Normally I like to write a “year in review”-type post on my birthday, but this year I’m doing it the day after 12-12.
I had a very lovely birthday, just as I wanted it: a quiet morning walk with Erik, new wool socks, a solo afternoon of painting and lolling about doing nothing, dinner out with a few old friends. The dinner restaurant proved to be the kind where the waiter answers any question you throw at him, brings my dessert with a lit candle (even though no one told him it was my birthday), and then gives us extra meringues after seeing our ecstatic response to the first ones (which were also on the house). And, wonder of wonders, the apartment internet worked all day long.
I forgot to take any pictures, except of my painting, which is of the apartment:
At dinner, my friend Sophie asked what I did last year for my birthday. I described the quiet morning walk, the giant bread and the pistachio cake, and the long afternoon with friends, and I thought that never before have I experienced so much in between birthdays. While we were traveling, that was just our life, but now that we’re back in the US, it seems momentous. It’s funny the way sometimes things don’t feel significant until you recount them to someone else. On Monday we had dinner with a dear friend’s brother (who would, I suspect, also become a dear friend if we hung out enough), and he told us about the time he fell into a glacier in Iceland. “Were you scared?” I asked, and he said no, not at the time, but in telling the story to friends, he realized he could have died. It could be that our lives are just moments until we interpret them to others, and then they become stories, power and meaning now invested within. Dreams are like that, so I hear: disconnected scenes that our brains string together into narratives. Now that we’ve come home (even if only briefly), our life on the road becomes a journey.
Also, you know, sometimes you don’t know what things are until you compare them to what came before. Everywhere we went, was firsts: first time in the UK, first time in Europe, first time hiking the continental rift, first time entering a mosque. How could I gauge anything, except in itself? But here at home (so to speak, since this is only my second time in Boston), I have points of comparison. I feel different than I did before I left. I ask more questions in shops; I’m quieter in company. I think I live more in the present moment — which is not an unmitigated good: I don’t have any long-term projects, and I suspect I’m a little less careful about money. But I’m very happy, in spite of those moments that still come, when I sit staring out the window wondering what on earth I am doing with myself. I have such a good life, and I think I’m better able to taste every moment of it, whether joyous or sad.
I think newness and uncertainty are a bit like drugs; you build up a tolerance. Not hard drugs, for me — I’m not looking for a high (and frankly, I get high enough off dessert) — but everyday substances, like alcohol or caffeine, both of which I’ve shied from in the past. I’ve realized in the past month that I needn’t avoid them completely, even if my tolerance is slight; I can still try them, in small and careful doses, and then I can have the experience of drinking espresso in Paris, or sharing wine with friends on my birthday.
As we’ve traveled, I’ve faced up daily to all my feelings of inadequacy and self-consciousness, and I guess I’m just a lot more okay with them now. Otherwise why would we keep traveling? The thought of staying home is comforting, but not fulfilling. Having become used to strangeness, I want to keep exploring it — at least for now.
I’ve had a very unusual life, in that I’ve mostly been able to choose the level of richness and complexity I want in it. I’ve done and seen a lot of interesting things, but they’ve been by choice; I haven’t (yet) had crazy curveballs thrown at me. I think that gives me a receptivity to change: I don’t mind uprooting myself, because my foundations are stable and I can reasonably expect them to remain so. In that sense, even though our travels are full of the unknown, there is always a strong known waiting for me (and traveling with me), and that’s what frees me to wander.
Anyway, as I think I said months ago, this is all just now — who knows how I will feel in another few months’ time? By then we will have lived a month in Hawaii and another in Kyoto, and will be needing to make decisions about whether to continue traveling through 2013, or find a place to settle. I can’t possibly predict what next year will look like, or next birthday. Goody.