I have spent a considerable amount of time mourning this year. Mourning death, heartbreak, and some dreams it was time to let go. Of course, I have also spent quite some time reflecting on how this mourning was tangled in so much love, laughter, rediscovered friendships, and adventure. It is also true that not all the mourning was bad and not all the laughter joyful. But the adventure has been the real touchstone. Because no matter where we go and with who, alone or with a crowd, we are taking ourselves along for the ride.
I have mentioned before that milestones have never really been something for me to celebrate, so the idea that I am making something special out of the year I turn 40, that I am setting goals for celebrating a milestone, is a big deal. In addition, the spontaneity with which I am jumping in is a new thing for me. In general, I am a planner. I am a master at efficiency, organization, and overthinking (as anyone who knows me well will tell you), sometimes to the detriment of being able to let go of my expectations. But in the last year, I have embraced spontaneity in a new way by making big decisions for my life and then figuring out how they will work later. Putting my needs first is also something new, because I am giver and am happiest when others are taken care of or their needs are being met.
Like many introverts, I have always been pretty self sufficient. I am friendly, but I hate the point where small talk gets awkward and I would prefer to have a plan when talking to someone in person if I do not know them well. I like my solitude and am pretty good company for myself. Usually, I am the loneliest in a group of people. So, the idea of traveling alone was both an easy decision and a challenging reality.
I have spent lots of time exploring places by myself. But the idea of traveling somewhere new, with no real plan, no one to meet up with or talk to, no work or something to ground my time, just a short list of things people suggested or that looked interesting, was both a little scary and exciting. So I booked this trip to Austin, because I knew there would be music, food, and culture to get lost in, but I didn’t really know what to expect. What I found out about myself surprised me and made me reflect on just what the ways I have changed recently mean as I move forward with the year.
First though, some things I noticed about solo travel:
So, here is where I really surprised myself: As much as I like exploring, and as many things as I fit into the day, the thing I enjoyed the most was taking quiet time to myself everyday. I would go up to my room and read, nap, write (all things I could do anywhere), but I didn’t feel bad about it. I would walk for two miles through a random neighborhood, just getting the feel for Austin life (though to truly do that I would have been on scooter, rather than foot) and then go see a movie. Sometimes I came across something to check out (hello book and record stores!), but usually just took in my surroundings.
It is not all that revolutionary to enjoy quiet spaces, but I often feel the pressure to fill my time with a place or experiences, so this was refreshing. While never really lonely, these were the moments I was the most happy. Seeing sights, shopping, eating, all things I am fine doing by myself at home, all made me feel incredibly sad. I was overcome by wanting to share the experience with someone who also likes to walk with headphones in, take afternoon naps, quietly listen to live music, and buy weird stuff. Some good conversation would have been nice too. I have a pretty good sense of humor, but it is hard to really make yourself laugh.
Maybe it was being somewhere new. In Portland, I was perfectly happy doing all these things alone. In NYC, I realized in hindsight that I should have planned to do more things by myself. So here I was in Austin for just a couple of days, feeling sad. Not depressed, sorry for myself, or lonely, just finding that I was longing for something that was missing and acknowledging that with all the fun, there was a rawness to the experience. A shadow of something else. A desire for the power of connection with people. I didn’t push this away, but sat with it. Am still sitting with it. It was there with me while I had a really great time.
I loved being able to be on my own clock and eat and drink whatever, whenever, never feel hurried or rushed, but was still a little sad that I was not able to share the thrill of discovery with someone else who really got it. Who really gets me. I guess that is what solitude means though. That you can be smiling and enjoying yourself and the experience belongs to no one but you. I don’t know why that had not fully occurred to me. I guess the idea of solitude is complicated: for some a treat, for others a punishment. It sort of sits on both sides--love it or hate it and on this trip, I had some nice moments of freedom and relaxation. On my way, I had the naive thought that a few days with my thoughts, out of my usual haunts and routine, would help me figure some things out. Of course, I did, but not necessarily the things I had hoped.
I have a quick turn around with another trip in a few weeks. A couple days of work and then four days with only the company of a cat named Bruce and New York City. I am hoping to find the pace and balance of being with myself out in the world and maybe miss connection a little less. It’s hard, because when you know how wonderful company can be, solitude can so easily lead back to mourning. We’ll see…...