Most of life is so dull that there is nothing to be said about it, and the books and talk that would describe it as
interesting are obliged to exaggerate, in the hope of justifying their own existence.
E.M. Forster in A Passage to India.
I was supposed to write an article describing a recent trip to the historic Chinese city of Xian. I happened to take along the above excerpted book set during the British Raj, however, and as I struggled to process a description of a place (China) that defies such ridiculousness (description in 800 words), I found solace in the words of its fascinating introduction, written by Peter Burra. In a reading later confirmed by Forster, Burra posits that the book’s intention wasn’t merely socio/political, but to address the artistic problem of such descriptions: faced with a tiny peephole of individual consciousness to view a world that holds an infinity of detail and contains meaning only in layered paradox, how is one to observe and yet then transmit with any real sense of validity?
I have done my share of travel writing and for a time blogged my ass off attempting to describe the newness of the experience around me. Then came the point where I asked myself a very difficult question: is this really important?... creating these snapshots of my life in a strange place? Leaving out the humdrum come and go, the “dull[ness]”, the pervading depression that makes up the majority of my life, was I creating the illusion that one could live some magical existence if they simply pulled up stakes and moved to Busan?
In the end I decided that it wasn't and for the most part, with few exceptions, I have abstained from writing about living abroad. Yet I realize now that there is a great benefit to writing whether it has any validity as objective truth or even unbiased observation. Writing trains the mind to think in new ways and to try to organize our thoughts into words. For the student of a second language, this experience is not only valuable but indispensable. The students that I speak to who have attained fluency in a second language tell me that it was only in doing the difficult task of writing that they finally began to understand the syntax of the language. For me, writing in my first language, writing performs the equally important function of giving me a means to comprehend the syntax of my experience. This may merely be a futile attempt to "justify my own existence," but it is none the less a valid pursuit.