For me, there are two kinds of travel. The kind where you get on the plane or in the car or some other mode of transportation and GO somewhere. And there's the kind where you stay right where you are and investigate something within yourself, move through your thoughts like you were visiting rooms inside your head, taking stock of the furniture and the walls, and the flooring underneath. Often, I think, this is the more rigorous of the two - those rooms of ours can be dark places to visit - though of course there are physically rigorous places to travel to, places on the map that are dangerous or isolated or otherwise hazardous to one's safety and health and well-being. I'm not someone who's much of a thrill-seeker externally. I don't go out my way to plop myself in locations or experiences that make me flirt with my mortality. But I do love adventure, a feeling of movement, changes of scenery, because they help me shift my own thoughts (which can take on the qualities of a broken record) and to give me a break from my habitual routines and default behaviors that can dip me into lethargy or inertia. It's good to get out of the house, both the real and metaphorical one.
I see, leaving, the difference in how I pay attention. It expresses itself in the photographs I take, in how I notice new things once away from the familiarities of home. I bend down to inspect the sand for the tiniest shells. A particular blade of grass is hiding a single ant. The antique store turns into a playhouse. Shape and texture and color and shadow become provocative, poetic.
So I'm always a little nervous coming home. I don't want to lose that. Don't want to let go of the magic.
On Sunday, I met my sister and her family down by the water at Crissy Field. I always bring my camera when I see my niece and nephew, partly because I want to keep track of their growing up but mostly because they are too cute to pass up a picture for, and they're constantly doing things that I want to capture. But the thing is, of course, is that at some point it's time to put the camera down. Teia, who was running around happily, was interested in the stone wall along the path, and I wanted to help her up there and walk her along it so she could see the big waves crashing on the rocks. I stowed my camera in my bag and held her there, squeezing every time a wave came. "Splash!" and then a squeeze to her belly, which made her giggle. "Splash!" And then Eli wanted to go into the water. I rolled up my pant legs and took off his shorts and we ran to meet the waves. I held his hand as the water got up to his knees, and then his calves and then a rush of splashing hit his belly. He was laughing so hard, delighted at the spray, the sound, the tumble of that water.
I came home later that evening to an email from my mother. She'd inadvertently sent me something that was intended for a friend of hers, but I'm glad I got it instead. It turned out to be something I'd written awhile ago. (I got such a kick that my mother had kept it)
"It's hard to like aloneness and also want companionship. It's hard to carry a desire for an internal centering while simultaneously craving external orientation and context. In fact, these are the number 1 challenges of being a writer, this balancing act of inner and outer, of solitude and social. There's often a feeling of being on the outskirts, of not quite being able to immerse in anything, and this is a bittersweet separation."
I was talking about writing, but it was helpful to see it again, on the heels of re-entry, to orient me around that tension I often feel when I come back. I think what happens to me when I'm traveling is a freedom from my own interior, and I become enamored of that freedom. So when I return, I start anticipating the return to that interior, too. It's not a bad place to be - a lot of good things are happening inside - but there's a closed-ness to it, an intimacy and quiet and solitude that can become rigorous and self-isolating.
And yet, I also see the beauty and necessity of that flexion. The moving in and the moving out. I don't know if one could exist without the other. I don't know if I could create as much without that interior traveling, and I don't know that I would find as much joy and fulfillment if there wasn't a sense of external transportation.
What am I really trying to say? I could tell you that nothing beats the feel of my nephew's hand in mine as the Pacific laps at our knees. I could tell you that guiding my niece along a stone seawall is the best exercise in here and now. I could say that the crop circles midway from Florida to Dallas were more beautiful from above than from ground level. I could say the smell of citrus in Pensacola is sweeter than the lemon tree struggling for blooms on my back deck.
But here I am, back on the page, remembering, remembering. Looking again. Traveling back. Holding everything close, where it belongs.