Beyond Soul Searching and Boxes Filled with Photos

I spent a lot of time traveling this summer; one of these trips was Planned and one was Very Much Unplanned. There was some ground, sea, and flight involved; and of course, a fair bit of walking. Last night, I put my suitcase away; I’ve been home two weeks. I looked at it, realizing I was slowly pulling things from it. I just needed to feel like I’m going somewhere; travel is a reassurance you have a destination in mind, a solid place in the universe. Both of my travel moments came out of feeling frustrated; they both came from a sense of lose, a thing that stemmed from a deep sense of failure. There is a bitterness attached to the first trip, a thing I hope fades in time; I know this isn’t the trip’s fault or mine. It’s a thing of timing, a twist of circumstance connecting things in my head; the things that happened after the trip were set before the plane took off, put into motion after I said I was going, but before I left. The second came after a wave of exhaustion and boredom, conquering the need to overpower being ground beneath emotions too heavy and brittle, impatient expectations. I told myself this trip would allow me to wait, pull me away from world; it took me away, whisking me into a self-made fantasy land where time lost meaning; my needs piled up, all large dreams put in boxes and stacked away.

Because dreams, the things I want in life, have no room in suitcases. I can’t find myself or achieve long-term goals on a plane or site seeing. Some people soul search during travel; my soul gets enough action. The places I’ve visited aren’t going to achieve my dreams or air brush meaning into my life; beautiful vistas or exquisite art won’t make me a more complete person. Higher revelations aren’t my thing.

My boyfriend quipped that I should “take pictures with my mind.” I said, “I already do.” That doesn’t prevent me from toting around a digital camera, trying to get some okay photos; out of a hundreds of pictures, there are always a couple that I find decent and encapsulating of what it meant to be in that moment. There are no pictures of food; it’s food, I’m pretty sure I’m not sucking down something thousands of people haven’t seen before. If you’ve got the recipe, I’ll take that, but no, no thanks to plate of French macaroons. I have no need to make a memory book or scrap book my life; yes, I’ve had it suggested I should make a scrap book with my pictures. Sorry, the flickr album must suffice.

This one, I think this next one is my dirtiest traveling secrets: I don’t keep a travel journal. I don’t keep a real journal, either, so I’m not surprised. I kept a journal for a while, and really, what did I get out of keeping it? It was a ‘Book of Problems Written By Someone Who Really Has So Few Problems in Life It’s Laughable.’ Being a detail oriented person, I would write down details, which meant I recorded how things went wrong and how I might change that next time. If you’re running experiments, it’s the way to keep notes; for running a life, I found it made me a needless worrier, trapped in a vortex of things I was doing wrong. I can’t do everything right, but it’s equally true it’s not all wrong.

When I traveled, I got sick, missed a ferry, lost more than a little time hunting down hotels and internet cafes, and drove for hundreds of miles at a time; I learned that you need to budget for these things. But guess what? I get sick at home, miss buses, lose a little time hunting addresses down, and I end up waiting to meet with people. The mistakes aren’t a reason to stay home. The only car wreck I’ve been in happened less than five minutes from my house, on my way back from the gym. That time I got stung by a bee? Backyard. Flu? Crutches? Yup, during the normal routine of school. Staying home, insulating myself never kept me safe; for the record, that was a big bee, and I shut it between my legs so it stung me twice.

I have the pictures, eschewing the soul-searching; I don’t want to talk about deep meanings or grand vistas. The reason I went, and would go a thousand times again, is because of the details; life is in the details, and travel is when all the details are amazing; the intricacies of the world aren’t about rent, what you’re making for dinner, or what night you have to do laundry. Yes, those things are part of travel, but they’re not the sum of it; the color of the rocks under bare feet, the feel of the sky pressing down over endless plains, the soft lines in two thousand year old pottery, the broad strokes of light in a favorite painting you could touch with your nose you’re so close. These are travel, these are the details I keep; I think, “I don’t want to lose this. I want to feel this freedom and passion because I know the world is made of more than I will ever see.”

And that? That’s why you should throw out your travel journal and refuse to scrap book. Although I will keep the camera. Somethings are just meant to be photographed.

The rocks and the sky.

Ancient, tiny pottery.

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A Place Worth Seeing

In the past month, I’ve taken two long trips; I was able to do this because I’m working part time as a waitress. I’m ridiculously broke now. A year ago, I made myself a set of promises, and some of things I’ve done were things I told myself I would do while I talked myself into a different career path. I learned a new language and wrote a book while taking time to explore my interests outside of school. I learned I quite like academia, but there are other things in the world I missed while being absorbed in school work. Some of things that happened were a surprise, things I didn’t think I wanted now or really ever. I imagined myself being this lone adventurer, quirky and single, but I came out of this with a serious partner; I explored and traveled with others, finding I’m better with people when I climb out from behind my defensive barriers that would make trench soldiers proud.

Adventuring or something like it.

I needed to talk myself out of my years long dream to be a doctor. I grieved for what felt like a failure on my part. I felt like I wasted money and time on a dream I should have realized wasn’t right for me. I knew I was starting over, and in that anger, I fell back on the things I pushed away while I told myself the only thing I wanted in my life was a career in medicine. And there’s the thing: in the end, I wanted other things in my life besides medicine, and I knew because I did my fucking homework, that to be a doctor, you have to want that; only that. It has to be a passion because it’s hard work, a long struggle. At the same time, I realized the things I liked about medicine — the aspects of pathology, research, and contributing to my community — I could do in another career. So I divorced medicine and set out to explore and built my skills in medical research, aiming to get my PhD in translational medicine.

And here is where it gets difficult; here is where I failed. I failed hard, quick and unexpected, except it wasn’t quite so sudden if I think about it. There’s the knowledge that this wasn’t a permanent failure. There are lessons there, things I’m trying to get a handle on now. I don’t want to doubt myself because confidence is a fickle thing. If it seems I’m a bit less excited about my career at the moment, that’s only because I had a set back and am not working towards it full time right now. It’s difficult for that enthusiasm to come through, so I fill conversations with the other things I have in my life. When I’m asked, “Well, why don’t you do this? You really want to be in this area of biology?” I get frustrated because yes, yes this is really where I want to be.

It takes lose, voluntary and otherwise, to expose things; you can’t see what something means to you until it’s gone. Maybe it’s the way the brain works; we feel like something will be with us forever. I can’t imagine a life where I’m not always curious, working to acquire new knowledge. I can’t imagine a life devoid of adventure, either. I have limits, but in the mathematical sense. There are certain numbers I can’t reach, my curve goes off into space before I can get there. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a set of values, things I can do, numbers that I happened to come across. I don’t know how all of these things makes sense, but when I worry about money and failure, I remember I love the journey, the need to adventure to some place worth seeing.