Sep 17 2008

That there traveler looks an awful lot like me.

I had a conversation recently with a complete stranger. Some of my favorite conversations are with complete strangers. You’re starting with a clean slate and can be the you that you want to be — for as long as you’re able to keep up the act. Admit it, you do it too. Not lying, no not at all. Just omitting all the whiney crap with which we pepper our conversations with friends.

Back to the conversation: The subject was travel, for the most part. Drive vs. fly; solo vs. others, 5-star vs. backpacking. etc. etc. etc. And the fact of the matter is, we decided, travel is travel. It’s all good, it’s all relative.

And then he said, “it’s as though you shed some of the identities you’ve taken on with each step away from home, the world seems sharper and vivid.” And long after the conversation ended, I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said.

Why do our identities bring us down so much that the world improves when we shed them? Shouldn’t these identities — since the are after all a part of us — enhance our daily experience here (and during travel) that much more, giving us an enriched perspective?  It’s as if we send someone else out there, the part of ourselves we like, the part that can relax, “just be myself”. So are we not ourselves at home? Sure there’s work, family, obligations, etc. But that is all part of one’s “self”. I mean, I get that travel is freeing and liberating and fantasy-filled and not a realistic existence for which most of us could trade in our “real lives”. But it’s that state of mind, that here-and-now, that we can keep.

Then why don’t we? Why not make that one of our many identities, in addition to offspring, spouse, parent, employee, home decorator, carpooler, choc-o-holic, sex-goddess, etc.?  Why not approach every step away from our front door as an adventure, a journey, a trip in and of itself? Actually, it is when you think about it. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You know what will probably happen — probably what happened yesterday. And the day before. Wake, shower, coffee, drive to work, banter with colleagues, work, bathroom, coffee, email, work lunch masturbate etc etc etc blah blah blah.

But you don’t know for certain; this may be the day your CPR skills are put to the test when you pull over to help an accident victim. Or the day when you find a complete stranger at the gas station is so intriguing that you make up some lame excuse to be “…going to the mall too! Gee, what a coincidence!” Or any number of scenarios that definitely did not happen yesterday. I think it’s called living in the present. I think we’re supposed to do that while planning for the future and learning from the past. Something like that.

Back to travel & the whole identity thing. I think about this a lot lately because as you know (if you’ve read any of this blog before), I blew up my life as I knew it over a year ago. And in the explosion, I lost some identities. Your dad dies: you’re no longer a daughter. You and your husband part: you’re no longer a wife. You leave your job: you’re no longer a bartender. You put your filmmaking on hiatus: you’re no longer a filmmaker (and no longer call that community your own — and that was my community). All I know: I’m a writer. I’m a yogi. I’m an athlete. I like my wine and I love to cook and there’s a few more things that are a little personal that I’ll just keep to myself. I want to feel alive, even if it hurts sometimes. And these days, I throw stuff at the walls. A lot of stuff. See what sticks. See what my new Identity is going to entail. It’s interesting to say the least.

Which is why I like traveling. I don’t just like it; I feel most calm,  most “myself” then: Because people may ask out of curiosity “what do you do?”, which is shorthand for “what do you do when you’re not standing in that spot talking to me for the first time?” But they don’t really care. Think about it. When you’re at home, if you go to a party or a bar or meet a friend of a friend, that’s the inevitable question. And one I honestly don’t know how to answer right now. But when you meet someone when you’re traveling, no one cares about what you do, your past, your plans when the trip’s over. It’s all right here. It’s all right now. We’re interested in the person before us at that moment. That moment is all that matters. Sure, it could change our futures. Don’t bet on it, but you never know.

The hell with all this existential crap. I want to talk about travel some more. The above-mentioned stranger asked me where I’d like to go next. Here’s what I came up with off the top of my head.

1. Copenhagen (at Christmas): Saw it on a billboard when I was living in London and I fell in love. Hans Christian Anderson stuff.

2. Barcelona: Spaniards are HOT! Plus it was my daddy’s favorite country when he lived in Europe for 6 months after WWII. He said the people in Spain were the nicest. Plus, Spaniards are HOT!

3. Greek Isles: I did the National Geographic mainlands-in-the-off-season-tracking-down-the-village-where-my-grandparents-were-from thing. Now I want the sexy beach experience. And Greek food… oh, the food.

4. Venice: Just look at it, that’s why.

5. Tokyo: Never been anywhere in Asia. Tokyo just seems to have this incredible, one-of-a-kind energy. And the surrounding countryside.

6. Safari in Africa: I imagine that would be like stepping back in time. Plus then I’d get to wear a cute little safari outfit.

7. Desert of Arizona and Utah. Actually, I’ve already been to both. I grew up in Vegas and the only redeeming quality of Vegas in my opinion is the surrounding desert. That said, it pales in comparison to the deserts of Arizona and Utah. I don’t know if I believe in God, but I do believe in the desert.