Wanderlust Writ Small

I read an article today that asked about sequestering at home, “What do you miss most right now?”

Think  fast!

What pops up first before second guessing pushes the mind toward what our self editor thinks the answers should be?

My answer?  I miss freedom of movement. Or more specifically, I miss options. I miss having a range of things to do with my time that involve being out and about in the world.

I assumed this might be what others would say, but my friend Tina told me the answer for her was hugging her family. She aches with this sense of withdrawal from what grounds her. So do I, but for something quite different.

I think our answers say a lot about who we fundamentally are. Tina’s happiness is so thoroughly enmeshed with her family that it is hard even to drag her out to lunch with the girls. When it conflicts with a chance to help out with day care for a grandchild, she is out of town in a cloud of dust. She  can tell you the exact date on which she last hugged her son.  I am so ready to rejoice with her when she can do that again, and sad that day has yet to arrive, but it isn’t my answer.

I actually have more phone contact with my son Ivan than any time since  long before the invention of FaceTime. Since we live too far apart to hug, even when sequestering is over there won’t be much of an opportunity for getting together in person.  I think this  is a by product of something else about both of us, that flying solo is completely within our comfort zone.  Maybe the time will come when we think living in proximity is worth planning life around, but that time has not arrived, and I suspect we both hope to be lucky enough that it won’t—unless of course it involves grandchildren, which  neither of us  foresees.  Then  all bets are off!

But that isn’t what I  planned to write about.  My blog posts rarely are, by the way.  I got to thinking about how missing freedom of movement is really about wanderlust writ small.  I guess I have  lived travelly on a small scale much of my life by virtue of the fact that I have had transportation,  money, and time to fulfill many of my desires in my immediate world.  If I want stimulation I have options; if I want diversion, I have options; if I want escape I have options.

I don’t think I ever thought about living travelly on a small scale before because I have always been pursuing writing it large.  Now, I am thinking of  seeing a movie or an al fresco lunch with a friend as an adventure.   Going to the Apple store to fix my iPad’s sticky keyboard is going to be an adventure, as are working out at the gym and playing tennis.  Hello, muscles!  I am really starting to miss you!

Yes, I greatly miss the freedom of options. It doesn’t make me angry, or depressed, or resentful(at least not often), as it might if my options were considerably narrower.  I have electricity, I have a ride to the store, I am in touch with friends.  Most of all, I and those I love are all still well— not exactly an option but a simple fact that is shaping my life for the better at the moment.

I hope I will be better able to treasure living travelly in all its sizes when sequestering is over, and for now to appreciate the smallest options of all, even if it is just what to fix for lunch, which wine to open, or which window to stare  out of  (one choice here, showing research I am not doing) while I go on the best adventures of all—the ones in my head.



Efficacy is defined most simply as “the ability to produce a desired or intended result.”  When this home quarantine began over a month ago, I assumed I wanted the same results I have  always  expected of myself—to use my time to produce something useful, concrete, and hopefully of some lasting value.  I take it as a given that my best way to thank this beautiful world that has blessed me so greatly is to continue earning my keep.

I even wrote about it in an earlier post, announcing how I would productively use my time. I realize now that was a display of unwarranted  over-confidence. I still have on my fridge  a list of the commitments I made about how I would spend at least one hour every day: Creativity, Reaching Out, Exercise, Life Maintenance, and Recreation. These quickly became more guidelines than hard-and-fast rules, though I still find a day that includes all of them feels better than one that doesn’t.

Today I saw online a much better list, reflecting how life really feels right now.  Here it is.


I’m not sure I am motivated enough to do all of these, and really, it should morph into my personal list anyway. What is of value here is the reflection of how far I have come from the person I was before all this.  Not one thing on this list is geared to producing anything with a future.  I’m not building anything. I’m not projecting anything concrete. It’s about silencing the lifelong internal narrative and allowing myself to just be, allowing myself to think only of the kinds of activities that make today, and maybe the next few days, a little more serene. Let anything long-term go for now.

A few days ago, I moved my rather worn but comfortable desk chair outside to take in a beautiful sunny afternoon. When I went in, I decided to just leave it there. After all,  I  wasn’t really using the desk for much of anything except a bigger computer screen from time to time  It wasn’t  like I was developing lectures for a cruise any time soon, or doing any writing or research.  And that is how things happily will remain, with a super-comfortable place to relax outside and an underused dining room chair at the desk, just in case I get the urge to….well, I don’t know what.

I didn’t put any significance on this little logistical change until today, when I realized how well it symbolizes the change in outlook this pandemic is facilitating.  The desk chair on the balcony is an encapsulation of the spirit of this new list.  Forget the desk.  Enjoy the sun.  Say yes.


What I Can’t See


In my travels, I  missed several experiences I had hoped for. I had overnight flights that caused me to miss seeing the Andes and the Amazon Basin from the air.  “Sorry you can’t see Mount Everest at all today,” the captain said, when my friend Susan and I flew from Bhutan to Kolkata over the Himalayas, with the jagged tops  of a few peaks (shown here)  the only differentiation from the clouds socking in most of the landscape.

Fog or rain kept me from seeing the picture-postcard versions of some places on my dream list.  The giant Buddha looming over Lantau Island in Hong Kong was so fogged in I could see only its outline from the Po Lin monastery below.  A mountaintop in Bhutan, where on a clear day we could have seen the Himalayas in the distance, was socked in so utterly we could see only a few meters in front of our noses. The day I wanted to show my friend Linda some of my favorite spots in Riga, Latvia, we ended up sheltering (sort of) in a relentless downpour that changed our day into something utterly different than I had hoped for.

A few of these missed experiences led to something more mystical than what I had hoped for.  The Alps or the Sahara  Desert have lain below me as I flew, calling me through the darkness without revealing themselves, tantalizing me with an experience they would not let me have.

In the summer of 2000  I was at a very fragile point in my life, having lost my son Adriano to suicide at age 22 less than a year before.  In the letter he left behind, he talked about how he hoped death would liberate him to go surf the universe.  I took some of his ashes with me when I took the Norwegian coastal steamer on a research trip from Bergen to Kirkenes on the Russian border at the top of Scandinavia. My plan was to scatter the ashes at Nordkapp, the symbolic, if not actual, northernmost inhabited place in the world.   I had read that the glow of the Aurora Borealis is caused by light reflecting off dust in the atmosphere, and I thought it would be fitting if his ashes were part of the northern lights.  My eternal cosmic surfer—I would do that for him, and for me.

I had a vision of a clear day, where I would look out over the water toward the Arctic Circle and throw his dust skyward, but there were a lot of things that turned out not to be in keeping with my fantasy version of this moment.

Let’s start with the comical and then move to the sublime.  Nordkapp  was utterly socked in, visibility close to zero.  Not to be deterred, I went to the cliff edge  and started scattering his ashes anyway.  Well, if you remember a similar scene from The Great Lebowski, the updraft sent much of my first attempt back onto my jacket, my shoes and my face.  Not at all the way I pictured it! I figured out a better angle and threw the rest, which mostly plummeted down the cliff face in the heavy, still air.

Oh well! After wiping down as best I could, I went to the bar, which had a massive glass window designed to awe visitors with the spectacular view.  Nothing but a solid gray curtain of fog clung to the glass that day, Undaunted, I bought a glass of champagne and sat in the empty bar next to the window and said my son’s name out loud several times as a toast to hIs life and to my love for hIm. I cried. I cried a lot back then.

And I thought while i sat there that although I had pictured it differently, this  experience was a perfect representation  of where I was in my life. I knew the Arctic was out there. I knew the Aurora Borealis was out there. I  knew I had a future.  Another day, another time, I might see further and more clearly. I just couldn’t see anything right then beyond my own fog.

Memories of how things have come out differently than I envisioned  come to mind as I sit here in my condo in the fourth week of sheltering in place from Covid 19.  It’s a lot like sitting in that bar, knowing there is a reality out there, a future I am just not able to see.  But that’s okay.  I can be at peace with uncertainty and just let today be what it is.

On that day in Nordkapp, I committed the act of delinquency i am most pleased with in my life. I  finished the champagne and stole the glass to give to my son Ivan, along with the story that went with it.

All of life, I guess, is practice for what comes next, and memories  offer value in unexpected ways. And yes, I do believe that somehow my beautiful boy has found his way into the Aurora Borealis and that its light creates a path for him as I continue on earth to seek my own illumination.



Should I?

I have had a complicated relationship with Should my whole life. It’s a story that, rather weirdly, involves punctuation  

When I was young, I rebelled against Should. I think doing so is healthy and necessary to become an adult with a strong individual identity. I’m talking about  Should with a question mark. “Should?” comes as we move from docile acceptance of authority when very young,  to wanting to overthrow everything, before coming back to something more resembling a balance. “Should?” challenges.  “Should?” shapes the adult we become.

As I matured I began to see Should differently. I began to understand what a privilege it is to have the life I have been granted. I have a base of security, comfort, and belonging, plus brains and abilities, that allow me to be effective in this world.  Should with an exclamation point  says that I don’t get to waste those gifts.  If I can write well, I have an obligation to do so. If I can lead, I need to lead. If I can contribute, I need to contribute. Much given, much asked in return.

“Should!” guided my career. I wanted to use my gifts to make as much of a difference as I possibly could to the cause of educational equity, the guiding passion of every teaching and administrative position I held. Because I turned out to be good at each job, “Should!” guided me to jobs of increasing importance, to the extent that is measurable by responsibilities and pay raises.

“Should!” played a big role in my career as an author as well.  I do love to write, and I don’t want this to sound as if I was dragged kicking and screaming into publishing five books in six years, but once it was clear that I could spin a good story that publishers wanted to buy and people wanted to read, “Should!” set in.  People told me they wanted me to write another book because they wanted to read it.  My agent wanted me to write another book because she wanted to sell it.  There were so many forgotten women whose stories were crying out to be told.

Most of my adult life I have been guided by “Should!”  I took on what was demanded of me, or that I demanded of myself, because I could. If I was good at something I felt obligated to do it, from career, to publishing, to volunteering, to running 10Ks or swimming laps.

“Should?” began poking its head back in my life more often as I moved into my sixties.  I became less interested in self-reinventions others thought I should make.  I didn’t want to learn how to do the latest, greatest thing, whether it was a new teaching strategy or learning how to work the bells and whistles on my phone.  I wanted to keep growing, but I wanted to choose how.  I guess you could say “Should!” was being countered more often  with “Do I really need to?” and the latter was proving more persuasive.

I chose to return to teaching rather than pursuing administrative advancement, then eventually I walked away from that into retirement.  I decided I didn’t owe anybody any more books. I didn’t owe unnamed  future students my knowledge.  I resigned from boards that weren’t providing me opportunities to feel I was growing in ways that mattered to me. I went into cruise lecturing with no sense of purpose other than to have fun sharing my knowledge and seeing the world.

Now in this age of Covid, I find myself in a new phase of my lifelong relationship  with Should.   In the past, when I was facing long stretches of unstructured time, I remained productive by establishing different categories of time and made myself spend at least an hour a day on each. It worked brilliantly as a self-imposed Should.

I blogged confidently about it here just a few weeks ago. In all honesty, it’s not working all that well now. I have my categories of time prominently displayed in my home, and I do use them as a reference point when I get antsy, but I just can’t make myself do anything I don’t feel like doing.

What’s so different?  I think it’s because until this point I was projecting into the future, seeing all those Shoulds (and the “Do I Really Need To’s”) as leading somewhere.  The goal might have been no more than a misty sense of well being in the future for having chosen a certain path, but that was enough.

Now I don’t know.  I don’t know how to believe in the future the way I used to. Certainly not with a fervor that will drive me today to do a little research on a potential writing project, or get down on the floor and do crunches. Should’s punctuation is now a trail of dots.

Good things might lie ahead, influenced by my efforts now, if I have the good luck to survive in good health.  That’s a big if.  What would I do today, if I were pretty sure I would survive this?   All I know  is that the answer is different than if I were pretty sure I wouldn’t.  The second, I  should confess, involves at the very least  far more ice cream and far fewer plank poses.

The background hum of Should is so different  now, precisely because I don’t know which of those questions will be the one I should have listened to. But don’t  get the idea I am despondent.  Actually I am pretty content these days. Maybe letting go of Shoulds is a natural part of the aging process, launched forward on steroids by this pandemic. What  seems clear now is that in this complicated, evolving new reality, when I can answer  “Yes!” to the question  “Do I Really Need To?” I can affirm life in this  moment in ways I might not ever find while listening too much  to Should.