Wherever I go…December 21, 2009 at 11:37 am | Posted in NYC, the 'burbs, Uncategorized, wine | 2 Comments
I know my posts recently have been kind of introspective and heavy, but I have one more in me, so bear with me. (And then I’ll be on vacation, resulting in lots of light-hearted Christmas stories and pictures of the Little Bug for awhile!)
When I wrote about my trek in Nepal earlier this month, I found myself leafing through the three journals I kept over the course of my 10-month trip – warily. My 35-year-old self barely recognizes that person who didn’t shower for weeks, slept in a 35-cent-a-night hut in Laos (without electricity, clearly), and actually allowed herself to be carried on a 12-seater prop plan over the Himalayas. Conversely, that 25-year-old would have at least pretended to be appalled at the suburb-dwelling, corporate lawyer into which I’ve morphed. But the young me also secretly might have been slightly relieved to have turned out as such. It’s one thing to want to want something, such as a backpacker’s carefree life. It’s another thing to actually want it.
In my mid 20s, I wanted to want to be adventurous. My life up until then seemed solidly predictable (good public schools, summer vacations to the Cape, and all signs pointing towards academic success that would culminate in a good – OK, great – college). We never took grand family trips to Europe or California. We didn’t even hike or camp in National Parks (the wisdom of which is now apparent to me, trust me, Mom). The onset of my father’s illness when I was 23 stirred up both a desperate fear of mortality and resentment about my childhood (what had I missed out on?!), and all of a sudden I tried to mold myself into someone who ran marathons and traveled the world. I wanted to aspire to some sort of peripatetic, exciting life, far removed from the leafy suburbs and perceived boredom of my childhood (and everything I thought made my father, and thus me, unhappy).
Wanderlust is addictive. There is a rush to landing in a new city, pulling out a map, and finding your bearings. You need to be entirely focused on the present: how to find, right then and there, the public transportation to your hotel or hostel, without a moment to contemplate even your impending jet lag or what museums you need to visit the next day. I always loved the feeling of arriving in an unfamiliar airport or train station, even if it was just a visit back to New York from L.A. — I felt uncharacteristically purposeful and confident for those first few hours and even days, especially if I was traveling solo. So for a number of years, I traveled and moved around as often as I could. In addition to my 10-month around-the-world trek, there were trips to Italy, Spain, Brazil. I sublet the Paris apartment of a journalism school classmate for a summer. I moved to Sun Valley to ski and write for the local paper, and then to Los Angeles, where I wrote for a glamorous magazine and learned about wine. Then I moved to New Jersey to take what I thought was my next dream job, working for my alma mater, and then I moved to Boston … and so on.
Every plane trip, every move, every new job could only mask for a little while, however, what had become an endemic state of anxiety. Why was I anxious? Well, the reasons were many (and known to some of my readers) and there’s no need to go into them now, but, in short: there was anxiety about death and relationships and, most of all, that nothing I was doing was actually making me happy. If not travel, and exciting cities and new jobs, and endless yoga classes then what? When would I feel calm and secure and at peace?
I have a new favorite on my Google reader, a blog called “Wherever Launa Goes, There She Is.” Launa is a friend of a friend (whom I suspect also went to college with my sister-in-law), who made the decision with her husband and two girls to live in Provence for a year. It sounds divine, and many times, it is. But her writing is not merely a daily, blog version of A Year in Provence, full of quirky locals and impossible good fortune. Instead, the title of her blog underscores the beauty of her approach to her family’s “year off” – yes, drinking local wine and cooking from the farmer’s market and spending time with each other is everything one would hope it would be, but there are still issues with the potential to complicate their lives as much as they were complicated in the U.S.: the family can’t quite figure out how to make friends in their new town, one daughter is desperately unhappy in her new French school, another suffers her first asthma attack.
Wherever you go, there you are. I’ve been coming to terms with this truth for a few years, and I think Launa’s blog finally drives it home in part because she’s living what I always thought would be my absolute dream: a year in France! And yet she eloquently and lovingly explores the idea that while some of the superficialities are all they are cracked up to be, (to be horribly cliché) your baggage nonetheless follows you from place to place. Drinking a glass of wine on the Seine or a beer on the Mekong are glamorous and provide flashes of pleasure in their exoticism, but you finish that drink and… there you are.
To my surprise – truly – my 35-year-old self might actually be happy living in one place for more than a year or two. Still, right before we bought the house, I called Tim in a panic from the car on my way to work. “Is this what we really want?” Meaning, of course: is this what I really want? Should we have stayed in the city? Did we move to the right town? Occasionally, I still panic on a macroscopic level, as well: What if I want to live in Sun Valley again? Don’t I want to pursue my longtime dream of living in Paris for a year?
Of course I do, but not, anymore, as an escape. This is why I love Launa’s blog, whose title resonates as my new mantra when I start to feel these familiar flutters of second-guessing. She is adamant that their year is not an escape, but rather an opportunity for a busy family to slow down and focus on each other, happy or unhappy.
My attempts to escape obviously didn’t make me happy. Wanting to want something you don’t actually want, it turns out, most likely has the opposite effect. Still, those experiences did shake me for a few years out of my theretofore “normal” life, and perhaps let me land back in it a wiser person. Maybe I never would have been able to become a corporate lawyer (following in the footsteps of my father, which I swore I’d never do), living in the suburbs, had I not traveled on a stuffy train for 26 hours in India, climbed through Angkor Wat at sunrise, or walked on a glacier in Switzerland – or moved nine times in 10 years.
I left a comment on Launa’s blog after one of her posts particularly moved me, and we had a brief and lovely email exchange in which she counseled me: “…keep your Paris dream alive. When your kids are big enough, you will spend a year practicing law in Paris. You will send them to a public school there, and they will thrive. You will bump your way through some difficulties, but also LOVE your year. I know it. If you have a big enough dream, and just keep talking about it, eventually your life will make a way for it to come true.”