After

Tennessee Valley

So, I’m back. I’ve been back for a while. 

Since my thirty-whatever birthday is dawning this week, I will indulge myself by sharing my horoscope according to Rob Brezsny. In my opinion, the man is some kind of shamanic genius. Back when I lived in Asheville, he accurately called my shots every week (but then, Asheville is, like, on an energy vortex, so he may have been aided by geography).

GEMINI (May 21-June 20): This week’s horoscope draws on the wisdom of Gemini philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. His soaring perspective is a perfect fit for your current astrological omens. Here’s the first: “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” Emerson #2: “What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.” Here’s your third Emersonian clue: “He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.” Let’s finish up with this battle cry, Emerson #4: “Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Oh, talk to me, Ralph.

His four points are actually a pretty decent summary of lessons from my trip.

“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

Quitting my perfectly stable job to for a hair-brained travel scheme with no secure work on the other end was something that has felt “just so crazy it might work.” I haven’t known what exactly would happen, only that experimenting with this risk is been the only way to find the right balance. My scientific results tell me that I did the right thing.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered.”

When I boarded the plane on April 10, I was quite discombobulated—thanks, in part, to the ex-con cab driver who’d delivered me to the airport, freaking me out with the threat/promise that, “I call you when you get back. I call you and we smoke.” I remember thinking, How am I going to fend off this brand of lunatic and actually function—much less relax—on this trip? I was having trouble trusting myself.

But once I left, every day showed me hidden strengths that I really didn’t know (or remember) that I had. Whether this makes me a weed or what, I don’t know …. Mix your metaphors however you like.

“He who is not every day conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life.”

I was never afraid like Veronica, the paunchy middle-aged Irishwoman who accosted me in the Riga guest house (marvelously clad in kitten-print pajamas, by the way), insisting she couldn’t possibly walk the streets alone. I drew her a map and abandoned her, but that same day I faced my own fears when I arrived at a haunted 16th-century guest manor in Estonia. I didn’t know whether it was the ghosts or my own inner demons that terrified me more. As the only guest on the premises, I felt completely alone—which I usually like. But scenario this made me feel on the edge of the earth, like the doomed woman in that terrific Kevin Brockmeier novel. I sucked it up and stayed several nights, and actually had a wonderful stay. Of course, two nights seems paltry in comparison to the months and even years of brave globetrotting of someone like Mary or any of the other backpackers I met.

That I learned the secret of life may be an overstatement. But I do know that the next time I am afraid, I hope to be curious about that, not averted by it. My meditation teacher from last Saturday might be proud.

Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

I have never been one of those people who follows a track—you know, like the kids in school who always knew they wanted to be lawyers and doctors. It is both inconvenient and juicy for me that the things that I want to do in life have never formed fit any kind of recognizable pattern. I love this quote by Emerson because it validates the notion that we let our wanderings take us where they will.

***

If there is an Emerson quote to cover my final trip lesson, I am not aware of it. My (blindingly obvious) epiphany has been that we all need to take more vacations. Getting away is a luxury that we can afford more often than we think. It’s stunning how, if you give yourself permission to imagine what you really want, the impossibly absurd becomes the logical next step. Self-censoring gets you nowhere—literally. And aren’t there too many fantastic places in this world to sit idly wishing you could go? Just go!

 

3 thoughts on “After

  1. cousin Matthew says:

    Thoughtful & interesting. It’s depressing how much vacation time (and non-work time in general) has been marginalized in this country, especially in the tech industry, where it’s a mark of honor to work long hours and skip vacations. Not healthy, as you say.

    Second – apparently, bedbugs are making a comeback worldwide, as they have evidently evolved as a species to be resistant to the pesticides that were used against them. Great.

    Like

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