Flights and Landing

12:24AM Monday (according to my computer, which may or may not be true as I’ve passed about a zillion time zones in airplanes today):

Earlier today, I wrote in my journal that time was passing so quickly. After making it through security, I had to look at two different clocks to believe that the time had passed and it was already time to board. There was a flight that felt like, barely having yawned to equalize my ears from the ascent, we were landing.  I had a three and a half hour layover in LAX that felt like seven minutes.

But now. Now I sit on a flight from LAX to GuangZhou, China. Fourteen plus hours. And, while I knew those hours sounded hellish, they are being drawn out like those Lutheran sermons I used to have to sit through in grade school.

So far, I’ve watched two feature-length movies. Started a third. Drank two cups of tea and four cups of water. Dug around with a fork in some mashed potatoes, and later some fish. Consumed two tiny plastic containers of butter, chunked onto rolls freed from crinkly plastic tents. I’ve washed my hands four times, sprayed this delightful lavender hand sanitizer on them once. Nope. Make that twice (just thinking about it made me spray it again). I have now washed my face twice — once in the cramped bathroom sink, once with the warm washcloth brought to my seat. I’ve taken my shoes off three times and put them on twice. I’ve done lovingkindness meditations innumerable times. I’ve listened to the tiniest larynx shriek protest against the pressure changes and turbulence. I’ve slept for a couple of hours. And still no time has passed.

Get out the computer. Type. Search. No internet. Write offline. Look at downloaded things. Things about Cambodia. Things from home. Home. Home. Home….

A friend, in one of my last texts received from the US, gave the usual wishes for a good trip, but also told me not to think of home. This is the most novel advice I have heard since beginning to tell people I was going on this trip. I am not sure if he said it as a word of warning against missing what I’ve left behind or as a reminder to be mindful in my current experiences, but both are equally as poignant, equally as important.

I do wonder about travel now with infinite possibilities for connectivity. Recently, when I was in England, Scotland and Iceland, I was able to easily keep in touch with people back home. Perhaps a little too easily. I just wonder if that ability to be connected doesn’t distract from a sense of mindfulness, of being present. I mean, when I’m able to check messages on WhatsApp, Facebook, Hangouts, Viber and Voxer, it’s hard to really be focused on what is in front of you (just slightly further than your phone). While I guess this is always a question when at home in the US, it becomes more glaring and obvious while traveling. It allows me to avoid feeling disconnected, but will it keep me from fully engaging when I arrive?

Dawn, Wednesday (according to the sky, as I’m sitting on my balcony):

Well, I have landed.

Picked up at the airport by a delightful American speech and language therapist (SLT – I’ll call her SLT1) working here in Cambodia, I got settled into my delightful apartment the first night (my own giant bedroom! with my own big, comfortable bed! and my own en suite bathroom! with a western shower! (Khmer showers are more like RV showers, where they are just an open shower in the bathroom and everything else gets wet)). Well, actually it was early morning, but SLT1 and her boyfriend were as chipper as if they were picking me up at 1:00pm instead of 1:00am. He did report that he had been getting a bit crabby waiting, but then on the drive to the apartment in no traffic, being able to zip along, making the drive 8 minutes instead of 45, he said that the fun driving was worth it. (Whew!)

The neighborhood I am in is quite Western, which makes for an easier transition. And, while this is definitely true (a bubble of “comfort” is good for a transition!), I am hoping that venturing out even further will come soon enough.

For this moment, I am content to sit on my lovely balcony with a cup of coffee (thanks for the coffee setup, SLT1!), listening to the call to prayer mixing with the sounds of traffic and construction, watching the people zip by on motos and tuk tuks. Also reflecting on the absolutely delicious mushroom and tofu amok (a beautiful curry dish) I had for dinner last night and wondering when I can squeeze in a cooking class…

Overall gratitude this morning that it’s so easy to be mindful and present when everything is so novel!

Coffee
Coffee making!
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Views from the Balcony (left)
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Views from the Balcony (down)
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Views from the Balcony (right)

Anxiety vs. Excitement

Several years ago, I was not at a good place in my life. I’ll spare you the details, but trust me — it was NOT good. I happened to be making solo international travel plans at that time, too, and I was filled with dread. Every little thing that didn’t go exactly as planned would send me into a tailspin, both during preparation for the trip and while flying. There was a compressed mass of anxiety (the negative cousin of excitement), seething just below the surface.

Today, I still feel that same amount of energy, but its texture is so different. I mean, I still know I will miss people, will feel loneliness, will screw some stuff up, will be uncomfortable (umm… see my last post if you don’t believe me!). And I did feel some anxiety this past week when trying to hassle instructors about sending in their materials for this course, wrap up a job for which my temporary replacement has yet to be determined, pack up and move my belongings from my apartment, and do the bazillion other things necessary to put life on hold in that location for a bit. You should see the daily and overall to-do lists I generated! Impressive, really (or maybe only impressive if you’re OCD. hmmmm…).

Those to-do lists allowed me to be organized and relaxed enough (peppered with my fair share of just wandering around my apartment trying to assess what the hell I should do with all these things) to have a bit of free time before I left town to say farewell to some of the things I love the most about that town: The View, The Trail, and The Lake.

And I have been and am filled with immense gratitude these last few weeks for the people in my life who made the anxiety as minimal as possible. I have friends and family who listened to me complain about everything I had to do. I have friends and a boss at work who helped me wrap things up as smoothly as possible. Family who came to visit (my brother showed up multiple times!) to say goodbye and offer help. A friend who let me forward mail to his house. A friend who let me park my car at her house. A friend who let me store the entire contents of my apartment in her basement. Friends who helped me schlep said contents from said apartment to said basement (even supplying tools to take the feet off the couch when we thought we may have to just leave it on the sidewalk, driving the U-Haul when I got all wussy-pants about driving the truck over that damn giant bridge, and providing post-moving beer from the trunk of a car). And the list goes on. This transition has been filled with Charmed Life Examples #647 to at least #763, I swear.

And right now, with all the tedium of preparation behind me, I feel like there is excitement fizzing below the surface, and I am as delighted by it as a friend’s two-year-old once was when she took a sip of soda for the very first time and, wide-eyed and full of joy, exclaimed at the top of her lungs, “BUBBLES!”

Cheers to the bubbles of excitement, my friends!

Leaving

1742127-Meister-Eckhart-Quote-And-suddenly-you-know-It-s-time-to-start.jpgSometimes you see quotes like this and want to throw the goddamn Facebook across the room. Because you DO know it’s time to start something new. And you DO want to trust the magic. But right now it hurts. It’s like a cord is being slowly pulled out of your soul, and with each fiber being removed, the left-behind fibers from which it disconnects scream with irritation, with pain. With loss. This process, you know, will go on for the next week as you conquer tangible and intangible disentanglings in preparation to temporarily move to Cambodia. You’ve lived it before during other moves.

You know and you know and you know.

You know that people will tell you that this is exactly what you wanted, that you asked for this type of thing to be in your life. But you know that that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.

You know that people will remind you about the wonderful work you’ll be doing, about the amazing experiences you’ll have. But you know that you’ll miss the comfort of the mundane, the expected.

You know that people will tell you that you’re coming back, that things will be here for you. But you know that you can never really come home again, that you will have changed and so will everything to which (and everyone to whom) you return.

You know that people will say that they will keep in touch with you while you’re over there, that they’ll be with you in spirit. But you know from experience that the timeframe for keeping in touch doesn’t always last the entire duration of your absence, even when you’ve sworn that won’t happen.

You know that people will tell you that everything will be okay, that you will meet great people over there. But you also know that you will undoubtedly have intense moments of loneliness for which there will be no soothing balm.

You know that people will tell you to be present, to lean into these feelings and get to know them intimately. And you know that you will do your best to do this, and that at times it will hurt like hell.

And so you really feel that removal of the part of you that just can’t come with you on this trip. That part of you that consists of the places you have come to adore and call home, the friends that have brought you such solace and joy, the family that you know loves you so much you feel it in the fabric of your being.

But those left-behind fibers inside of you? While they’re raw as hell right now, they know what it feels like to be touched by these wonders that they need to leave behind for now. They know that they will heal into altered fibers that are willing and able to accept connections to new wonders. They know that they will likely be stronger both for having been connected and for the process of healing from being disconnected.

And so you know that you will try to be all 38 Special and hold on loosely.

And you know that you will eventually look back on this time with a smile on your face and a wistful feeling in your soul.

And you know that you will lean kindly into this rawness, because you know acts like this are the only way to assuage the wanderlust that fills the space between each of the fibers of your being.

And you know that you will try your damndest to trust the magic of beginnings.

 

Or maybe that’s just me.

Jaunty Jingles

The initial reason I traveled to the UK was to hike Hadrian’s Wall, an 84-mile national trail across the width of Northern England, following the course of a ruined wall from the Roman Empire. My friend Sue had suggested the hike, and in true style, another friend Terry and I signed on without question (charmed life example #462). While we were hiking Hadrian’s wall, I found that my mind would run and run and run while I walked and walked and walked. I’ve learned enough in my life so far that, if I don’t give my mind something productive to do, it will come up with plenty of destructive things to while away the hours. Now, granted, I use the term “productive” pretty loosely here, so don’t get your hopes up.

I enlisted Terry to teach me songs from her Girl Scout days. Now, I was never in the Girl Scouts. No cutie little outfits or badges, no week-long camps, and no sweet, sweet boxes of deeeeelicious cookies. I did have Lutheran Girl Pioneers, the Wisconsin Synod equivalent of the Girl Scouts, but all of our songs had a whole lotta the Jesus in them, and I just wasn’t in the mood for him on this hike at this point in my life (although “Father Abraham” did make his way briefly onto the set list at one point). But it seems like these Girl Scouts know what they’re doing, because Terry taught me a great hiking song that ends with a very rousing chant of, “Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty miles a day – HEY!”
(Note: I will never pass up an opportunity to throw some jazz hands in the air and punctuate a marching song with “HEY!”)
(Another, less-related note: As I cleaned out my mementos this past year, I came across a pin from my Lutheran Girl Pioneer days: the LGP Perfect Attendance pin. Such were the accomplishments of my youth.)

Another song Terry taught me, reminiscent of the “Tikki Tikki Tembo” story of my youth, was “Eddie Coochie Katcha Kami.” (Yeah, it may be the coochie bit that that kept it out of the LGP world.) Now, both the Tikki Tikki and the Eddie stories are about a young man with a very long name who falls into a well then drowns when no one can say his name fast enough to get help to him in time. So uplifting, eh? But fun as hell to sing! So, I learned what I now affectionately was referring to as “The Eddie Coochie Song” by repeating it over and over and over and over and … yeah, and over. But I finally learned it to the point where, several days into hiking, I could sing it nearly as quickly as it ought be sung.

With that accomplished, I needed another challenge to keep my brain a bit busy during the full days of hiking. So, in keeping with the natural progression of all things musical, I came up with a dance that goes along with the chorus (Eddie’s full name). I secretly choreographed it in my mind, practicing it during little side trips I took off of the trail while my hiking partners trudged on (with Sue, telling me it was “good for me” to burn off energy on my little side treks – ha!). Once I had the dance down, I told Terry I had come up with a game. I was going to do a dance and see if she could see what song I was silently dancing to. I know that you are all wishing you had video of this dance I did (beg hard enough and it may come), but here’s how it goes:

Hands with open fingers circle two counts to the right (“Eddie Coochie”)
Hands with open fingers circle two counts to the left (“Catcha Cammi”)
Straight arms alternating forward and back, four counts (“Tosanery Tosanosa”)
Hands with open fingers, palms out, right clockwise, left counterclockwise, two counts (“Samma Camma”)
Arms up with jazz hands, just as in ‘HEY’ noted above, two counts (“Wacky”)
Hands down, out from sides, continue jazz hands, as long as you choose to hold out the final word (“Brown”)

(And, yes, I can see you out there trying to recreate this dance. Post a link to your video in the comments below and you shall be rewarded. Not kidding.)

So, I tell Terry to guess what song I’m dancing to as I show her my amazing dance creation. She guesses “You Are My Sunshine.” I show her the dance again. She guesses the Beatles. I dance again. She guesses goddamn Pink Floyd.

“Terry. Seriously? Come on. You must not even be watching me.” And I kept repeating my dance. Over and over and over and over and… yeah, and over. Eventually, I sadly had to give up and tell her which song I had so brilliantly choreographed. But neither of us peed ourselves while laughing so damn hard, so really we both won.

Now, I’ll admit it’s the worst game in the world, but a couple of local pints and a couple more shots of Famous Grouse later in a pub at the end of our hike, I regaled my newest friends in the world about this horrible idea of an intentionally impossible game that was actually a blast. Not only did they laugh hysterically at my story, but they STARTED PLAYING MY GAME. Now, mind you, they turned it more into a bit of charades, only with dancing instead of acting out specific words, and with one of the men consistently shouting encouragement like, “You’re doing really well! You’re doing a great job of it!” (About a game that can’t be done well.) But if you’ve never bonded with a bunch of bicycling British men and a hiking Australian woman you’ve just met over a game you made up while hiking Hadrian’s Wall, I hope that you are working to create equally as memorable stories.

While the whole trip was a series of amazing, gratitude-inducing events (touring London and seeing the Royal family! punting and walking the streets in Cambridge! hiking England coast to coast after dipping my feet in the North Sea, staying in amazing B&Bs along the way! buying a delightful dress in Edinburgh! traveling to the Highlands of Scotland including Loch Ness! spending hours in the Blue Lagoon in Iceland under the midnight sun!), I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…

Life, for me, is about creating stories. And the story of creating a game on an international thru-hike that then gets played by newfound friends in a pub in Bowness on Solway is one I will undoubtedly continue to tell for years.

Complete with re-enactment of my now infamous dance.