Friday, November 27, 2009

On travel selves and other selves

I am, as is often the case, on the road. It's not on the road on the road, as in busses and waiting and unfamiliar foods and hotspots on my feet that require bandaids or a change of socks. But I am here, thousands of miles from where the domestic Eileen wanders freely in the streets and on her bike and turning night into day and cursing her inability to sleep past 8 and takes pictures of kids on skateboards and finds dalmation-upholstered taxis and product names that make her smirk.

But I am on the road nonetheless. We are post Thanksgiving, the last of the glucose from the pecan pie coursing through our veins, the memory of creamy mashed potatoes and the varied dishes brought by family and friends and a little bit of dry skin from washing wineglasses reminding us of a really fun day with pretend cousins and family add ons and chosen families and a swirl of kids running up the stairs and down the stairs and then performing on their pint-sized cellos.

In short, a rousing success. Thanksgiving Eileen was pleasant and fun, appropriate and talky. She helped people into and out of their cars, asked questions that were polite, but not prying, and had a lovely time.

Post-Thanksgiving Eileen, or family Eileen is here now. She eats meals at odd times, lets her mother make coffee for her and works just a couple of hours in the morning to keep the projects going, but does not disappear into them.

In a week or so, Santiago Eileen will be back on track, unpacking and cursing the fact that her kitchen floor never looks clean (because it really never is clean), making her own coffee and filling the fridge with too much produce.

In between, short-term travel Eileen will pack her luggage just so, ensuring that the 2X23 kilo rule is not broken, and will settle onto a long flight with a feeling not unlike the early stages of nervous coursing through her. She will feel a certain confidence, a certain air of security, of independence, a certain thrill for being able to keep so many balls in the air at once.

On a website/magazine/community for which a do I bunch of work (and publish articles from time to time), travelers answer the prompt "Why I like to travel" with a series of predictable answers. Because they want to see the world. Because they were bitten by the travel bug, have wanderlust, itchy feet (since when is wanting to travel an affliction?). I have always disliked this question, as it yields predictable results, and what good is a question that gets you the same answer again and again? What do you learn from a question like that? Almost nothing at all.

But then something in this blog post struck me. Richard Stupart is a guy from South Africa that I have never met. I have no idea who found who first. Now please bear with me while I character assassinate and then rescue. First, I do not read a lot of blogs by men. What I find, is that as with authors, and really people in general, it takes a very unique man to write a blog (or a book, or a life) that really captures my attention. I think it's mostly a wiring issue. I am drawn to people who write/think/communicate in a certain way, or whose interest is piqued by things that would also pique mine. There's a certain level of self consciousness and observation that just jibes with mine, and an (online or real life) friendship can be formed. Richard is like that. He talks about practicalities, but he also looks at life through his unique lens, and lets us see what he is seeing. At the same time, he doesn't wallow in the navel gazing that a not unsmall number of bloggers are guilty of (me? who, me?). I guess what I'm saying is that in addition to the fact that Richard is involved in something unswervingly fascinating at the moment (traveling from Cape to Cairo via public transportation) is the fact that he says things that make me think.

In this recent blog post (remember when I was talking about that?), he talked about his transformation into "on the road me."

And wow.

That's it. That's my answer to the prompt "Why I like to travel." Sure, on some level it's sights and sounds and tastes. But on this other, more primal level, it's none of that. And it's why even the best pictures and storytelling in the world will never show you what I felt on my trip. Because it's much more personal. What I like about travel is that it peels away layers of Eileen, family Eileen, Thanksgiving Eileen, Santiago Eileen, Aunt Eileen, daughter and sister Eileen, all of the Eileens fade into the background and I become traveling Eileen (most unlike the traveling Willburys, hate do disappoint). What I seek is not enlightenment of the pray section of Eat, Pray, Love, nor a story to tell or even another passport stamp. I want to feel this fleeting, calm, happy, bootwalking, devil-may-care, responsible, independent, on-the-ground, connected Eileen.

And that, my friends, is who my on-the-road me is. And why I love watching Richard inch slowly north on his great trip. Because he acknowledged the existence of another Richard. And got me thinking about my other selves, and how much I enjoy their company.

And with that, ice skating Eileen is about to set off and hope not to conjure in-traction Eileen as she slaps some blades on her feet for the first time in years. This is a combo of family/sister/aunt/imprudent Eileen. I may love travel Eileen the best, but this one is pretty spiff, too. At least that's what the mishpacha (family) says.

12 comments:

Kyle said...

Fantastic post Eileen, and thought provoking.

Now, Buenos Aires Kyle is off to check out this guy's blog.

Margaret said...

Great post Eileen--and plenty of reflection fodder for about-to-travel Margaret to chew on in the before-during-and afterthoughts of the upcoming verses of "on the road again"!

planetnomad said...

Yes. Exactly.

Maeskizzle said...

hehehe. Loved the post. Thought-provoking.

I've been pondering what I like about travel lately. I think it's the exotic-ness. I find the cultural differences absolutely fascinating.

I really like making the exotic quotidian.

Annje said...

I hope the Thanksgiving Eileen had a great Thanksgiving and that the imprudent-ice-skating Eileen doesn't hurt herself.

I love your post, and think about multiple selves a lot, not just past and present selves, but selves I don't necessarily want to be but have to, and possible future selves.

Richard said...

That I get to be top of the comment pile (I think?) should tell you how much I love reading the multitudes of Eileens that surface in your posts.

I wish short-term-travel Eileen all of the safest, yet strangest, newest stories on her journey. I hope that the stuff you find (inside and out) will bring that wistful smile to your face that every good nostalgic memory does.

Oh, and blush. Huge, fat blush on my part - you are far too flattering for my fat head :)

kelly said...

Love it. I've often thought about myself in terms of different "selves" -- but for some reason never really thought about the traveling self... hmm... something to ponder.

hope all's well with you! it's been a minute since I dropped a line! :o)

Greg Wesson said...

We are different people in different contexts, for sure. One of the reasons why liked travelling when I first started doing it was the ability to use it as an opportunity to "try on" a new personality, away from the glare and expectations of friends and family at home.

Now that I am a little more experienced at travelling, I don't think I am so likely to try on a new personality, rather I have settled into a pretty static travel me. I have come to really like the person I am when I travel, and also the expat me that I am becoming as well.

julie said...

Love this- thanks so much. You articulated something I hadn't quite arrived at myself.

Shanna Germain said...

That's exactly it. You've nailed it perfectly. On-the-road-me is an entirely different beast from at-home-me.

I love this idea...

Anonymous said...

Eileen, there is only one self with multiple expressions. unless... well that is a different topic. A unique man to write a book (or a life[?]) that appeals to you?

Deidre said...

This is so true. I often say I am a different person in Australia or when I travel than I am when I am in the US. Sometimes bits of Travel/Australia Deidre comes out in the US but mostly not.

I like Australia Me better :)

Lovely post, Eileen!