I am humbled.

Last night I taught the final session of my first Fiction Writing Craft Workshop in Sarasota.  Our class was small–just four participants, all beginners–but the collective passion, enthusiasm and dedication these budding writers exhibited may have inspired me more than I inspired them.

I have been reminded in teaching them what it is that first drew me to writing way back when (waaaay back when), when writing was all about giving free reign to my imagination, about curling up in a chair with a favorite notebook and favorite ball point pen and staining page after page with inked words I considered to be full of profundity and insight.

I have been reminded how each time I sat down to write I surprised myself by what poured onto the page–the twists and turns of plot, the sometimes shocking things my character would suddenly say  or do (because, of course, that character usually started out being based on me), the images that revealed themselves.

It felt, I remember, like magic.

And I have been reminded that the words did pour onto the page.  They grew into sentences and paragraphs and pages, and more pages.  I wrote in that chair for hours, not getting up to eat or to use the bathroom or to go call a friend.  There was nothing I would rather be doing, nowhere I’d rather be.

Nor was it only the chair.  I wrote in my bed before going to sleep, I wrote in the back seat of the car on road trips, I wrote on buses and trains, I wrote during math class, ignoring that nuisance Pythagoras, I wrote in the playground while other girls dangled from monkey bars and played hopscotch.  While friends spent their summer days learning to swim, I spent those days in the local library devouring books and writing my own.  (True, I don’t know how to swim now, but how many of those friends can write a novel?)

But one day we learn how hard writing is.  We learn what good writing (never mind brilliant writing) really is, and we discover why our characters are flat or cliched or unsympathetic.  We discover our prose reads lifeless and dull, that our premise is absurd, that our stories just don’t “hang together.”

My workshop participants are not at that point yet.  They’ve just started their wonderful journey and right now their sights are set on writing a single satisfying story, not on publication in a prestigious literary journal or on a book contract.

It is true that the innocence they brought to that first session has been ruptured over our two months together.  No longer do they believe (if they ever truly did) that writing is easy, and I’d be lying if I said they haven’t experienced their frustrations, but to spend a few hours a week with writers virtually free of the sometimes paralyzing angst my peers and I suffer…I can imagine little else that could be so inspiring.

As a “seasoned” writer, I am known to profess that while I’d love to see my novel(s!) displayed on that shelf at Shakespeare & Co., I’m writing for myself first, but is that truly what I think when I sit down to write now?  I want that to be true, but I”m not sure.  Seven or so years ago, the idea of one of my books being published was pure fantasy, but when I landed an agent for my second novel, that fantasy transformed into promise, and I can admit that as I work on my next novel, the dream of publication looms.  A dream that sometimes inspires, but just as often discourages.

I want to write for myself in the same way my students do now.  I want to recapture what I once had, what they have now–that spirit of learning and exercising the imagination, wherever it takes them, that sense that writing is something they do for themselves, which is as it should be.

So to my students, my fledgling writers–Rosemarie, Jen, Katie and Ken–as much as I hope I have motivated and inspired you, know that you have returned the favor.

I have been reminded and now I need to remember…every single day.

A former co-worker and friend from New York emailed me last week to profess that I’ve inspired her, exercising the courage it takes to reinvent myself.

Seriously?

Her email took me by surprise and I had to read it three times to make sure she was talking about me.  Because is that what I’ve done?  Reinvented myself?  Wow.

When I look at it objectively, I suppose she’s right.  Still, it’s an idea I need to absorb.

Almost two years ago, the New York office of the executive search firm I’d been working for closed down abruptly and with virtually no warning and no severance, my colleagues and I were out of work.  The problem was, over 10% of NYC was out of work, too–but then I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.

It was May 2009 and the chances of my finding a job in retained executive search then were nil, so Ken and I talked about it and decided my summer would be better spent working on my novel than looking for a job that didn’t exist.  He was working and I had some savings, so even with our exorbitant rent we’d be fine.

Fast forward a year later, I was getting some sporadic contract search work, but now Ken was also laid off due to the economy.  Our rent had been increased and our cost of living continued to rise, despite more and more people being unemployed.

A month after that, Ken was in a motorcycle accident–a hit and run on a busy Manhattan avenue.  Miraculously, he sustained little injury, but as cliche as it may be, the incident got us thinking more seriously than before about alternatives to a life that seemed to be sucking us dry on too many fronts.

We love New York–it is and always will be home in my heart–but between the cost of living, the brutal winters and the challenges inherent in a continual struggle for space in a dense city, we were beginning to feel we’d had enough.  Not to mention that for years we have both been forced to pursue our artistic passions in our very limited free time and our frustrations were getting harder and harder to ignore.

We moved to Sarasota, a small town on the Gulf Coast of Florida at the beginning of the new year.  We’ve rented an apartment directly on the beach for 2/3 the price of our old place in Queens.  We managed to escape one of the the worst winters in NYC history.  From our 10th story lanai, we watch pelicans swoop by, and we walk under the everyday sunshine along the beach with the ibis and the snowy egrets.

Most significantly, instead of working full-time at jobs that pay the bills but do not satisfy, we now take on contract consulting work that we can do from home and which offers far more flexibility.  That work pays the rent, with not much left over (yet), but it leaves time for me to write and for Ken to make films.

What prompted my friend M.’s email was my Facebook post announcing that my fiction craft workshop was beginning in a couple of weeks.  This was something I’d been unable to do much back in New York because I was too busy working at a soul-sapping job.  In Sarasota, though, this is now possible.  And it’s not only the workshop.  I’m working one-on-one with a new client on his book manuscript, I’m writing website content for an old boss, and I’m volunteering for the local aquarium’s Sea Turtle Patrol.

Over the past three months, then, the way we earn our living has changed dramatically.  Getting all the pistons firing will take more time, but economics aside, our larger plan to improve our lifestyle has already taken hold and gains more momentum each day.

And now I understand that being on the outside looking in, M. saw what I didn’t see myself:  this didn’t just happen to us.  Rather, we made it happen.  We have indeed reinvented ourselves.  Go figure!

Original Post Date:  March 2010.

Note:  The 2011 Sirenland Writers Conference will be commencing shortly, which got me to reminiscing about this time last year, when every moment of my every day was filled with anticipating the 2010 Conference.

 

One week from now, I’ll be leaving for a two-week sojourn in Italy, traveling first to Anacapri, then to the ankle area of “the boot,” otherwise known as the Amalfi Coast–specifically Positano, and wrapping up with a few precious days inRome.

The occasion?  A week-long writers conference in Positano (I’m a fiction writer, currently working on a novel – www.judepolotan.com ).  And if you’re already going to the expense of traveling to Italy, you may as well make the most of it, right?

While I have always been big on anticipation, perhaps because I have been particularly over-committed as of late, this trip has sneaked up on me.  But sneaked up on me it did this past weekend, and as always, I am filled with this sense of I-can’t-believe-I’m-going-to-[insert destination]-it-seems-unreal!

It may seem unreal, but I can’t wait. When I should be working on my novel or paying my bills, instead I’m surfing the Internet for information on hiking in Capri or the perfect off-the-beaten-path restaurant in Rome.  I’m making lists of what to do (get euros! call credit card companies!) and of what to bring (adapter, travel journal, walking shoes for cobblestone).  I’m reading a guidebook and travel literature about Italy (Pagan Holiday by Tony Perrottet).  I’m reliving my last trip to Rome by poring over old photographs.

I wake up excited each morning now, counting down the days in my head.  The days leading up to a trip are more hectic, but also happier than other days.  Like Christmastime when you were a kid, but the “gifts” are better!

I’m reminded of an Australian woman for whom I once worked.  She’d travelled to virtually every country in the world.  Everytime she was going on a trip–Kenya, Morrocco, Vietnam, Tibet–I was beside myself with envy.  (Paradoxically, she afforded her employees little vacation time.)  I thought I could at least live vicariously through her anticipation and I would arrive at the office in the mornings and say to her, “Are you getting excited?”  But she never really was.  She was looking forward to the trip perhaps, but her attitude was blase, world weary.  I was disappointed, but I also felt sorry for her.

My profound hope is that, no matter how much I travel, the jittery anticipation I feel before taking off for a distant land never leaves me.  Anticipation is an integral part of the fun, a part I truly savor.


Yesterday evening I met with a fellow writer who confided her fear of putting the truth onto the page.  She didn’t express it in exactly that way, but that’s what she was saying when she told me she was worried about writing things that would hurt or offend people.  Equally worrisome, she said, was what readers might think.  Would they think, for instance, that her protagonist is her?  Would they assume the story was autobiographical?   For these reasons, the thought of sharing her work presents a somewhat daunting prospect.  Worse, she admitted that she shies away from writing anything that she feels goes too far.

Her sincerity was clear and I could read the genuine concern betrayed in her nervous laugh.  And I understood.  Because it’s hard to spell out our darkest thoughts, our most embarrassing actions, our secret truths with letters and words and sentences, to transform the private inner into the public outer, where we will be read and considered and judged.

Writing is hard.  So is life, which is why we feel compelled to write in the first place–to enter the fray and try to make sense of it all through own own personal expression.  And while the truths we’re getting at are universal, the personal expression of those truths is unique…and emotionally risky.

Of course I advised K. not to flinch, to wrestle that fear and pin those words to the page (actually, I wasn’t this eloquent then, but now I’ve had time to think of how I should have said it).  We can’t worry what people think of us, and besides we’re talking about fiction.  Moreover, our writing will only excel when we access the deepest parts of ourselves and win the epic struggle to articulate what we dredge up.

But K. got me thinking about the Fear of Writing.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been writing or how many publications you rack up, that fear of failure never goes away–and ultimately, it’s probably a good thing, because while such fear can be paralyzing, if we can manage to harness that psychic rush of adrenaline and redirect it, we can surprise ourselves.

Still, whenever I share my work with someone for the first time, I have that nauseating twisting deep in stomach.  My God, I think, will she think I’m like one of those tone-deaf kids who audition for American Idol and are truly astounded when they’re told they sound like a cat in heat? I’ve accepted that this feeling will never leave me, nor do I want it to.  As I told K., I believe that fear is a symptom of how much I care about the work.  If I don’t care about what I’m writing, I won’t care if someone thinks it’s dreck.  It’s the personal investment in our writing that makes us squirm when others deliver their verdict.

The real fear, though, is one that has little to do with others.  The real fear is the Blank Page.  It may as well have three gruesome heads, a ferocious roar and shark-sharp teeth.  There is nothing scarier than coming to that place of nothingness with the expectation of creating somethingness.  Not just any something either, but something valuable–full of inventive language, original insight and, yes, truth.

I look at that monster, that Blank Page, and it dares me to tattoo it with meaning, to find something to say that has undoubtedly been said before, but in a whole new way.  It bullies me and tells me I’m not nearly good enough to put anything down that will matter to anyone ten minutes after they’ve read it.

My fingertips hover over the keyboard and sometimes they tremble as the fear threatens to overwhelm–I can’t do this.   In the end, though, I know if I’m not careful, the page’s whiteness can blind me, and so I type a sentence and the black letters are like a light slap across the monster’s cheek.  I may not like the sentence, but the monster is roaring again so I don’t delete it, but instead write another and another until the page’s blankness is diminished.

What else can I do?  What else can any of us do but to stare the monster down and slay him with the words that will, eventually, accumulate into truths?

The Post-It on my laptop this week has a single word:  FEARLESSNESS.  In case I forget.

In this article for WorldHum (http://www.worldhum.com/features/eric-weiner/why-tourism-is-not-a-four-letter-word-20100301/), Eric Weiner chides those who look down on “tourists” and “tourism,” deeming themselves (“travelers”) as superior.

As one of those who considers herself a “traveler” and once offered travel services designed specifically to “transform tourists into travelers,” I’d like to weigh in on the topic.

First, there is nothing in Weiner’s article I disagree with.  It is true that communities, cities, entire regions of the world depend upon tourist dollars for survival, and no one wants to take those dollars away from them.

It is also true that on a first trip to Paris it would be a travesty not to see the Eiffel Tower, nor would you want to skip the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Colosseum in Rome, the Taj Mahal in India, the luau in Maui, etc., etc.

What I advocate for, however, is some level of cultural immersion.   In addition to the checklist of major tourist sites and museums, experience the culture by eating at restaurants frequented by locals, by exploring local markets, by spending a Saturday night at a popular music club, by taking a class at a cooking school or attending an art exhibit at a gallery.  Learn a few words of the language and engage the people who live there in order to gain a perspective on their lives, discovering both your differences and your commonalities.

The typical perception, I think, is that travelers are curious and want to blend in, whereas tourists are less sensitive to cultural differences and do not always take care to understand some of the customs of the destination.  Torn jeans and sneakers or chino shorts paired with a Hawaiian shirt and knee socks is not appropriate attire for, say, Milan.  The cliche of the Ugly American Tourist has been subsiding, but it has existed for a reason.

(For more on the Ugly American Tourist: http://www.cnn.com/2009/TRAVEL/04/17/ugly.american.perception/index.html)

As with everything, the key is balance.  See those monuments, attend those cultural shows, but also try to go deeper and really soak the place in.

In the end, it’s semantics.  Tourist, as Weiner affirms, is absolutely not a dirty word, but its connotation can be.  The good news is, we can change that.

The Airport

Posted: 4 March 2011 in Travel.
Tags: , ,

Original Post Date:  March 2010

 

What a thrill it once was to go to the airport!  When I was a child, JFK was a destination in and of itself–its hordes of luggage-laden travelers dressed for every season on the planet, conversing in myriad languages, gesticulating according to their customs.  Women in silk saris, men in designer suits, backpackers in jeans and t-shirts…here, the world was represented in all its fascinating diversity.

There was a glamor to the idea of flying on an airplane.  We checked our luggage with a skycap at the curb, we bought snacks and magazines at the newsstand by the gate, we boarded ontime and settled into our seats, excited for the trip, but also for the experience of takeoff, flying 35,000 feet above our home and landing, miraculously, in a place perhaps very different from the one we’d woken up in that morning.

The stewardesses (not yet flight attendants) smiled at everyone and gave us children coloring books.  They brought food–for free!-which wasn’t very tasty, yet was anything cooler than eating a hot chicken parmigiana meal while flying high above earth in an enormous metal bird?

Now, an hour before the car picks me up to take me to JFK, as excited as I am for my trip, I am dreading running the airport gauntlet.  Will my suitcase come in under the weight limit?  Will I breeze through the security line after removing my shoes from my feet, my belt from my waist, my laptop from its case?  Will they find it in their hearts to let me carry on a laptop, a Timbuktu bag and a purse?  And the biggie:  will the plane be on time?

I am due to arrive in Rome at 7:25 a.m. (Rome time).  From the airport, I will take a taxi to Termini Station, from which I will travel on Eurostar to Naples.  In Naples, I will cab it from the train station to the port, where I will board a hydrofoil to Capri.  From there, a ride (haven’t nailed this down yet) to the other side of the island–to Anacapri–and I will have finally reached my first destination.

There are a bunch of legs involved here, and I’m travelling alone this time, so I admit to being slightly nervous while assuming things will go smoothly.

Next time you check in here, I’ll be in Anacapri (18th), celebrating my birthday.  Ciao for now!

 

Original Post Date:  April 2010

As a New Yorker, I have been under the misapprehension that I walk a lot, but it’s nothing compared to the walking the hardy Caprese do. Young, old, disabled (!), it appears they walk miles on a daily basis without a thought—up sloping roads, up hills, up cliffs!

Of course, they have cars, too, and they surely have the best driving skills in the world to maneuver the extremely narrow roads and the hairpin turns. One of the tricks, I think, must be not to look out at the view because the vertigo would surely send you over the edge. Another trick must be patience. Numerous times I have seen two cars—or buses—coming at each other and they must come to a halt in the middle of the road and somehow, without an angry word or threatening glance, they decide who needs to back up so one can get through. I can’t imagine the Capri driving test.

Also, as in the rest of Italy, motorbikes abound. I’ve seen one going up the cliff with two kitchen chairs tied to the back of his bike. At a pizzeria, I saw a man pick up three pizzas and ride off with them balanced upon his lap. Another man at the pizzeria had his girlfriend along for the ride and she held the boxes in two hands rather than hold on to his waist. A family of three rode another bike and, perhaps most unusual of all, I noticed a biker riding with what appeared to be a four-foot long samurai sword rising up from between his legs.

But it’s walking I wanted to talk about.

In Capri, I walked almost everywhere. From my hotel to the Grotta Azzurra, from Capri Centro to Giardini di Augusto and winding all the way down to the coast along the spectacularly scenic Via Krupp, from Anacapri Centro to back to my hotel…many times.

One morning, I climbed up to Villa Jovis, the ruins of a villa built by the Emperor Augustus and later ceded to Tiberius, who purportedly pitched people who displeased him from the dizzying heights into the sea—that is, when he wasn’t cavorting with young boys and girls. Because it is off-season, I saw perhaps three people on the half-hour or so climb from Capri town center. (If I’m honest, a bit longer for me, because I tend to get lost.) The ruins evidenced a shockingly enormous complex, but the views were the real draw.

If I had to do it all over again, I would have brought a picnic lunch, a snack at least, to enjoy while I was there.   Apparently the site is crowded with tourists during the summer, but in late March, there were perhaps only five others there at most. It could have been a very peaceful picnic, contemplating, perhaps, the fall of the Roman Empire. (An older couple occupied benches in a “room” that had once been servant’s quarters—larger than most NYC apartments, I will note—and when I passed, I caught a powerful whiff of the oranges they were eating.)

I had definitely earned my planned lunch at what had once been Graham Greene’s favorite restaurant, Da Gemma. As luck would have it, it had opened for the season just today. But more on that another time.

This was originally posted in June 2010, and fortunately tourism is now slowly recovering.  Still, the idea of the “staycation” remains a viable alternative.

 

In the “new economy,” a new word has been coined:  staycation.

First coming into use as oil prices soared, causing airfare and then even a tank of gas too much to bear for a getaway, the concept of taking a vacation at home has lingered and taken hold as unemployment has risen.  Whether you’ve found yourself out of a job or you’re afraid of losing the one you’ve got, people have been cutting back on discretionary spending.

While I might posit arguments about why traveling remains necessary–perhaps more necessary than ever–and doesn’t belong lumped into the same category as “entertainment spending,” the reality is that for most people travel is one of the first things scratched from the list when disposable income becomes minimal or nill.

I’ve been there, and I understand.  Which got me to thinking…

If you’re like me, when you travel–especially internationally–you relax your usual spending rules.  At home, you might never consider spending a couple of hundred dollars for a dinner, or $150+ each on tickets to a concert, or $25 for the use of a chaise lounge on a beach.  And yet, find yourself in Paris or Venice or Sydney and you can rationalize almost any expense.  You turn to your companion and shrug.  You say, “How many years before I’m back here?   For all I know, I may never be back!”

And so you shell out the cash, you hand over your credit card.  And do you wish you’d done otherwise when you come home and open up the bill?  If you’re like me, no, never.  (Actually, my travel partner and I have a rule about this:  no regrets.)

You ask, what does this have to do with the staycation?  The point is that while we are often willing to splurge and even pay more than we feel justified while traveling abroad, at home we tend to be more frugal.

I am fortunate enough to live in New York, a city people from all over the world flock to for its cultural riches.  These tourists eat at the finest restaurants, shop the designer shops along Fifth and Madison Avenues, patronize Broadway and Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.

How often do I eat and shop and patronize these same places, some of which make my city what it is?  Rarely.  Because they are expensive and I complain I can’t afford them.

Sounds like I could use a staycation!  A staycation doesn’t need to mean staying home and tacking household projects.  A staycation can give you permission to see your city or town through a tourist’s eyes.  If you’re not paying for the airfare, the transport to and from airports, the hotel, just imagine how far your vacation dollars can go!

The trick , though, is to take yourself out of the feeling of “home” as much as possible.  Leave your cell phone or PDA at home and don’t listen to phone messages or check your email.  Pretend you are out of town, inaccessible.  To take it a step further, chances are you can find a deal on a local hotel and sleep elsewhere–ordering room service and having a maid clean up after you.

Then, all those things you’ve always wanted to do but considered too expensive:  that haute cuisine restaurant?  that award-winning play? that chi-chi jazz club?  Do it all!  And don’t forget the tourist attractions.  You’d be surprised how many New Yorkers have never been to the top of the Empire State Building or to the Statue of Liberty.  A staycation is the excuse you’ve been waiting for.

As much as possible, experience your city or hometown as a tourist.  Be open to the idea that you don’t know it as well as you thought you did and try to see it with fresh eyes.  I can almost guarantee you will not be disappointed.

As a native New Yorker, I have a love-hate relationship with my city.  On a day-to-day basis, the relentless over-stimulation and stress and crowds and absurd cost-of-living can become overwhelming, and yet there are times when I become ultra-aware of my luck in being born here.  Sitting on the Great Lawn of Central Park listening to the Philharmonic (for free!) on a balmy summer night, feasting on hot, garlicky escargot at Balthazar on a cold January night, watching a steamy foreign film in the balcony at the retro Paris Theater or wiling away an afternoon gazing at the photographs at the International Center of Photography…while wrapped up in such moments, a feeling similar to what I experience traveling abroad settles over me.  I am not far away and yet I am transported.

After all, more than anything, travel is a state of mind.

 

At lunchtime today, I went for a run on the beach.

(Sorry.  I don’ want to rub that in since chances are good that you are ensnared in the clutches of a particularly enthusiastic winter, but mention it I must, as it’s what inspired this post.)

I usually run from my condo building to the sea grass-tufted dune past the third lifeguard station and back, but maybe because my energy was on the low side this afternoon or maybe because the tide was a bit high, forcing me to run on more loosely packed sand, or maybe because the public beach was crowded due to the warmer weather and I had to navigate around the architects of sand castles and the stooped over seekers of conch shells, I ran there but decided to walk back.

For me, walking along the beach, any beach, is one of the great pleasures of life and I hope I never take it for granted.  I was walking fast, trying to keep my heart rate up, but I paused to chat with two little girls cowering before a spiky white shell of a deceased puffer fish (or at least we think it was a puffer fish–I’m no expert) and after I continued on my way I slowed my pace.

All manner of shells were scattered along the beach and everyone seemed to be scanning the shore for that perfect specimen.  I studied the sand as I went along, too.  I noticed how instead of shells on one part of the beach, the sea washed up sea grass instead.  Enormous green-brown clumps of the stuff, like wet tumbleweed.  Peering into the water, it looked striped, milky blue nearest the shore then a swath of brown where the sea grass seemed to be collected, then a green like dusty antique glass bottles.

In a few minutes I hit a stretch of beach so littered with shells that it made me think of a city street following a ticker-tape parade.  The shells crunched under my feet as I passed by a trio of Amish girls in long, plain cotton dresses and white bonnets engrossed in unmolding their castle-shaped sand pails and passed through a dozens-strong flock of nonplussed royal terns, who looked as though they were posing, as if thinking they were so cool with their spiky black feathers and orange beaks.  Way cooler than those nerdy seagulls.  Another glimpse at the water and the pelicans here bobbed on the waves in between diving for lunch.

At last, I looked up.  Like, at the sky.  I only did so because I had work to do and I had started to think about getting back to the apartment; I was only checking to see how far away I was.  When I did notice the sky, however, it made me stop and really wonder why I was always looking down.

Odd to say, but New Yorkers don’t look up often.  We have places to go, things to do, and we don’t have a whole lot of time to take in the scenery.  We study the sidewalk as we bustle along, raising our eyes at intersections to check the traffic signal or to see if it’s safe to jaywalk.  We generally don’t acknowledge passersby because there are too many of them and what’s the point, anyway?

The sky in New York is something to be glimpsed between skyscrapers or, if we crane our necks, to searched for way above.  The sky is almost a novelty to us, so that if we find ourselves at Central Park at night, in a spot where there’s a bit less light pollution, the sighting of a few stars is a true and remarkable wonder.

On the beach this afternoon, when I looked out over the Gulf of Mexico and up at the sky, I didn’t actually see much.  It’s a warm but foggy day, and the gray density recalled smoky bars frequented during my youth, but I made an effort to move forward looking up and ahead of me instead of concentrating on the detail of the sand beneath my feet.  The fog was such that I couldn’t see the red roof of my building, but still I kept myself from reverting to my downward gaze.   I took a deep breath, filled my lungs with the fresh sea air, and not only did I feel better, but corny though it sounds, I felt stronger.

So okay, overwrought metaphor in three, two, one…

Significant Other Ken and I moved here to Lido Key in Sarasota, Florida, almost two months ago and, for me, the transition has been a bit tough.  Like Ken, I love the weather, I love the beach, I love the more laidback lifestyle, but I do miss my friends and we haven’t met many new people yet.  I miss calling up a writer friend to go check out a reading or calling another to grab a glass of wine at the end of the work day.   And not knowing where to go–whether for quality olive oil or literary fiction or shoe repair–throws me off more than I’d’ve thought.

There are other things, too, all of which sound similarly trivial, but the point is that those things don’t much bother Ken because he is looking up, looking ahead, blue sky or fog, whereas my focus is on the ground, watching for the sea grass that may tangle around my ankles or the sharp points of broken sells that may jab the soles of my feet.  The more I look, the more I see things are different, yet that was the point of this move:  we wanted different.

I expect the answer to getting through this transition falls somewhere between Ken’s big picture and my small one, between belief and skepticism.  Because to characterize the solution as optimism over pessimism is too simplistic.  For all of us, going through any change in our lives, it is a balanced attitude that will save us.

When I run on the beach tomorrow, though I will feel the give of the damp sand and the shells beneath my feet, I promise myself to keep my chin raised and my eyes trained on what lies beyond.

On Traveling Solo

Posted: 22 February 2011 in Love., Travel.
Tags: , ,

Oh, I was once so independent, so footlose and fancy-free!  I wanted to go on a trip–say, Paris; say, the Galapagos–and if I had no travel companion, that wasn’t going to stop me.  On the contrary, the thought of striking it out on my own energized me.

I was younger then.  I was either single or in a relationship, but not a very serious one.  I am less young now and in a committed relationship, and the man I’m committed to happens to be an excellent travel companion.  Not everyone is lucky to travel well with their partner, but I’m one of those more fortunate.

In the ten years we have been together, we’ve traveled hand-in-hand to spots around the U.S., but also to France, Italy, Australia and the Philippines.  Our shared memories of these adventures add another indelible dimension to our bond.

So when I was accepted into the Sirenland Writers Conference, which would take place in Positano, Italy, we had a bit of a dilemma.

Ken took a stand.  As envious as he might be, he was convinced that he would be a distraction and he wanted more than anything for me to focus on writing and meeting new writer friends and getting everything out of the conference I could.

I understood his position and believed he was probably right.  I’ve been to writers conferences before–albeit not in such a glorious setting–and they are intense experiences.  I would miss him while there, but I’d be too busy to realize it most of the time.

My hesitation, though, came with the pre- and post-trips.  Given the cost of airfare and the fact that (uncharacteristically) I had the time, I decided I may as well tack on a couple of sidetrips:  three days in Capri beforehand, three days in Rome afterward.

It was in Capri where I realized that the thrill of traveling solo, for me, has shriveled up and died.

It was off-season in Capri, wonderfully quiet, and most of my time involved walking for miles along desolate paths and roads hugging a coastline that at every turn offered up a startling vista of sea and sky and rock and foliage more magnificent than the last.  In the face of such majesty, there is nothing to do but turn to the person at your side and whimper in stunned appreciation.

No one stood at my side this time, though.  And it wasn’t just anyone I missed now.  The bittersweet moment evoked an actual, physical pang in my chest.  That this beauty should not be shared–the disappointment shook me with the force of tragedy.

So what I did was, I took pictures.  Dozens and dozens of them.  I wouldcapture this, damnit, and I would email the photos to Ken and it would be like he had been there, sharing these moments with me.

A camera is not an eye, though.  Nor is it a heart.

That night, I sent two postcards home to Ken, two different views of gorgeous Capri.  I sent him a postcard every day of my trip–after Capri, there was Positano and then Rome.  In all these places, a dozen times a day, I set my eyes on a breathtaking landscape or ate an amazing meal or felt moved by the pealing of ancient church bells.  I didn’t have to write that I missed him.  He knew that already, as I knew he missed me.

I’d been proud once of what I considered my free spirit, my willingness to tackle whatever came my way all on my own.  I can still do that, but apparently I no longer want to.