Six weeks away: assorted epiphanies

By Caitlin Kelly

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This was my longest break from work since 1988, (not including job-searching!)

It was the best possible birthday gift I could have given myself as I enter another decade, and with fewer ahead than behind me now.

Some of what it reminded, or taught me:

 

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The world is filled with kindness

 

Yes, we live in an era that can appear utterly savage: terrorism, racism, violence, economic inequality, grinding poverty. All of these exist and can destroy our hope, our belief, that there is also counter-balance, much active kindness and compassion.

I was so lucky and so grateful, even in the busiest and most crowded cities in the blistering heat of summer, to be treated with kindness by almost every single person I met. It was deeply moving to me, just one more random stranger amid the millions of tourists out there.

 

People’s lives are complicated — everywhere

 

When we go on vacation/holiday, we switch off from our daily cares, which is the whole point. It was powerful to hear of Europeans’ challenges, from the Venetian chambermaid whose wristband prompted our conversation (27 years lifting heavy mattresses had injured her) to the Croatian tour guide who told us his monthly wage is about $200, typical there, to my London friends and colleagues who are seeing some pernicious effects of Brexit already.

Listening at length means the world you’re passing through isn’t just some postcard.

It’s full of fellow human beings struggling as we do.

If you feel disconnected from the world, from others who seem so different from you, travel and speak and listen to them with an open heart and a healthy curiosity.

 

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Slowing down — and getting off-screen — is essential for mental health

 

I wish someone could put electrodes on my head right now as I can feel a major difference in my brain function and mood between when I left New York and how I’ve arrived home:

I didn’t listen to or read news.

I didn’t watch television or movies or listen to the radio.

I didn’t waste hours every day on-line attached to a screen and social media.

I didn’t consume two newspapers every day.

I interacted on-line maybe an hour a day.

Instead, I was outdoors in sunshine and nature, watching and listening to and connecting with people.

In real life.

Here’s a great recent essay about the value of sleep and silence.

 

So many stories!

 

I enjoyed the people I spoke with on my journey, from a woman at the Venice airport from Calcutta who’d traveled the world to the Romanian professor of anthropology I talked to on a bench in Zagreb to the young women who vividly recalled living through the Bosnian war as children.

Unless you get out into it, and speak to people, the rest of the world can feel very distant and literally invisible when you live in the enormous and self-centered United States, where “foreign” coverage of the world is shallow and the “news” forever dominated by American politics and violence.

 

 

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Working alone at home can render you a little feral

I’ve been working alone at home — no kids, no pets — since 2005 and rarely in a cafe or library, although our suburban New York town offers both.

Being surrounded by so many people in crowded cities reminded me what a hermit I’ve become. By the end of my journey, I was relieved to withdraw to silence and solitude.

But this trip also reminded me how stimulating and fun it is to meet new people, so this has shifted how I now think about spending more of my time in others’ company.

 

 

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Jose in our rented cottage in Donegal, June 2015

How can I miss you when you won’t go away?

 

Having been with my husband for 17 years, and now both of us working from home much of the time, we can end up in one another’s pockets.

I missed the hell out of him on my trip!

There are some husbands who would freak out if their wife said: “Bye, honey! I’m traveling Europe alone for the next five weeks.” But we have the savings, I have the time off I need as someone self-employed — and he knows he married a restless globetrotter. Tethering someone like me to home/work is not w prudent decision.

 

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Routine is comforting — but deadening. Break it!

 

It feels good now to be home again and to enjoy my routines: the gym, the coffee shop, cooking, favorite television shows, two newspapers every morning thumping onto our apartment doorstep.

But it’s also deeply confining to keep doing the same old things the same old way, day after day, week after month after year. Only by cutting the cord to all of them could I envision — and in solitude really think through — some new ideas and ones I’m really excited about.

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If something makes you really happy, savor it now

 

I arrived home in New York to the terrible news that a local writer, someone whose work I’d seen for years — envying her Big Magazine bylines and steady, well-paid work for them — had died.

At 46.

Leaving three children and a husband.

With 1.5 months between her diagnosis and her death.

We have no idea, ever, how long we will live or how many more precious opportunities we will have to seize joy, to hold our sweetie’s hand, to cuddle our kids or pets, to connect deeply with work we still enioy.

Or to travel, even a bike ride or bus ride to a nearby and beloved beach or mountain-top or museum.

Travel makes me happier than anything else, ever, anywhere.

I’m so grateful for taking this time and having, for now, the health and the income to do it.

Nothing is guaranteed to us.

 

Do it now!

18 thoughts on “Six weeks away: assorted epiphanies

  1. When I read the first part about disconnecting, I chuckled at that thought. At my last vacation, the first thing I did was to get a SIM card so I could be connected. I doubt if I’ll ever be disconnected completely but I know I can cut it down significantly on my next trip. Gone are the days when you could have some down time to write post cards and letters.

    I love the clock with no hands.

    The last part about the writer who passed away at 46 is so sad. I’m glad I went to the Art Gallery today. I think each day of my job hunting, I’ll reserve part of it to do something I love like photography.

    Thank you for this entry. 🙂

    1. I hate being connected — to whom and why is it necessary? Maybe if you have kids and are constantly worried. But if it’s a true vacation, work is not the focus. I spend normal life tethered to a phone and computer so the only reason I wanted an overseas plan was to be able to tweet and Instagram. Once I was VERY grateful because Jose had to see our dr. and I was worried, and got to speak to him and to the dr.

      I sent several emails during my trip — but I also bought, wrote and mailed some postcards. I love seeing the stamps and going to the post office connects you to local life. I also mailed home many packages along the way to lighten my suitcase and all arrived fast and safely.

      That clock hangs in a Zagreb pizza parlor.

      Thanks for reading — good luck with the job search!

  2. such good lessons remembered and learned. travel resets our mindset, causes a paradigm shift, no way around it, and nor should there be. i especially like the ending of this post, savoring right now, the things and people that make you happy.

    1. Thanks!

      We do this when we take a break — as if it should not be a normal daily way to nurture ourselves. I tend to be a big self-denier and this was a huge gift to myself I intend to keep doing back home now.

  3. Welcome back! I just returned to work from three weeks holidays. I had things to do with my parents but I slowed things down a little bit, that and I bought a car. (Gently used but a new one.)

    I admit to looking at my phone often and developed a loop with my routine. Yeah, a drive out of town is in order. Plus, I took a little time away from writing. At first, I freaked, then my creativity started to come back. Take Care. 🙂

    1. Thanks!

      Three weeks sounds glorious…hope it was fun and relaxing. We’re car shopping this fall for the 1st time (!) in 16 years…so that will be interesting.

      I find the more time off I take, the fresher my brain and vision. A lot of my normal “rules” and habits get broken or fall away when I am far away from home/routines and it’s much easier to start fresh later with better ones. A break is essential — for me — from my day to day environment and all its cues.

  4. I loved this post, Caitlin, on so many levels!

    I did the same as you when I went home for two weeks this month – barely went online, didn’t read the news, and it was so refreshing. I really needed that, I think. And like you, I find when I travel and break my routine I come back with more new ideas, and a clearer mindset.

  5. Pingback: [BLOG] Some Friday links | A Bit More Detail

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