It’s a weird time to be going on vacation, especially an international trip to Europe. Of course, leading a trip and facilitating a creative retreat experience for others isn’t the same as taking a private vacation. But having led these trips for ten years now, there’s an unfolding in the lead-up to each new adventure that feels familiar. Yet in these final days before I depart for Tuscany, I find myself reflecting on how different this trip feels than the others that have preceded it.
When I’ve prepared to take people on Write, Travel, Transform trips before, at this point, mere days from departure, I’ve been filled with delightful expectancy at the freedom I know I’ll experience while I’m AWAY, along with a smattering of stress as I tend to the last minute details that have to be addressed before leaving home for a month: rewriting the welcome guide for our pet sitter (detailing how Luna likes her frisbee thrown and when to protect Echo the cat from being eaten by a coyote); putting our mail on hold; ordering foreign currency; notifying the bank that I’ll be out of the country; canceling my classes; using up food in the fridge; preparing to start up my travel blog; repacking my suitcase repeatedly, filling 3 oz. squeeze bottles with shampoo and conditioner, making sure I have enough of my medications, all of it.
In the past, the days leading up to my flight have been filled with joyous anticipation: eagerly awaiting the sensual pleasure of new air, humidity, unfamiliar smells, accents, sounds, people. Glee at the idea of being happily separated from my to-do list by the sheer glory of living somewhere else. Already turning on my storytelling brain and living alert in every moment.
But this time, that pleasant anticipation isn’t the only sensation running through my body. It’s laced with equal parts worry about Covid outbreaks as a trip leader, grief and rage over the latest mass shootings, despair over our teetering democracy, feelings of helplessness over the way our country is divided, an overall sense of deepening anxiety, and outrage about…well, so many things.
All spring, in my writing classes and in my life, the theme has been how to stay awake to the trauma and dysfunction of the world, and the vast threatening uncertainties we face, while still finding joy in small daily things we can control: the laughter of a grandchild, tiny buds of broccoli poking out in the lush greenery of Karyn’s garden, an honest heart-to-heart with a friend, the sweetness of teaching Luna, our yellow lab, to get past her skittery fear at the edge of the pool and just dive in, the certainty of fresh salmon on the grill, delight in a successful new recipe for garlic bok choy, the reassuring feel and click of mahjong tiles on our laminated dining room table. The silence that follows a true piece of writing read out loud. The satisfaction of hearing from a reader who says The Burning Light of Two Stars touched her heart. All while not denying the pressing anxiety of living in a teetering world where the seams are raw, gaping, and bloody.
I’ve thought a lot about privilege as I pack for this trip. That I get to go away. Yet I’m also aware that none of us can escape the dilemmas and challenges of our time. They’re just too big. A vacation won’t change that.
As I stand on the eve of my departure, my core feeling is gratitude. My nervous system is hungry for travel, beauty, and adventure. I am eager to step into the unknown, to discover the world afresh. To gain new perspectives. To laugh wholeheartedly. To choose the unexpected, the spontaneous. To step away from my list. To relinquish for a time the weight of habit and atrocity.
I can’t predict what my journey will be like or what the experience of our traveling cohort will be, but I am walking toward it all with open arms, an open heart, and the certainty that I will bring my whole self to it, whatever it may be.
I’m so glad you’ll be following along. I’ll keep posting here, wifi permitting. If you don’t want to wait for the email digest version of my virtual vacation posts, you can follow me directly on social media:
P.S. This poem by the late Irish poet, John Montague, is a great description of what travel does for me:
There are times when
one should be able
to pluck off one’s head
like a dented or worn
helmet, straight from
the nape and collarbone
and place it firmly down
in the bed of a flowing stream
of clear, clean, cold water
coursing and spuming through
the sour and stale compartments
of the brain, dulled eardrums,
bleared eye sockets, benumbed
nostrils, barely open,
and then set it back again
on the base of the shoulders
well tamped down, of course
the marble of the eyes
rinsed and ready
for love, for prophecy.