I wish I could have an SLR with me, but it's just not practical or safe to lug a big, expensive, gaudy piece of machinery and gads of film all over the place in the Indian summer.
5. books that have nothing to do with my project. I wish I had enough money for a Kindle, as that would save tons of space, but unless a miracle happens (like maybe catching a leprechaun) I will have to make due with deciding on a paperback or two for project-unrelated reading enjoyment. I'll let you know what I choose.
A little fantasy...

And a little reality.
6. arts and crafts time - I've loved doing photographic collage journal entries ever since Photo I in high school. It's a good way to visually express emotion and actually do something with all those newspaper and magazine clippings. I might pick up one of the larger moleskine journals for that. Lori is thinking about looking into what the local people use for paints and dyes as a side project (Lori is an incredible painter, for those of you who aren't aware), so that would be fun to incorporate.
This isn't a journal, but it's the kind of idea I use when I make journals - this hot spring near Strawberry, AZ is one of mine and Lori's favorite places on the planet, and has sweet, continually updated hippie art. Dig.

So, what else? This list is making me happy. I am obsessive when it comes to packing light - ask Lori - and most of the above items will fit nicely inside the iPhone's memory. It will be good to take some time to come home mentally, relax for a few hours, and then go back to our little slice of Tibetan-Indian heaven.

I'm looking for crown participation on this one - for those of you who have done this kind of traveling, what were/are some of your "comfort buttons?" For those of you who haven't, what things do you think just can't be left behind?

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