One of the beautiful things about the Walkabout is the time you now have to really evaluate your present in relation to your past walkabouts. Depending on who often you travel and how, there are distinct differences in the you that walked-about 7 years ago and the you that walks-about today.
When I stepped on the Amtrak in South Carolina to embark on my current journey, I noticed some distinct differences. It had been several years since I’d ridden the train, and the last trip was my last leg home from a trip through the Middle East. I was already well worn-down and had been on the road for several months, so I didn’t notice the train’s idiosyncrasies. Well, I noticed them this time. I’m not sure if its me or the train, but I felt overdressed and out of place. Granted, I wasn’t wearing Versace and carrying a Coco Channel purse or anything, but I was wearing some artsy clothes from the Anthropologie clearance rack and carrying all my camera/computer gear. I felt as though I’d grown soft, as though that tough outer layer that I wear when I really travel had grown rubbery over my years at UNC and living in a resort town at the beach. So there I was, confronted with the obvious fact that I was distinctly different than my past wandering self.
I flew to Oakland next and stayed with an old friend from my college days at Radford in the early to mid 1990s. We had kept in touch all these years and hung out periodically and stayed close friends. But something was different. We were different. And I spent a great deal of time analyzing the “Radford” me and the “Post-UNC” me. The current me had traveled throughout the developing world and formulated opinions that can really only be shared by those who have seen the same. The post-UNC me spent more time reading and more time studying current affairs and foreign policy than the Radford me even knew was possible. In a way, I’d become somewhat geeky- and I liked it. And those past memories of times with my dear friend wouldn’t leave my mind as I spent time in Oakland. I was looking at my present self through the lens of my past. It felt uncomfortable and uneasy. But I guess that’s what one does when they change. They evaluate the past, celebrate its passing and evolve to embrace the person they’ve come to be. Even if that person enjoys starting her day off with the NYT Op-Ed page and doesn’t feel accomplished for the day until she’s sat in a coffeeshop and produced something- anything.
Opening Your Eyes
I was visiting my family in Arizona one winter and met a fascinating artist that lived in an RV and traveled the country in his mobile studio. He was in his mid to late 60s and had been an artist living on the fringes of society for most of his adult life. He made the most intriguing pieces of art, crystals with etchings in the backs of them. We were talking about this same topic one day and he made a very profound and true point. We were talking about going ‘home,’ to the home where you grew up, to the friends and family of your past. He said its difficult, if not impossible to revisit that person you once were and that geographic location you once were a part of, because “once you open your eyes, you can never close them again.”
As I rode the train north, from Oakland to Seattle, I revisited this conversation and its profound truths. You truly can not close your eyes once they are opened. I began to open my eyes to a different sort of “outside of the box” living in my mid 20s and continued to run with this perspective until my return to the academic world. My time at UNC opened my eyes even further, as did my travel abroad to the depths of society. And its now painfully obvious that my past is done, that person is no longer and I’m learning to embrace the person I’ve become. And while there are times I wish I could close my eyes on some of the things I’ve learned and witnessed, I can’t. And that truth is a part of me.
Granted, these self-evaluations are possible in everyday life. One need not travel 18 hours on an Amtrak train to have a self-realization moment as important and obvious as embracing reality. But I find that stripping away the distractions through travel, leaving everything behind except a journal and your Ipod and riding the rails for a day or two provides ample time for self-analysis. Then landing in a place that challenges your tolerance and your assumptions provides further breeding grounds for reflective analysis.
The Walkabout is as much about inward reflection as outward experience of new environments. And so far, this Walkabout is providing ample doses of self-analysis, realizations and the challenging of my assumptions. Have you challenged your assumptions lately?