Monday, September 20, 2010

while looking back

The Gulf of Poets, 2010
Image courtesy of Christopher Parsons

I wanted to feel new. I wasn't seeking a complete transformation, but a way to combine the me from before with what I'd learned. I didn't want to settle back into what was and allow the new pieces of me to become submerged.

I woke quickly and easily yesterday at 3:44 am, something I did not know at the time, thoughts whirling, and immediately wanting to walk in the fresh morning air. I brushed my teeth and placed a small lens on each eye. I splashed some water on my face and then looked at the clock. Oh I thought it seems a little more like middle of the night than first thing in the morning, although not technically, but still. I placed the lenses back in their case and crawled back into bed. Today I woke at 4:15.

It started in Liguria. I usually sleep through the night and become very unfriendly when my sleep is disrupted, but something changed while I was there.

I never checked the clock, but my waking was always in the shapeless black of night. Suspended it darkness I would contemplate farmers, nomads, and men who fish with light.

I'd ponder how to recount my journey. There were so many ways to begin, none of them right. To describe the stone walls and terraced hillsides, the grapevines, olive groves, and lemon trees, or the immaculate beauty of fresh anchovies with nothing more than lemon and olive oil, it all seemed to echo some sort of Disney narration.

It's not so much the physical aspects of a place that seep into who we are, although they do factor into the equation, at least in part. There are also the invisible traces of those who have walked, fished, farmed, wrote, and simply thought in the space. And for me, there are also the books I read while I am there. Claudia Emerson's Late Wife is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Hemingway's The Garden of Eden circled a love triangle I found difficult to tolerate, but the way his main character structured his days around his writing and respected his craft were unforgettable.

I was different there. I knew I couldn't take it all home with me, but I also knew I was not the same.

There is a wrinkled scrap of paper tucked into my small and most often used piece of luggage. Each time I travel I stumble upon this scrap of paper and smile as I read the words. I originally read them during a solo trip to Italy, about ten years ago. I jotted them down and placed them in my suitcase when I returned home.

No matter how you travel, how ‘successful’ your tour, or how foreshortened, you always learn something and learn to change your thoughts.”
Jack Kerouac, Satori in Paris

I still love it.
I've found that those changes are near impossible to see as they occur. Patterns, threads, and shifts in a life are revealed later, while looking back. Taking steps to feel new or transformed in some way, trying to restructure my days to retrieve what I experienced, or attempting to analyze what has occurred is futile at this juncture, delineating space for change is not.


  1. It felt as if the words were weeping from your fingertips. In a good way.

  2. Tracy, As long as it's in a good way. That is quite a compliment. Thank you so much.

  3. Beautifully written, and true for me as well. I find I am not myself unless I have the opportunity - at least a few times a year - to soak in a new experience/culture/scene. Some use yoga or meditation, some find it in their work or their creative pursuits, I am transformed when I am on a journey outside of my daily norm.

    So happy you had this time.

  4. beautiful write...beautiful. and yes, i try to learn from each trip - good or bad.

  5. Brilliantly put. I loved your idea of leaving a quote that is meaningful from a trip long ago in your suitcase. Perhaps it's tucking away these little reminders to find later that keep the magic of our journey going long after we've returned home.

  6. beautiful writing, Denise. two sentences hold the where-to-begin key."there are the invisible traces of those who have walked, fished, farmed, wrote, and simply thought in the space." and "suspended in darkness I would contemplate farmers, nomads, and men who fish with light." Wow. I love that last image especially.

    when traveling like this ---gratefully---there are always changes in states of consciousness. each place holds its own, as you wisely sense, and we take on some of it, as it suits our unfoldment.

  7. You captured so well why I love to travel. Thanks for your post.

  8. Gorgeous way to reflect on the lessons we learn by walking in someone else's shoes. I hope you have happy time wandering through your memories, and celebrating wisdom newly acquired. Beautiful!

  9. Wow.
    These were some good words.
    I came back to read them a second time.

  10. i like this post very very much. was almost sad that it had to end... somehow your writing gives me new insights on my own life, makes me look different at thing i experience...

  11. denise... i would tell you many things...
    i tell only one: i live in liguria :)

  12. What an amazingly beautiful post. You sum up everything that's wonderful about travel but it's also such a quietly intimate, poetic post that gives me goosebumps (in a good way!). Being able to put something like that into words is a true gift.

  13. Wow...such a beautiful and inspiring post. It's been 15 years since I spent 6 amazing weeks in Kenya and your words took me right back to those experiences, those feelings. And it made me realize that I've spent a lot of time chasing a feeling from that trip that simply can't be reproduced in this space, in this time. Which is sad but perhaps makes those memories all the more precious.

  14. Thank you, everyone, for sharing your thoughts. I've loved reading them all. You are pretty special people.

  15. Liguria has long been on my list of places I want to visit. Did you notice the "pinkish shadows between the hamlets?"

    It would be silly of me to write that I hope you enjoyed your trip. Of course, you did.

  16. I love your lines about traveling. I have never visited Italy but so much of what you wrote fits with Smy own travel experiences. You words flow...

  17. i love the
    of a poem
    tucked into
    a frequently
    used suitcase.

    long ago
    my brother
    across the US
    while reading
    on the road.
    he said
    as he read
    a page,
    he tore it out
    and left it
    where he was.
    it was a
    beautiful idea.
    as you
    instead of
    with you.

  18. Denise, this made my heart ache - your writing is so beautiful and perfectly captures the moment and the memories. Thank you so much! ps: what a treat to have the wee piece of paper tucked in your suitcase ready to be rediscovered with each journey.

  19. Denise, I feel this way when I come back from Alaska each year. It always changes me, but not in a way I can chase or hold. My only job seems to be to give it the kind of space you describe, which I do or do not, from day to day. As I'm able.

    I love the story that bugheart tells. I would so love to be the person who came after, and found the torn page.

  20. I'm going to see if Late Wife and The Garden of Eden are in the library...

  21. countingdandelions, I noticed beautiful pink boulders while riding the ferry to Porto Venere and an amazing pink sky at sunset almost every evening.

    bugheart, It seems you have a pretty cool brother.

    Shae, "I do or do not, from day to day. As I'm able." (me too)

    Bethany, Late Wife is amazing. As noted, I was annoyed with much of The Garden of Eden, but adored the main character's commitment to writing--read at your own risk.