Why there's just no substitute for your body
no matter how good of an imagination you have
I am seeking your advice on how to cope with the reality of feeling semi-permanently grounded. By the pandemic, a busy job, a house, parenting and other family needs. As a kid, I attended summer camp while my mother backpacked around Europe, proclaiming her 'wanderlust' and sometimes bringing me along for adventures. As a young, unencumbered adult, I did travel, but not nearly as much as I should have.
While my family has taken some fun trips together, few of these have offered me the sense of freedom and discovery that I experienced on a few too-short, pre-pandemic solo trips. I began plotting longer and longer meandering adventures, and as I realized these were increasingly inconsistent with my current circumstances, the pandemic also hit, and I find myself totally uninterested in dealing with the current state of airline travel.
Binge watching foreign TV shows and historical fiction works like a bandaid but is ultimately mind numbing. I find myself waiting for some far-off future fantasy epic journey rather than living more fully in today. I want be present and enjoy life now, as it is, and the time I have with my kids before they go off college. However, I struggle to embrace a lot of the drudgery of the day to day without thinking (way) ahead. How can I embrace living in the present moment?
Thanks for your thoughts,
Dear Wanderlust Too,
Earlier this week, I was deeply frazzled. I have a lot of work on my plate this month: two books I’m editing, ten cartoons to draw for a book, a family portrait to draw for a client, a house to clean, a husband who had something wrong with his leg, a teenaged daughter with beats headphones… And on top of all that, I have been applying for jobs and had three long interviews to prepare/worry for. (I am so grateful for all the work people have hired me to do already. I am just trying to paint a picture of my state of mind at the beginning of the week.)
But three of my closest girlfriends in town were expecting me to come with them for a spa day on Wednesday.
As if! How could I? What am I, a socialite? Would I even be able to relax? What IS a spa day? And should someone who owes money to her accountant risk being seen in a robe sipping mimosas in the dead of winter at a nearby resort?
But my injured husband urged me to go. My teen, when I asked, said, “Yeah, you should,” and so I went.
Long story short: smooth robe, bare feet, hot water in an outdoor pool, sauna, cold plunge pool, snowy vistas, farmland laid out like a large brown tweed coat on a bed, very creamy red pepper and tomato soup, fragrant oils, talk talk talk talk with dear girlfriends, a nap on a swing, a little white cup of hot black coffee, a pedicurist named Lewis with the sexiest, manliest hands, thick fingers, hairy forearms, more pool dips, deep sighs.
When I got back home and caught a glimpse of my face in the dining room mirror, I was surprised to see how different I looked, younger and prettier, because my muscles had relaxed in some way that hadn’t happened in months. No amount of me thinking better thoughts could have achieved this same result, I bet. I had to go take my body somewhere and let things happen to it.
“Our mothers had it easy.”
It’s interesting that you are comparing your level of freedom and mobility to your mother’s twenty or thirty (or forty?) years ago. I guess it’s inevitable that we gauge our lives against our mothers’ and feel consequently smug or envious or worried. The baby boomers had moms who were stuck at home, or working low-paying jobs because they didn’t have advanced degrees, and then the sixties and seventies arrived (thanks to the hard work of women who were by then in their fifties and sixties?) and the daughters went out and had free love sex, lived off the land, got college degrees and good jobs, paid for their own trips.
Where does that leave us, their daughters, in the first generation where the economy sucks so much that people with college degrees aren’t often paid enough to have as many vacations and adventures and mobility as our parents? (The jobs I have applied for this month pay about the same salary I made in 1999 in my twenties, and yet groceries cost, what, five times more than they did back then? Don’t make me look up the inflation figures.)
But really, we have it pretty easy too. We do not wash clothes on a board. We do not hike a mile to a slit latrine to poop under the gaze of peeping toms. Our neighborhoods aren’t being bombed. There’s Wikipedia to satisfy our curiosity in an instant. There are vaccines against COVID.
We went out and had free love and adventures too in our twenties.
But we weren’t as thrilled and impressed with ourselves about it, maybe, as our mothers were. And we turned our noses up at living off the land or dropping out because we’d already seen where that had led—to poverty, late law school, a lot of zucchini.
My grandmother Marion traveled alone to India many times, to meditate. And she was trained in Reiki and was also a tireless advocate for the environment. She gardened extensively and wrote lots of letters to congress. She had close friends of all ages and colors and circumstances and nationalities. But she was also married to a successful physicist who made good money. As a piano teacher, she wouldn’t have been able to afford her adventures without his support. Maybe you should have married a richer man.
When your mom was globetrotting while you were at summer camp, I bet she was younger or wealthier than you are now. I bet she was thinking less about money and college tuition and retirement funds than you are now. Which is totally an option for us today, too. We could prioritize travel and alone time. It’s not an either-or proposition anyway. You can globetrot and still be a helpful, often present mom. Anyway, we are alive NOW. This is our time.
I used to agree with Descartes.
I think therefore I am—that the only thing we can be sure of is ourselves, the self we perceive by thinking. Maybe all that exists in the universe is my floating brain!
But now I agree with Kant, who thought it was ridiculous that nobody before him had yet convincingly proven that the physical world exists. (Can you tell that I am currently reading a survey of the history of philosophy?)
And I believe that your body is a sacred and irreplaceable ingredient in your own salvation. No matter how in pain or lumpy or skinny or broken our bodies are, it seems that they hold the key to the problems we face. Only bodies can rescue dogs, travel to Spain, take a swim, realize exactly how strong it is. When’s the last time you turned to your body to save you?
Start with some spa days, ASAP.
Short solo jaunts, walks to places you’ve never walked before. Take a trip to Maryland or Buffalo, NY. Drive eight hours to Virginia one Friday after work and spend Saturday on a river in a canoe.
My good friend Jason used to travel to what he called “second-tier cities” to explore their cafes and other local spots, meet people, look at the rivers. Fresno, Pittsburg, San Antonio. His resulting essays were scintillating and deep. The people he talked to! The aging architecture and city planning he contemplated! He had thoughts and feelings he could only have experienced by going.
Or could you start dancing? Lift weights until you fall to the gym floor in a wet heap? Or get on a plane. Don’t tell me you are “totally uninterested in dealing with the current state of airline travel.” Suck it up.
Stop trying to reconcile yourself to drudgery, dear Wanderlust Too! Escape it with your body. And have you ever realized that one of the miracles of creation is that we can escape drudgery WITH hard physical labor. Isn’t that lucky? We can escape discomfort with intense discomfort, i.e. polar plunges into ice water or running ten miles. And voila, when you come back from your journey refreshed, your daily life won’t seem like drudgery anymore.
Bon voyage! Write us back and tell what happened?
Write to me at EmilyWritesBack@gmail.com.
Coming next …
Dogs on sofas, rice pilaf revisited, hiding treasure in trees for neighbor kids you are afraid to talk to directly, and what’s at the bottom of the deepest lake in America?