Doing Study Abroad Well

With my lengthy study abroad experience at its conclusion, I thought it apt to look ahead to those that might study abroad in the future.  So, please enjoy the following ten tips for study abroad.

1) Do your research

            Nothing says preparation for a lengthy time abroad, whether three or nine months, like a little bit of research.  Know a thing or two about the country you will be spending part of your immediate future in.  Where is it and what region is it a part of?  Is there some basic history to consider?  What is the capital and how many people live there?  Simple questions like this as well as a quick Wikipedia or Google search will get you thinking about the place that you will learn to call home.

2) Take care of business

            Being physically present in your host country while mentally in your original country is a shame.  It limits the opportunities that are available to you because your mind is so far removed from your physical being.  Instead, aim to divorce yourself as much as possible from the familiar life of your campus, college friends, and family.  Though it may be scary, this offers you the ability to be present in-country rather than concerned about what is going on wherever you came from.  Transnational living is hard enough as it is; being present helps overcome that difficulty.

3) Pack light

            You will come back with stuff.  And in all likelihood, lots and lots of stuff.  As such, do your future self a favor by taking no more than one-third as many clothes and at least twice as much money as you think you’ll need.  Not only does this give you an opportunity to buy things that along the way, but also requires you to step outside your comfort zone and engage the community around you when you are looking for a tube of toothpaste or pair of flip-flops.

4) Do the do

            Upon arrival and during your first few weeks abroad, not much will make sense.  And in the case of being in an unfamiliar culture, walk the walk and talk the talk.  While I’m not advocating copying every single behavior you see around you, it may become important to do some redefining, whether in terms of personal space, hygiene, food, language, or whatever else.  Try to blend in as much as you feel that you can, as it gives you an opportunity to understand the culture in a way you might not have expected.

5) Two’s company…

            and that makes three a crowd.  When traveling and exploring the country, avoid big gatherings as much as you can.  Small groups make possible a more personalized and individual experience while not allowing you to use fellow students as a crutch.  Some of my most memorable experiences in Morocco came about when I was by myself or with one other student.  There is something special about seeing the extraordinary – or the everyday – with company rather than a crowd.

6) Get lost

            Though much of what you encounter abroad will be unfamiliar, that is part of the beauty of the experience; embrace it.  Take advantage of opportunities to wander about and learn by doing.  Find yourself lost in an unfamiliar part of town and try to figure out your way back.  Practice your language skills while doing so and you will be taking immersion to a level that will enhance your experience.  Figuring out your way back after being lost will also increase your confidence in what was once unfamiliar.

7) Have a conscientious camera

            Contrary to what you might think, not everyone enjoys having their picture taken.  As such, avoid being the ignorant tourist that points his or her camera at everything; you’re not a tourist.  Realizing that you have more knowledge about the country and the culture than the average tourist, remember that you also have a responsibility to respect others more than most tourists do.  When in doubt, ask.  Better to receive a negative response than to offend someone.

8) Write often

            Whether in a journal, on a blog, or both, putting your thoughts down makes for a positive negotiation of feelings.  Studying abroad – and living abroad in general – tends to result in questions about yourself, your environment, and the relationship between the two.  It is crucial in digesting ideas and thoughts since your time abroad will likely push you further outside your comfort zone than you thought possible.  And besides all this, it will help you remember some of the incredible things that you will experience.

9) Think profoundly

            Walking around with blinders on, a tunnel-vision attitude, or any other single-minded viewpoint means you may be missing a huge learning opportunity.  The environment around you is probably different from what you are used to.  Take advantage of this by thinking about all that you see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and so on.  What is going on around you and how are you interacting with it?  Why are you experiencing what you are experiencing?  How can you understand more than you do at the moment?

10) Positive mental attitude

            While having one of these is important in general, it is essential in an experience abroad.  When you are encountering the unfamiliar, it is unlikely that you will fall in love with everything – and also unnecessary.  Nonetheless, engaging your new environment with positivity rather than negativity ensures that you set yourself up for seeing the best in it rather than criticizing every little element that upsets you.  And if nothing else, it helps you take care of your spirit.

Of course there is more to a successful study abroad experience than just these ten tips.  However, I hope that these will offer you some food for thought when considering studying abroad.  Thank you for joining me on this amazing journey.  I hope it inspires you to begin one of your own.

Andalusian Morocco

My study abroad program is hosted not in a university, but in a cross-cultural center.  As such, it hosts many events of a cultural variety, both in an effort to connect American students with the culture of Morocco and to celebrate it in its own right.  I have attended most of the events put on by my program, and have enjoyed each one.  Whether it a jazz fusion event, Sufi music, or public lectures on various topics, they each contribute something to my experience and understanding.

A recent event was one of Andalusian music.  A quartet of performers sat down behind a table in the main lobby, putting on a show of magnificent proportions.  Andalusian music, considered the classical variety of Moroccan music, is full of overtures to and celebrations of the Prophet, Allah, and Moroccan culture.  It serves as a reminder that Morocco was – and still is – heavily influenced by the fleeing of Jews and Muslims from the south of Spain back in the days when Christopher Columbus thought he discovered something (he didn’t, in case you’re wondering).  They brought with them culture, traditions, dance, and music.

Such Andalusian music, exemplified by the performance I saw, creates a nearly perfect mimicry of Morocco.  The cellist, oud player, singer, and drummer created a vibe of passionate intensity.  Every now and again, the cellist would slide his fingers up and down the fingerboard while the oud player teased music from the strings.  They were joined by the singer, resonating poetic lyrics with harmony and melisma.  Each bit of ebb and flow rose and fell in accord with words and mood, amazing the audience.

But what of the drummer?  His role was the most important.  Not because I am a drummer necessarily, but because it was the most important.  In addition to keeping time and a steady rhythm, this drummer – as any good one will do – served as the pulse.  After the excitement of the melodic strings dissipated, he remained.  After the wanderings of melismatic singing faded, he remained.  And, he remained not as a driving or dynamic force, but rather as a laidback and low-key base.

Put together, that is Morocco.  It is not a country of force across the board, or of in-your-face intensity.  Rather, it is a place that delights you with little bits of harmonic brilliance and melodic beauty.  It puts you in a trance to follow all the lines and changes, the shifts and slights, the motion and movement that it presents.  It is subtle yet special and underrated yet unique all at once.  Morocco has colors and flairs, just as three of the Andalusian music performers did.

Yet underneath it all, the feel of Morocco is one of relaxation.  Just like the drummer in the performance, it exudes sit and chill rather than rise and move.  When the moments of magic fade, the café is a place to unwind.  Where the bright city lights do not reach, the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert unfold, silent in their simplicity.  And, when everyone takes a break in the afternoons, there is a cup of steaming mint tea asking you to stay a while.  Always tea.

Generally speaking, music reflects the context in which it is, and Andalusian music is no different.  The way of Morocco is its earthly representative, such that it is what Andalusian music demonstrates.  And at the end of the day, it means that the music reigns supreme.  It is the force that shows everyone else and everything else who is boss.  Does your music do that?

Simplicity

At various points on this trip, I’ve had to pack my bags.  Whether for a weekend, a week, or whatever else, the concept of packing up has given every place I’ve been an air of transience.  Nothing seems permanent, constant, or even consistent.  On this trip I take this bag, but on another I take that one; they don’t even have the same stuff in half the time.  It is always different.

And yet, on the cusp of any of the numerous travels I’ve enjoyed within the broader context of this huge traveling experience, I always feel a slight combination of apprehension and excitement.  The night before I leave or the morning of is always an odd time.  Once I have taken care of packing my bags, I look around one last time, and then take a breath.  And then something magical happens.

I start to feel butterflies in my stomach as my hands get a strange sensation that almost makes me feel weak and unable to control them.  There is a tingling that follows, as I consider that I won’t be in the place where I am for a while to come (I don’t say never since there is no such thing, but you get the point).  Whether just a little bit of time or a lot of it, I get to experience the quiet anticipation that little kids and big kids get before opening a gift or such like.

It has taken me a while to figure out what triggers this feeling, given how many times I’ve had it on this trip.  The answer is quite easy, really: simplicity.  The simplicity with which I look at my life when it is packed into one little bag for a whole week or two little bags for a whole month or three little bags for a whole year always gets my fingers tingling.  It is the start of an adventure, the potential of a new opportunity, and the excitement of the unknown, all of which culminates in this odd and unmanufacturable feeling.

I kind of enjoy this simplicity.  The idea that I don’t need very little has been ingrained in me from the beginning, and it is rewarding, even empowering, to know that it still holds.  It is a life of few needs and even fewer wants that reduces clutter, cuts out drama, and minimizes shenanigans.  Nice and easy, relaxed and laidback are exactly the way in which I choose to live.  There is too much in this world to carry it all with me.

And so far as too much stuff is concerned, I go in the direction of the next travelling opportunity, unattached, unfettered, and uncluttered.  I travel with as little as I can, keeping room for all the things that I will gather along the way.  Whether physical souvenirs or emotional connections, they are all be a part of the simplicity approach, packed into the smallest bag I can manage for the longest time possible.

Fun fact: less is more.

A Quiet Saturday Night

Nothing is ever routine in Morocco.  The simplest thing, which you would expect to work in a certain way, rarely does.  Instead, it surprises you with difference and change, sometimes good and sometimes bad.   But, regardless of the event or the thing that you expect to happen one way that actually happens another, there is at least one certainty: it is always exciting.

Take a recent Saturday night.  So there I was with my host family in the house, watching the Real Madrid game to see them hopefully lose rather than likely win (my host dad is a big Barcelona fan).  And, as sometimes happens during such games since everyone wants to watch it, the doorbell rang.  This wasn’t the first time that such a thing had happened: friends of my host brother tend to pop in and out to watch the football matches as if they have some sort of football-watching radar or something.

But this time, there was somebody I had never seen before: he asked for my host brother and walked in, followed by another man, a lady, and a short person (here being a young girl).  They came inside and greeted my host family warmly.  Though I never figured out exactly who they were, my host family knew them and that was good enough for me.  We spent the evening together, sharing stories and food.

Throughout the evening, the little girl changed from her original state.  While she began as shy and unassuming, she grew in her comfort with the six adults in the room and quickly came out of her shell.  With the TV tuned to “Arab Idol” – the regional “American Idol” equivalent – she began to dance and move her hands around to the music.  Getting her to dance and embrace the music became a game for all of the bigger people, since there are not regularly children in the house.  It was a good time.

After dinner, we went into picture-taking mode before the guests left.  And, for whatever reason, a docile family portrait was not the most important.  After a few ones that fit that category, my host brother whipped out his phone and started taking pictures of the little girl.  And, of course, she chose this moment to not continue her dancing ways.  Instead, she just stared at the phone with no beat in her arms.

At this point, the rest of the family thought it best to make wild and crazy attempts at making her dance.  This resulted in serious chicanery and shenanigans, such as waving a cloth above her head, clapping, singing, dancing, and other ridiculous things.  It was a hoot to see fully grown individuals, all self-respecting and old – to a certain extent – being silly in an effort to make a child laugh, or smile, or whatever.

Naturally, she was having none of it.  Her face was one of staring at everyone with a very simple look, implying that she was in control of the situation and everyone else around her was absolutely nuts.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the situation, since she was doing the exact opposite of what the rest of the world desired from her at the moment.  It was hilarious.

And so, what may have otherwise been a quiet Saturday night turned into a delightful adventure of entertaining a child, watching adults make fools of themselves, and an opportunity to remind myself about the usual way things in Morocco: nothing ever happens the way you think it will.  Long may surprise be a crucial part of my time abroad.

Anticipation

When you get excited for something, you can often set yourself up for failure.  This can include things like increasing your expectations, hyping up an activity, or otherwise associating all things positive with whatever you are hoping for.  In some instances, this can be problematic, because you may not end up actualizing whatever it is that you want.  And, since you have associated so much goodness with what you want to have happen, it can be troubling to find out the final result: especially if it is negative.

However, there are those times when all that hype and positivity that you have put an investment in are realized.  And in those cases, especially if it is actually what you need, it can be beautiful.  Simply beautiful.  I recently experienced a situation like this when spending some time in the dunes of the Sahara Desert.  Beauty of an unanticipated variety was found, despite all the anticipation that came before.

My program spent one night on the outskirts of the Sahara Desert, but we were close enough to the sand that it was possible to hike out and experience them for ourselves.  And despite our previous evening’s adventure of camel-riding, some of us could not get enough.  So, the next morning, a bunch of early-risers awoke before first light, readying ourselves for a great show: the sunrise.  Not many people take advantage of this daily phenomenon and the wonders that it holds, but it is there daily, for those that take the time.

So we hiked out.  Some of us went further than others, looking for dunes undisturbed by footprints, painted only with the ridges of a windswept evening.  And though they were hard to come by, the silence that existed as a by-product was worth the hike.  Further, the main event, full in all its golden glory, was preceded by colors – pinks, golds, blues, and oranges – that coated the horizon.  This coloration, plus the unexpected silence, gave the whole scene an air of quietude and expectancy: much like the calm before the storm, or the breath before the plunge.

And while it might seem that all of this build-up prepared me well for the big show, it was no match.  It did not even begin to whet the appetite regarding how magnificent the rise would be.  For no sooner than I thought that the sun would rise at any second did I find it peeking out from the horizon.

It was splendid.  A little golden speck, rising above the dunes so far away, it made its way ever closer to the blue sky around it, starting the day with its illumination and coloring of the sands.  The orb rose in majestic fashion, putting the previous color show and silence to shame.  I gasped, unable to contain the breath that the scene required I take in.  All put together, it was unbelievable.

Anticipation has the tendency to go one of two ways.  Either it is fulfilled or it is not.  Of course, there are multiple other options and nuances of fulfillment.  But, in select cases, as with the sunrise, it not only fulfills, but wildly exceeds its own expectations.  Perhaps this does not happen every time or in every instance, but it is worth the anticipation.  And while I may not ever experience a fulfillment like this sunrise ever again, I do know that I will continue to anticipate as much as I can.  Thinking about the potential of that breath of light is worth it.

Adjusting for Bananas

Most weekday mornings, I wake up at around 7:30 to go to school.  And though it’s like high school in that sense, not all things are bad.  One of the not bad things is that my host mom wakes up to start her day around the same time, so she makes me a pot of tea with some form of food (khubz is the item of choice at that hour, or any hour really) to start off the day.  And though I have an issue with being served every meal, it is a nice opportunity to kick back.  There is always something positive in every situation.

One morning, I woke up as per the routine, and she did not.  Either her alarm was set later than usual or she slept through it, or whatever else.  At any rate, I was about to leave and wanted something to eat, so I took my first foray into the kitchen, finding a glass of milk and a banana – the breakfast of champions, contrary to Wheaties’ claim.  And as I turned to leave the kitchen, both items in hand, my host mom walked in.  “Safi,” she said, indicating that it was good of me to take food.  I was glad to escape unscathed, because I had never set foot into the kitchen to get my own food before and that space can be very strictly gendered in many instances.

A day or so later, I woke up for the same regular routine as did my host mom, putting tea and the regular quarter piece of khubz on a tray.  However this time, there was an addition that I had never – in my half-year stay in Morocco – ever seen at breakfast: a piece of fruit.  I was shocked and elated at once, surprised at the presence of the banana in the domain of the bread and excited that I would get to eat one before dinnertime: fruit is typically the post-dinner dessert.

I learned something from this episode.  First, my host mom is a smart woman (I knew this already, but it is nice to confirm things now and again).  And while this is valuable, the second and more important idea is that she made an adjustment.  Even if I had taken the banana out of convenience, which is mostly true, it was seen as something that I wanted at that moment, which meant that I liked it, which meant that – as both the woman in charge of the house and my host mom – she should do something about it.  And so she did.

For me, the value of this is less from the fact that she did something about it, which is nice and wonderful, and more from the realization that it was an adaptation.  It was an adaptation in hospitality that considered the needs of another first.  Forget the fact that she already put a piece of khubz and a piece of cake, in addition to the pot of tea on the tray for breakfast that morning.  The banana adaptation becomes important because of what it represents to her: the knowledge that she is receptive to change and considerate of me as an individual.

Imagine what would happen if we all took this type of attitude with us wherever we go, bearing in mind that the way in which we value a banana may be completely different from the way someone else values in mind a banana.  And that if we think about what a banana means to another, we might just find that we learn something about them, ourselves, and the way that we both relate to those everyday objects and ourselves as such.  Banana adjustments: crucial for mutual understanding.

Lunch

Being in a place that I know means many things are familiar.  But, as I’m discovering, many things are also quite different.  In fact, I have experienced difference in places that I least expected it, considering how much I thought I knew: the city of Rabat, the general method and way of being in Morocco, my host institution, the food, and so on.  Each of these feels like an element that I have already come to terms with in my experience, such that I don’t need to worry about it anymore.

And yet, I am always surprised by a little bit of something.  These little moments are the ones that remind me of my non-Moroccanness, despite the comfort that I feel like I have.  Take one lunch over a recent weekend.  After helping set the table, I sat down and waited for others to join, bringing the last bits of food and utensilage.  One by one they did, sitting in their respective places.  My homestay mom was still in the kitchen bringing out the main dish, which meant that she was not seated at the table.  Nonetheless, I was invited to eat the salad and drink the juice.  Never mind that food was missing and, more importantly, a person was missing.  The important thing was that I eat and not wait.

Generally, in the US at least, it is appropriate to wait for anyone else you know that is coming to the table to eat.  Whether at home, when my family – and many others, I imagine – wait for all others before digging in, or in a restaurant when it is impolite to begin eating before everyone has been served, the conception of who should eat and when is different, at least in these instances.

But then, I think about it, and realize that if we were to have a guest at home in the States, it is likely that we would also invite them to eat and not wait for anyone regardless of the appropriate decorum.  For a guest, there is no reason to hold them back despite the poor planning of another individual.  And in that respect, to encourage another to eat makes some sense: hospitality is a manifestation of our care for others, and it is likely that we care enough to want them to eat and not go hungry.  So then why is it that we wait in restaurants for everyone to be served?  Doesn’t food trump the equal footing business?

And the answer, at least for my experiences in the US, is that it probably doesn’t.  So ingrained is the idea of everyone being – or at least beginning – on a level playing field that I feel uncomfortable when asked to eat before others.  It is my responsibility to effectively negotiate this different display of care and love where having food, rather than being on a level playing field with others, is the way that many Moroccans show their love.  Of course, there is a wonderful positivity in everyone sitting down for lunch or dinner together, sharing a meal and breaking bread as one.

But, think about it: in the grand scheme of things, what’s a little bit of time here and there?  Care is what really counts.  Make sure to express yours.

Magic Moments

I’ve been in Morocco for a while.  And, as a result, I have seen a lot of things.  These lots of things vary, whether as sights in different cities, incredible conversations I’ve had, random acts of nature, different architecture in various medinas, or whatever.  In any case, they are all parts of my experience here, and color it in different ways with unique smells, sounds, and sights.

Sometimes, this makes me complacent.  I consider myself of having experienced much and thus not having much left to experience.  This puts me in the position of thinking that there isn’t altogether that much to enjoy about this country, or whatever else.  It is not the best assumption to make, considering lots of things, but mostly considering that I have a few months left here and a lot more things to see, learn, and experience.

Beyond this though, this attitude is silly because it is wrong.  Not only have I not seen everything, but I also continually see new things.  Alright, maybe not new things, but old things in new ways.  Or, maybe I notice something that I haven’t noticed before, since everything about this place is ultimately new.  These are some of my favorite moments, even if they are small, out of the way, and unexpected.

Take the other day, for example.  Walking from class back to my homestay and having a conversation with fellow study abroad mates, I turned my head toward one side and noticed an alley, beautifully struck with light and sporting bright splashes of color along its walls.  It was picturesque and magical, but I had just one split second to enjoy it before it was gone.  There was no dwelling on it, no exaggerating it, nothing.  I could only take it for it was in that heartbeat and store it in my memory banks.  Never again will it be the same for me, or anyone else for that matter, since that frame of mind, that slit of light, that moment can never be recaptured.

It is incredible when you think about it, the power of the moment.  It is always exactly what it is then and there, a beauty unfettered and unharnessed, and immediate.  Without all of the elements that make it what it is, it cannot be anything, which is an absolute delight.  There is an amazing instancy about the moment, any moment, that cannot be taken for granted, but must be appreciated, however small or insignificant, no matter what.

Before I left for Morocco, my family and I had a get-together of people.  At this get-together, I put out a little journal so anyone feeling that they wanted to give me some message as I voyaged away could.  Many of them gave me some advice about how to think about things and engage my time, though one in particular indicated that on hard days, since living abroad is a challenge, it is important to take a moment to enjoy something truly simple.

What wonderful advice it is to consider the magic moments.  And even though this piece of encouragement focused on the hard days, it is further applicable to the easier ones: take a chill, sit back, and enjoy something simple.  Those magic moments are worth all the time in the world that they take to create or all the oddities and randomness with which they appear.

There are magic moments all around us.  Take a moment to savor one.

The Pause

A bit of a reflection on the past for this week.

I have a new homestay family.  This happened as a result of me starting a new semester.  And, as happened last semester, I was picked up by a member of the family at the designated time, so determined by the program.  And though we were to be picked up at a certain time, the pickup experience was inevitably delayed, given that there were a lot of people to be matched with a lot of families and that this is Morocco.  Both are contributing factors.  Things get done, but just not at the pace you might expect.

After my homestay father picked me up from my school, I walked with him to the house.  The walk was only five minutes from the place where I take classes, but I learned a thing about myself during that time.  Amazing what happens when we stop and think.  Or, as in this case, pause and think.

Upon leaving the center, we turned right to exit the medina and walked to the closest avenue, hopping up some steps to get there.  We turned left onto the avenue, which we followed for a bit.  We were not a minute down the avenue when we happened upon a funeral procession, slowing traffic as it went along the street.  I didn’t think too much of it, considering our proximity to a cemetery, and thought to myself about the general somber attitude that is associated with funerals.  I don’t really know if my host father thought much about it either, but I do know that he paused, stopped talking, and faced the road in a silent testimony to the person that was being honored in the procession.  I stopped too.  And then, after a few seconds, we turned and walked on.

I did not find that even the slightest bit out of the ordinary.  And that blows my mind.

Likely, if that had happened six and a half months ago, or at least a situation of similar proportions, my reaction of stopping would probably have been the same, but my rationale undoubtedly different.  I can’t imagine myself letting such an event go as if it were just an average part of my daily life.  And yet, I did so, at least to a certain extent, after this happened.  I did not consider it strange, and it took me 24 hours to even think it was worth writing about.

That such is the case puts me in the strange position of realizing that I’ve been here for a while and have become accustomed to some elements of the constructed cultural reality that I’ve made for myself.  I have, after all, spent nearly seven months here and am bound to have ingrained certain behaviors that are a part of this culture and experience.  What is most unexpected, however, is that this is perhaps the first behavior that I have picked up where I did not consider it at the time, but thought of doing so later.  The time delay is getting longer; I am becoming more integrated.

This, of course, has implications.  It likely bodes well for my immersion into the culture, but also serves as a reminder that I am not fully immersed.  My action may have taken me longer to reconsider, but I did reconsider it in the end.  I thought to remember that I am where I am and as I am, but only a little bit.  And, there is nothing wrong with that.  Pausing is a good thing.  Whether on the street, or in our heads, it makes us think.  Give it a go.  Or, as I did, a stop.

The Center Point

During my research period, I used each day to do a lot of creative writing.  Every morning, I left the hotel where I stayed on one side of Djemaa el Fna, walked through the square, and crossed the street.  I then approached the center point.  It is to this center point, the minaret of the Khoutubia Mosque, that I walked and then around, revolving as if in some sort of daily ritual.  On the other side of the mosque, the Moroccan government thought it wise to establish a set of gardens, well maintained and orderly, that many tourists walk through to get to the Khoutubia Mosque, on the agenda for every tourist coming to this city.  I would find a bench, sit down, and start writing, cranking out ideas and pages like they were going out of style.

When I got tired, fed up, or needed a break, I would pack up my things and walk back toward the center point.  I then rotated around it and left my play and related research behind, almost as if it remained tied to the flora and fauna of the park.  It did not actually remain in that space, since it is really in my head, but some form of switch turned off in my head once I walked around that center point.  It is the rotation that offered me an opportunity to take a break, to unwind, and to recharge.  Without these two spheres, one for work and one for relaxation, I would probably have had serious trouble cranking out as much as I have thus far.

It was not easy making things up, all day, everyday.  It required calling on a set of reserves that I normally only access once a month, or once a week even.  When drumming, which is the other outlet I am more accustomed to, I cannot remember sitting down to improv after improv session for days in a row.  I don’t know how grooves would respond to such demand, since part of what makes them so magical is their randomness and inconsistent nature.  And thus, for my own sanity, this rotational center point was necessary.  It may not have been real, and it may be 100% mental, but once I have finished it all, since everything is a work in progress, I will deal with its truth or falsehood.

Creativity is risky but incredibly rewarding.  For anyone that puts their neck out there, a rock climber or an air traffic controller for instance, there is a fall back, a something that gives them space.  For a rock climber, it is the knowledge that they can eventually unhook their harness and walk around, while an air traffic controller knows that they will be relieved by the next shift in due time.  For the rest of us that don’t have these mechanisms institutionalized into our daily lives, we have to create them so that our personal creativity, risk-taking, and ingenuity is not met with our falling into a gorge of darkness and uncertainty.  Separating spaces is crucial.  What’s your center point?