This is just a little stream of consciousness to help me organize my thoughts and emotions about my upcoming move to China.

I just bought my one-way ticket to China and am applying for my visa later this week. I’m often surprised to see the stuff of my fantasies taking shape before me in the physical world. I’ve never been one to lose sleep in the excitement over Christmas/birthday/vacation weeks in advance, and almost always see these events as ghostly creatures, vague and untouchable, lacking in substance, until they are right on top of me. China has been like this in my mind for the past several months. It’s like driving towards the mountains for a morning hike: I can see them looming through the mist and know they are there, but all I can be certain about is their shape from a distance. I can guess what they are like to a reasonable degree; there will be trees, paths, animal noises, maybe other hikers. But there’s no predicting the actual experience of the mountains. Are the trees old giants with a leaf canopy or young and bendable? Will the path be mulch and soft earth or steep with stones for footholds? Will I smell sassafras, rotting leaves, dog crap? and for how many miles will the sounds of the highway rumble up to my ears? There’s no anticipating the small things and (here’s where I get philosophical) the small things contain the essence of experiences.

China is like those mountains to me right now. I’ve been there once before so I have some vague expectations; the flight will be long, the cities sprawling and dusty with construction, the people curious. But how can I even begin to assume what my first meal will taste like, how sore my arms will feel from lugging all my stuff, what kinds of excited or lonely thoughts will be my companions my first night alone in my apartment?What sounds from the street will I wake up to each morning? Will I meet kindred spirits right away or be solitary for awhile?

I have a personal policy not to overindulge unanswerable questions like these, though sometimes it’s hard to control. Like a gremlin fed after midnight, these thoughts can transform into monsters, into ugly worries. They distract from here-and-now and obscure the glints of joy that can be gleamed in every present moment. Pausing to consider the past is good because it enables you to accumulate experience and make informed decisions to improve your here-and-now. Speculating about the future is good because it keeps you accountable for your actions and lets you steer your life towards your ultimate bliss. But when these two are given too much air time, life can become a series of reruns and previews. Above all, I think it’s important to experience life as a live broadcast, letting each moment take center stage as it occurs, no less important than the ones that came before it or the ones waiting in the wings.

I guess I’m typing this all out as a reminder to myself not to find flaws with the present or idealize what’s to come. The only sure thing right now is… well, right now! The future is certainly solidifying and easing its way into now; barring unforeseeable calamity, I am getting on an airplane on August 19th and flying to a new life. Those mountains are looming closer out of the mist. They are made of solid materials and their reality cannot be contested. If I continue down this highway, I will reach them. But in the meantime, I intend to concentrate on finding a good radio station, looking out for roadside boiled peanut stands, feeling the ache of love in my heart for the passengers in the car with me.

And really, even the pleasant tingly feelings of looking forward are themselves an experience of here-and-now. By nature, anticipation can only occur in the present, and it can be enjoyed in itself as a sensation unique to right now. It vanishes the instant the anticipated arrives. I guess my goal is to engage in and uncover joy in these emotions while they’re here and turn my attention to the mountain once I’m actually walking up it. Which it’s incredible to think won’t be long now.