1,000 Miles LaterTravel memoirs typically carry several similarities in their progression. The protagonist begins with a sort of existential crisis that prompts them on a journey of some length, traversing unknown or previously known geographic spaces that the writer hopes will bring them to some metaphysical revelation that will transform their life once their journey is over. I love this narrative arc, with all of the little conflicts that happen along the way to the protagonist/author. If life had taken a different turn, I would’ve loved to teach a class for college students called The Literature of Travel. We would read and analyze many of the books that I’ve mentioned here in the past year and a half, and we’d come to our own brilliant insights as we journeyed with our writers across the United States and the world.
Life being what it is, though, and taking a turn in the direction of a long term job in healthcare instead of education means that I won’t be teaching that class. I can continue to read these books, but I won’t be teaching others about it anytime soon. Instead of lecturing on these journeys and grading essays from a bunch of students who may or may not have actually read the books, I’ll have my own adventures and use those for the basis of my mental travel memoir.
In the past week I’ve managed to spend lots of time on the road, driving 1,000 miles split between two days in Los Angeles, one two days at home, and the rest in San Jose (near San Francisco, for those of you non-Californians reading this). One trip south and one north bookending my two days at home. They gave me a chance to step back and look at the life I’m living right now and what lays ahead of me. It was a much needed time of escape and reflection, though I’m sorry to report that I didn’t return home with all of the epiphanies I might have liked to have.
My commitment to life as it is hit me a couple of weeks ago. It’s been about 10 months since I left Washington, where I had lived for 11 months. Prior to that it was a year in Davis. I’ve gotten used to moving around and making short term commitments, short term friends. Aside from a few friends that I catch up with on the phone every few weeks and the facebook friends that I’ve accumulated in each place, there’s practically nothing that ties my current life to the experiences I’ve had in these other cities. With this new job (two months in) that I have, I’ve mentally committed to staying here for a minimum of 3-5 years. For someone who’s used to picking up and starting life over every few months, that place of commitment is a rather scary place to be. Yes, there’s comfort in the stability of having a full-time job that I want to work at. Yes, it is good to be with family. Yes, I love being back in California.
There’s something in the adventure of constantly moving around that I’ve lost. New relationships, new towns, new restaurants. The ability to be anonymous or known. The freedom to pick up and leave whenever. My 1,000 miles in the past week didn’t bring me to Canada or Colorado or Mexico as 1,000 miles in one direction could take me; instead, they brought me home again. These past two months at the new job have found me slowly retracting myself from the public face and civic life I cultivated in my six months of part-time underemployment. Faced with a commitment of staying here, I’m trying to figure out where to invest my time, energy, and other resources. With whom should I spend my free hours? Who’s sticking around that I can grow with? What does it mean to be an adult in a city where dozens of people still remember me as a child or a teenager?
On the road, you get to ask questions. You can shout them in the wind, sing the echos of a song on the radio, or whisper them to yourself. It’s okay if you don’t have answers to them because the point is not to find answers. The point is to ask questions whose answers are worth pursuing, regardless of your destination or your journey. Enjoy the freedom to ask the hard questions whose answers you may never find, and trust that life will be good, even when you hold those unanswered questions in your open hands.
What epiphanies have your journeys brought? What questions are you asking of life right now?