My birthday is coming. I have a tradition. Since I turned 18, I decided to celebrate every birthday doing something I’ve never done before but always wanted to do. It couldn’t be about luxury or any material thing–just something fun to mark a day in the life and express my gratitude for being able to live it. It was my bucket list before anyone had a name for that sort of thing. Before I was any age to even be thinking about a bucket list. Continue reading
But my trip to Italy was rational, not emotional. I had a leftover one-way ticket from a prior flight that I felt like I should use. Why not? I hadn’t been to Florence or Venice in over 20 years. I was a college kid last time I visited, so it would be interesting to see these two cities with new eyes. (Or older ones, I should say…)
I booked my first 4 nights and the rest, I would wing. I’m always anxious before a big trip, and this was no different. The solo travel is both freeing and wearing. I’d be working part-time, so there was that. But would I feel isolated? Would I feel safe? Would it be too long, too short? Was it right to put my life on hold?
There is no right or wrong in anything, only different.
And 36 days of wandering around northern Italy was just life. I had my good days, and my bad days and every shade of emotion in between. After the first two weeks, I was tired and wanted to go home. After the second two weeks, I was scrambling to see if I could stay longer. You can put yourself in a new place, a new situation, a new time zone, even. And, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I have a pendant I wear often with this saying. I find it so innocently true. I travel because I’m drawn to it. It’s not an “adventure” as people who sort of know me like to say. It’s just who I am. My life is just different from theirs. They have families. I have places. Maybe because I find places more honest, more reliable than people. Warmer, more interesting and more soothing to surround myself with. Is that sad? Or just different.
36 Days in Italy was both a lot and too little.
I put myself in an in-between state–not really on vacation, not really living–a little microcosm of the real me. Always in motion, aiming to get there with no real concept of where “there” is. Untethered. Like usual. Because that’s me–the life I was born into, the story that was written, the one that I recite by heart like a Greek tragedy. My fate is to wander until I find my way home. The joke is. I’ll never have one. And the soonest I can accept the punchline, maybe I’ll actually have a laugh.
I’ve always said the great thing about travel is
that it shows you how quickly possibilities can become reality. You can live another life. Step off a plane, and there you are in a whole new set of routines. Or anti-routines. Either way, you’ve flipped a switch and changed your life channel. Temporarily, if you wish. This trip could’ve been 36 Days in Westport or Seattle or South of France. The scenery didn’t matter. I spent my time there like I do here–gravitating to the quiet, relishing nature, having just enough company to keep me sane and seeing in the reflections of others what it means to be alone. “Are you staying alone?” “Table for one?” “Are you here by yourself?” Yes. Yes. Yes. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t always so pronounced. But this outside observation punctuated my time just enough that I started to wonder just how alien is it to be on one’s own?
Italy is a country centered around the family.
Grown men staying adoringly close to Mamma. Brothers and sisters and uncles and cousins living just down the street, working in the same family business, sitting around the same long farm table at the end of a workday. In Italy, you are your family. Your identity, your future, your way of life is forever (and proudly) tied to family. It’s very old-world traditional in that regard. And as I wandered around, an adult orphan, I thought to myself, ” We are drawn to things in life without explanation.” At least, it’s not always apparent.
If a woman goes to Italy for 36 days and no one is around to see it, did it really happen?
Maybe that’s why I Instagrammed my solo trip through Italy…to ensure it’s existence. Each photo, a footprint that left traces of my path. I even Facebooked little anecdotes when I was in the mood. (Yes, Instagram and Facebook are also verbs.) And as I wandered and snapped pictures, alternating from my iPhone and my pocket camera, I wrote silly captions in my head. Documenting. Framing. Storytelling.
As I took my passeggiata day, in the vein of an Italian evening stroll, processing my trip and what it felt like to be back, I came to the conclusion that life is lived for stories. If all of us are here for human connection, that moment only happens when a storyline begins. If language is the foundation of culture, how we live is ultimately defined by what we say. In some ways, we are what we say we are–our stories are how we make meaning for ourselves.
“Dear Diary, You’re dead.”
I brought one of many travel journals with me. I think I opened it and wrote one entry somewhere in the first two weeks of my travels. The thing is, I cannot write for myself anymore. Our world–big and small–lives another life online. Privacy is dead. The knowledge that I am writing for an audience, even if my audience is anonymous and isn’t physically present, changes how I talk to my inner self. Hilarious or tragic? We are–any one of us who has a social media account at all–accustomed to having a 24/7 audience whether we call them followers or friends or connections. Even the definition of a selfie is about putting oneself on stage.
Say What You Want to Mean, Meaning from What You Said
And so I’ve come back to this blog to share my travels. And I asked myself why. As I asked myself weeks ago why is that I’m spending precious moments of my trip posting inane comments about this and that on Facebook. To tell a story, to share a thought, to communicate–is to create meaning, structure and purpose. (I also just like to write–both for and not for a paycheck.) We put words to what we want to matter. We shade experiences with emotion through language. Mine are words and Instagram pictures. Yours might be music and tweets. Videos (or Vines) and postcards or Pinterest pins. And in this case, the message is the meaning.
Making Moments into Memories
I also remind myself over and over that everything in life is fleeting. And travel teaches you that sad lesson each time you return from a trip. But our photos and posts and stories help us hold on to moments a little longer. Cementing memories. Producing proof. Saving little pieces of ourselves to share over and over again.
It’s almost to the point where I feel guilty.
“Have a great time in Italy!” they squeal at me. As if I’m going on a cruise ship where confetti is tossed from the balconies upon boarding. “I’m so excited for you!!!”
I repeat unaffected, “It’s not a vacation.”
They look at me, confused. I let the silence extend itself to underscore my reply.
I put some thought to this. Why it bugs me to be misunderstood.
It’s a sore spot because I don’t intend my travels to be anything special. It is my regular, not my someday come true. Is it my lifestyle not my annual vacation. It is what I wish were more often the norm–for many others who say, “I’m so jealous.” It is possibility made possible. And this shouldn’t be so rare.
Wish me a good trip like you wish me a good day at work. Like you wish me a good run. Off the cuff, cavalier…as if just another day of countless many.
Because that’s the way it should be. Nothing special. Just another day in the life I choose to make mine.
I’m working with a new client in online education and learned this new term called flipped classroom–one that’s more engaged and more active in learning where the students own the experience, not necessarily the teacher.
I started to think, what about the flipped life as a whole? The 40-hour work week devoted to things we love, not have to do to get by. So it’s neither live to work nor work to live… it’s play for work. What if turning our lives around is literally about flipping the system? Dessert first…
This is my quest and I’m learning, it’s possible. I’m spending the next month in Italy–mostly in small towns and near lakes and mountains. I’m working 20 to 30 hours a week while I’m there but writing from la terrasse under the Tuscan sun. Fortunately, I have a client where working remotely is doable. I know this isn’t the case for other lines of work. But still, if I weren’t a writer, why wouldn’t I change my career path to fit how I want to fill my days? Why wouldn’t you? This. Is. Your. Life.
Why do we put off the things we want to do on the weekend to motivate ourselves to get through the week? What is the logic in trudging through five days to get to a two-day break, one of which is half spent preparing to re-trudge? What is this fence we put up around Saturdays and Sundays–premium time that we have to work our way up to week after week? It’s crazy. If you really analyze the norm–the norm does not set us up for happiness, for health nor for success. Who wants to trudge their way through life for small spurts of relaxation and joy?
Maybe some of us need that juxtaposition of boring and blah blah blah to fully appreciate the high points. I get the concept of ying and yang but even ying and yang is a balanced split and five out of seven days (workweek vs. weekend) is definitely weighted the wrong way.
I’m drawing the line for myself. And I’m rebalancing the scales.
I like the idea of turning things physically around. Playing all day and working at night to match my client time zone. Living in rural places but staying connected to a digital megalopolis. I’m changing my trajectory for now. Or maybe forever, who knows.
Some day I might love to trade the flight to the mountains for a front porch facing a mountain view, a short walk to the ocean or a lake and nowhere to go but the front yard. Hmm. There is an irony in traveling so far away to get closer to the idea of what I’d some day call home.
That’s what discovery is all about–to continue to venture out until you find what pulls you in. The more you seek, the more you see what fits you. And that experience alone is the sweet life.
Who’s with me?
We look for patterns in life. We do it to make sense out of things. To predict. To reassure ourselves that what’s happened, is happening or will happen fits with who we are. Every big decision to every simple daily choice. It’s as if we spend our lives mapping ourselves, stitching patterns in time.
I started this blog as an exercise in writing, in exploring possibilities and giving a voice to my 30-day experience on the Farmcoast.
Now that I’m home, why stop there?
Shouldn’t we strive to fill our hearts with a little self-indulgence every day? It is our one life to live, no? It is a miracle to have the chances that we do, yes? We are all–each and every one of us–worth it, aren’t we?
You don’t need a hair product commercial to tell yourself you’re worth it. Your zest for life is not going to materialize in a fortune cookie. And you can’t rely on winning the lottery to change your destiny. Let’s face it. One great, amazing thing you can control is how you treat yourself.
So…maybe skip a day of work next week and avoid your email, texts and Facebook pings. Don’t even look. All will be there when you get back to it. And if not, consider yourself lucky.
Sneak into another movie after a movie with overpriced candy in your pockets and perhaps a discreet flask of somethin’ somethin’. That’s right. Just like when you were 15. Because that ridiculous teen in you should always be accessible.
Get into your car and drive without a destination, radio up, windows down and all back roads. Get lost because that’s when you find something truly interesting.
Find an old-world steam bath. Go naked. Sing if you must. Who cares. Not you 20, 30 years from now. So why wait til you get old to be that carefree. F-it. Who cares.
Give your best to your worst guilty pleasure. As long as you’re not making someone else squeamish, I’d say, you are allowed.
365. 24/7. Take it. It’s yours.
My 30 days of me time came to a close. I’m writing this in retrospect–exactly a week after my last day on the Farmcoast. Except I may’ve lost my muse…
I prepared to leave–in all the physical ways at least. I did laundry. I re-packed. I moved the furniture back. I put the dishes away. I drank the last of my red wine (very important chore). And though I’d been teaching myself to take what comes in stride all month, this last night, I wavered. My emotions couldn’t be tucked neatly back into my luggage. I had my moments of 11th-hour scrambling.
Should I stay? Can I stay? Is it time to go home? Do I have to? What if I don’t? What if…I never do.
There are some places you leave swearing you’ll be back again. Some, you can’t wait to leave behind. There are those that stay with you, even when you close your eyes. And those that just get filed in your mind’s album without any special bookmark.
My time here–the space that I created, that I cleared in the midst of my routine madness–will continue irrespective of the hands of any clock. I am leaving but the me that drives back to the life she once led is also leaving lighter. I’ve shed a layer or two. My fear of the unknown. My quest for inspiration. I made peace with uncertainty and know that I don’t have to pause to make room for my passion. You are who you are at all moments, in all places and times. The challenge is focusing the lens.
Many things are clearer, true to what happens when you shut out the noise. I feel lighter–and heavier–at the same time. Lighter because I validated who I am. Heavier because the life I discovered that fits me doesn’t fit with work or friends or anything else I have at present. Lighter because it really is about the simple things. Heavier because no one I know gets it.
I wanted to pivot in my career but it became about shifting my perspective. I wanted to create room for art and activities that I love. But it became about planting myself someplace beautiful and committing to only do things I love. Less about a 30-day time frame and more about a carefully pruned lifestyle. And the hardest to attain luxury of all.
So yes, I left. We all leave. We come and go. Sometimes we run. Sometimes we rest. And what happens in the in-between invariably shapes us. Not every memory holds. Not every moment lingers. But we are the sum of our experiences. If even, unconsciously.
Everything is in the middle.
The first week I spent slowly withdrawing. This last week I spent scrambling to stay. When I look at it that way, that makes the time in between sadly emptier or less full–to put a wee more positive spin on it.
We spend a lot of our lives in the middle, don’t we? The in-between. That space before a decision. The time looking. The time adjusting. The time getting to and fro or just circling. Like Pema Chodron said, “we are always in process.”
Though we move from moment to moment, I find it hard not to bookend time. To mark the beginnings and endings. To snag momentos and mental snapshots of what will never be again. I feel a little somber wrapping up my time here. Maybe because this me time was really about putting on training wheels. The middle ground before the change I seek that’s altogether new.
The middle is where momentum builds. Where the pendulum dips before the next rise. The valley between peaks where all points of view hold promise. Where potential pools… Who knows where I’m going next. I’m happy to be in motion. Re-fueled and in a higher gear.