Part of Something Bigger, but not your own.
Part of Something Bigger, but not your own.
From an essay by Teju Cole on his time exploring and photographing the landscape of Switzerland:
Light from the world could be fixed on a surface: It was possible to take the shadow away from the body and show it elsewhere.
I always enjoy Cole’s musings on photography and the wandering quality of his prose. And I like reading a piece that feels effortless: the type of writing that, for a moment, empowers me and makes me feel like I can sit down right here and now and type words, one after the other, like this person.
Sometimes, when I read Teju Cole, I feel like we’re wandering streets together, without a destination. Or maybe I retreat inward, and when I reach the end of the piece, I’ve returned to the surface. I feel my skin, this skin I’m in.
Miranda’s writing affects me in a similar way. Her musings are like water, and I sense she might think that as a positive thing, as much of her recent writing is about water, inspired by water. When I read her prose, like her road trip notes, I’m taken elsewhere, too. I’m not sure where, but it’s not a place I can reach on my own. Her first sentence sits at the surface, and as I read, I submerge. When I reach the end, I’ve come up for air, and it’s almost as if I’ve gone somewhere, but also nowhere at all.
I caught the travel bug when I was in middle school, when our French teacher Ms. Paoli organized a trip to Paris in eighth grade, sans parents. I began to travel a lot after that — and never stopped. I now realize I was the girlfriend who left for long-term adventures abroad — to France to study, to Thailand to teach, to Montreal to write — and looking back, I always expected the guy would still be there when I returned (and was surprised and heartbroken when he wasn’t). Timing was off. Chemistry wasn’t there. Or perhaps, when it came down to it, we didn’t share the same outlook on life; we didn’t share that same spirit.
In those years, I hadn’t really found the right fit.
I certainly didn’t expect to marry a traveler.
My husband Nick and I befriended each other through a now-defunct travel startup, Trazzler. I was an editor and community manager, and he was a freelance contributor who wrote about Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. The first thing I learned about Nick, from afar, was that he was an expat living and working in Cairo. Another one of those nomads, I thought. His picture across his social profiles was a close-up of his face, half-masked by a blue cloth wrapped around his head. Some kind of desert nomad, it seems. You couldn’t see all of his face, but his eyes were big and blue and kind. He had a warm smile.
I loved the name of his blog at the time, Delicious Chaos, because it reminded me of my own blog name, Writing Through the Fog.
Meandering through the maze of life, facing the uncertain.
Paving a path through the madness, the haze.
Not all those who wander are lost.
I often see this Tolkien quote on blogs of wanderlust, in profile bios, in travel books. We like to lose ourselves in a new city. But at the end of the journey, we find ourselves — whatever we want that to mean — and our place within it.
We hope that our wanderings have meaning. We shape our stories — fleeting encounters with strangers, a wrong turn — so that when we tell others back home what we did, there was a purpose. And even when we fail to find a purpose, we say that our failure is a stepping stone: a moment of learning.
On the surface, traveling is romantic. We dream, we yearn, we grow. When Nick and I were dating long-distance, everything was romantic, from our emails to our Skype calls to our WhatsApp messages, and then our adventures in Turkey, and England, and Egypt. I’m going to meet my beloved, I’d say, and we met in wonderful, faraway places: we held hands as it snowed on the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque in Istanbul; we hiked along the cliffs of Cornwall in the summer, as the ocean sparkled below; we laid in hammocks on a desert beach in the Sinai, along the Red Sea.
Three years later, we pay mortgage and HOA bills, manage rental tenants, complete our joint taxes, and fold each other’s laundry. As the dust settles from our rendezvous around the world, I think about how our lives have changed: how a romance that blossomed elsewhere now evolves inside a little house in a small town in California, and how two people who fell for each other on the road now attempt to shape a shared life of both wandering and roots.
When we travel, Nick pores over maps. And it’s how we interact with maps that makes me realize how different we are when we wander. He studies maps for what seems like ages; he likes to completely orient himself before venturing out, to see how points connect, to understand how he relates to and can interact with the physical space before him.
I don’t use maps like this. I plan a day’s travels around subway and metro stations: I pick a station, then compile a list of landmarks or things to do and see within walking distance of the station. I arrive, pick an exit, walk up the steps, and hope for the best: that I’ve gone in the right direction, that I’ll see a sign telling me where to go, that I’ll find what I’m looking for.
Once, we got lost in Hong Kong. He stared at his map, while I told him to let go of the grid in his head. To just walk and see.
We stood on a street corner that apparently didn’t exist. He said to me:
He who tries to hold map in head does not feel ground beneath feet.
I smiled. We laughed. Eventually, we figured out where we needed to go.
I’m not good with maps, but I’m great with landmarks. If I see something I’ve seen before — a street corner, a storefront, a sign — I begin to patch my own map. Nick, on the other hand, doesn’t see visual markers in the same way.
And so there we are: my knowledge of points A and B, and his ability to fill in what’s in between.
Lost together, we’ll find our way.
I wish I had more time so I could be a better version of myself
A fleeting thought in my head
And I want to slap myself
Why do we automatically think more time is the answer
Or more anything
all I’d like to do
Is do one thing well
Last night, we went to Verboten in Williamsburg to meet up with my two younger cousins — two brothers. I’ve formed a bond with the 22-year-old over the past several years and have become a mentor of sorts (can’t believe I’m 14 years older!), mainly because of our shared love for underground dance music. While my scene is gone in most ways, it remains in others.
After Verboten, we went to Output around the corner, and after dancing for a while on my own, a man came up to me and said, “I was just watching you. You’re like a little ship in a stormy sea.” He was polite and appropriate — not some sleazy guy trying to pick me up — and I smiled and said thank you. He gave me a kiss on my head, then walked off.
I love these random moments. And I thought his comment was on point. That’s exactly how I feel sometimes — in the middle of a crowd, in chaos, at 3 am when things may no longer make sense, but holding my own, bound to the sound.
Back in New York City on a last-minute, unexpected trip.
Tagging along with the husband, who is here for work.
Staying in a suite in a hotel in Times Square.
So. Many. People.
I’m here for free — I cannot complain.
Been meaning to visit all year.
Finally spending time with some of my favorite people.
I miss my friends.
Walking these streets, I am reminded of what a city truly is.
That San Francisco is small, sterile, soulless.
I’m so glad I left.
I’m reassured — from my friends, from this place — that we’re doing the right thing.
That our path is not traditional, that there will be bumps, that we will get to where we need and want to go.
That the little house is but one piece of a bigger puzzle, of a larger plan.
That we just need to take one step at a time.
I read the internet.
I’m supposed to care.
Or feel inspired.
But I don’t.
It could be apathy.
It could be that I’m in the wrong place.
* * *
I’ve been doing a better job shutting off lately.
The move into this little house has helped.
Before, the screen was something more.
A portal? Nourishment?
Things are changing.
The screen is just a screen.
I used to write a lot of Yelp reviews, nearly 10 years ago. Some of them are funny. Most of them make me cringe. I was either too cool, or tried too hard, or suffered from cut-and-paste copy writing syndrome.
Here are a few. They are also quite telling — each one a tiny bit of memoir.
1337 Mission St, San Francisco
Free photobooth. Crowded Dirty Bird parties on Friday nights. It’s easy to get loaded here.
Dirty Bird Party in the Park
25th and Fulton, San Francisco
Dirty tech house beats, interesting trips to the port-a-potty, liquor brown bagging, watching little dogs and their gay owners frolic on the lawn, dancing, dancing, dancing.
Oh, and dancing.
Been doing this shit for years and years and years. Never too old for it.
When I create,
I like restrictions.
Magnetic poetry flows
because I choose the words.
Here, I am blank,
pulling from within.
I am not empty;
I shape from what’s left.
I like facts that
push against me.
A story I mold
with the clay in my hands.