Wednesday, September 30, 2015

And the Un-Planned, the Un-Planning, of Travel

I had imagined I'd find more time during our month in Bordeaux for writing longer, more thoughtful posts, essays almost, in which I worked to sort out some thinking around my transition into retirement, some ideas about longterm marriage, as I've known it, more analysis of my experience traveling solo vs. traveling as a couple. Whether naïvely or idealistically, in fact, I'd imagined myself setting up some patterns for my first year of retirement. Yes, although this is a 7-week trip with my husband, involving four cities, two countries, numerous accommodations, a predictable change of routine, I'd thought I might solidify my wish to write more seriously in my retirement, locking myself up with my iPad for hours each day while, you know, all of Bordeaux or Paris or Rome beckoned just outside....

Instead, each post seems merely to recount, to offer a catalogue or litany of sights seen, foods eaten, roads pedalled.

I'd also hoped to sketch each day, although I brought only my tiny travel case of paints, watercolours in small hard pans, and a very modest assortment of brushes, a 5x7 Moleskine sketchbook. The Moleskine's thirsty, lusciously textured pages are still nearly empty, though, and I'm glad I left behind the other supplies I'd considered bringing. I couldn't bear the reproach...

Nor are we accomplishing some of the smaller travel goals we'd entertained for this trip. We'd talked about making at least one swoop, by train, to another city where we would probably stay for a night or two. Bilbao was top of the list, but we'd also tossed around the idea of Lyon or Tour, or, closer to home, Arcachon or St. Emilion. A bit impatient with our tardy planning, we phoned and emailed a few places last week, hoping to bike to somewhere 50-70 kilometres away, stay overnight so that we could bike the area a bit, then pedal back again, no day too onerous, but still a satisfying trek overall. Too late. Dommage. Everyone was booked, not surprising considering the excitement of the vendanges right now, in the middle of wine country as we are.

I'm inclined to be rather annoyed with us about this failure, the failure to act, much earlier, to turn an idea into a plan, and bring the plan to fruition. Actually, to be honest, I'd prefer to be completely annoyed with him because, you know, deflecting blame, if immature, can sometimes be temporarily satisfying,...

However.
And I must thank my husband for his stabilizing wisdom here. It's mostly he who finds and points out the compensatory "however"....

However, as that wise man points out, this trip was not meant to be work. It's good to plan and to have goals, but these 7 weeks away from home were meant to launch my retirement, to ease my way into a time of our life that will increasingly be spent together. I'm still working out the balance between my introvert self's desire for time completely alone, preferably in a space of my own, and my very good fortune in having a compatible and accommodating partner. The last few days have seen me a bit fretful, anxious, sometimes even melancholy, evaluating how we've used this time, as we prepare to leave for Rome next week. There, I'll have even less solitude, happily trading it for days with babies and their moms and dads.

Part of me will probably continue to pine for those quiet mornings in a sunny room just off a charming cobbled street that people walk along with their baguettes. In the imaginary mornings I pine for, I'll complete entire drafts of essays, chapters of a memoir, a thought-piece post on travel in "the third age." Finishing my morning's writing, I'll run or cycle or take a yoga class, with or without my wise husband. After a nap or some reading time, there'll be time for sketching, either at home or at some nearby picturesque site. Of course, I'll also have my good camera with me as well in this alternate fantasy trip, so instead of sketching, perhaps a photographer's stroll before dinner. (I left my Nikon DSLR behind this visit, in deference to our carry-on-only policy, and I've only missed it once or twice. But then really missed it, those times.)

In the real world, here at the breakfast table we are so fortunate to sit at in Bordeaux, my pining and slight melancholia have launched a long conversation with the one who knows me so very well. He listens to me swerve wildly from frustration over not writing enough to - quelle surprise! - existential angst and a dissertation on the banality of this nevertheless often glorious pathway of life. Not only listens, he even nods occasionally, and, finally, admits that he's felt some of the edginess himself lately. And he relates completely to my concern about making the most of these next/last decades, having had a head start on retirement, his own having begun five years ago.
And while I'm not completely reconciled (because really, who could one ever be? It's a jolly old frustrating puzzle this life-old age-death continuum, no?), I swallow the last of my tea feeling much better about our travel-planning. I'd almost forgotten that one of the unspoken but understood goals of these long periods away together is the insistent daily contact with very few distractions. Walking together for so many kilometres, conversation evolves organically, and there is time to process without impatience. There's time, also, for the restlessness to arise, for grievances to be remembered and either aired and worked through or examined quietly and relinquished.

There's time to catch up with each other, to extend what Lisa says in a recent post. Time to work out those little knots and to remember why kindness is important. Time to think about what routines might be changed back home and which ones we can't wait to get back to. Time to wonder why we didn't plan as well as we might have and to decide how, if we want to, to improve that for our next trip.

And, funnily enough, as I realize how important the "wasted" time is to a regenerated coupledom, I see that I have something I want to write about. And my guy tells me that if I'm really serious about wanting to write, I need to start doing it instead of making excuses (yes! Even if he's the excuse!). Three hours a day, he suggests. Would that be so hard? We'll see. Big commitments and declarations are not only somewhat frightening, but I'm not sure they're wise in the uncharted territory of retirement.

But here are a few hours for today, for what they're worth. And I finished a watercolour as well. Perhaps I'll show you that next post. . .

I'm thinking I might try to get together a longer post once a week until the end of our trip, and keep my other posts mainly photo-based. We'll see how it goes, but I hope that might suit. Meanwhile, your comments are very welcome. Do you have a tough time with transitions as well? And/or do you bump into conflicted feelings even on a trip you're enjoying? Do you find it tough to balance your goals and needs and schedule with those of others? Do you ever want to smack yourself for feeling melancholic and fretful in the midst of such crazy good fortune? (No? Just me, then...) Oh, all kinds of questions I could ask you, connected to this post, but I think I'll just wait to see what you have to say. . .

24 comments:

  1. A very definite yes to all the questions in your last paragraph ... but no answers as to why or solutions as yet, I'm afraid. I remember shedding tears at the top of a mountain in Switzerland .. Just feeling so miserable .... don't know where the emotions came from. The view was glorious the sun was shining on snow covered mountains and I was with my husband and my boys in my favourite place in the world! Just started thinking about life in general ... Family growing up .. Us getting older etc etc. Hubby just couldn't understand how I could feel sad in "my happy place" :) by the way the boys were off skiing and boarding at the time so no input from them!:) Afterwards I just felt so bad almost as though I was being unappreciative of the great time we were having! Funny how we share these things on blogs isn't it ... I've never even discussed this with my best friends. I do think it's great that you and pater travel cycle run .. do yoga together as well as talk about how your feeling ....Do you feel that helps?
    I m very optimistic by nature .. I drive my family mad with my cheery attitude at times but I do feel that whatever we do in life at times we look back and think we did the wrong thing. All we can do is keep looking forward, appreciate the joys in life and take each day at a time ... The End :) the most I've ever written on a blog ... not sure if that's what you were hoping for though!!
    Take care and enjoy the rest of your travels!! There will be lots of hours to write over winter at home.
    Rosie

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    1. Thanks So much for sharing this memory, Rosie. Who would have imagined that blogs could be places for such exchanges? There's something about the distance and intimacy at once that seems to allow this, especially in this community of women of a certain age. But what is it about travel that releases or reveals surprising emotions at times that are otherwise so happy? The time and luxury to get above the day-to-day and see life for what it is, ephemeral? So yes, we just do our best to move on, with this knowledge, and find he joy where we can, store up strength for the inevitable sorrows. All the best!

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  2. I feel as though you're partially clearing this path through the woods for some of us as we ponder (eventual) retirement, so for that, thank you! :-) That feeling of time passing has been pressing down upon me lately, the limitedness of it to do the things I want to do. And at the same time, travel is a microcosm of that...deciding how to spend limited time, coming to terms with plans that never materialize or time frittered away. Converging priorities and desires for how to use that limited resource. And then realizing often those unplanned, serendipitous experiences are sometimes the best of the lot, and the ones we remember most. Sometimes it all comes together only in retrospect.

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    1. Converging priorities, absolutely!
      And I always think of what a wise friend once said when someone asked her how her trip to Hawaii (with husband and three little ones) had gone: "Oh, I never know how a trip has gone until at least a few weeks after I've got back home"

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  3. I am with Pater on this one...why don't you simply spend one day a week writing. By yourself. Or even one morning? Because those dang words just won't write themselves. And I like the idea of lots of photo posts like the chairs and tables of yesterday...and one big round-up. Don't give into the Catholic guilt, especially with Rome coming up! Take a morning to get up early and open the windows, have your coffee and watch those Europeans stroll on by! Sit, doing absolutely nothing, until you bore yourself. Get up an hour early and go out with the camera...the possibilities are endless. The limitations are mind-made. As long as you do no harm, where is the problem?

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    1. I'm glad you didn't say the limitations are "just" mind-made! Stubborn things, those minds, mine at least, but it's funny that just writing that post has helped me let go of some things and see others more clearly. I tend to get anxious, then analyze, and I'm very slow to abandon guilt, but I often get to practical in the end. . . Some of you are much quicker! 😉

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  4. Lovely. And somehow more revelatory of a long marriage than a post about long marriage might be. Thank you.

    As for the writing, I write 6 days/week, anywhere from 1 hour to 5, depending on what I have planned for the blog. To be more accurate, I spend that time on the Internet, or in photo-taking, or photo-editing, or writing, or replying to comments, or making comments of my own. All the online endeavor stuff. I do it this way because my husband is still working. I imagine if he were home I'd cut down the hours to no more than 3/day. But the time to think and create (not to be pretentious, but you know, write and make pictures) is invaluable to structuring my day. And, yes, I feel worried not frequently but not never, in the midst of very high privilege. Human condition, I think. Maybe you and Paul will find a joint project of some sort. One doesn't know. <3

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    1. Interesting, i suspect this is always true, that our posts reveal more to perspicacious readers than what me might recognize. As with good friends who observe us over a long time..l.
      Also interesting to get an idea of your writing time input. I'm going to leave myself some leeway to sort other creative and service and family and whatever priorities, but I would like to set a schedule of sorts. Structure seems important to me, and I guess I have the luxury to create my own now.

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  5. golly 3 hours a day sounds like a lot! On the other hand I am not a writer. On our current hiking vacation in Maine we are having a "day off" due to driving rain (3 inches predicted!) and its quite welcome given that I frightened myself badly rock scrambling yesterday above my skill level. And it IS supposed to be a holiday!

    I try not to punish myself for any emotions but just understand them as well as I can...the ones I am most impatient with relate to anger and resentment, but even those might have benign roots?

    Meanwhile your trip continues to sound lovely......

    Ceci

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    1. Yikes! That's a huge amount of rain! Take shelter! Rock scrambling is always too stressful for me, my skill level being so much lower than my fear level.
      Your patience with a range of emotions is very wise. I try to do the same, accepting the feelings as facts that I try to understand. Sometimes it works...

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  6. Here's the deal from where I sit - you write when you write because you want to write, and you don't when you don't. I guess it depends. If you want to write for pure satisfaction, that's what I'm talking about. If you write as a serious career-type, publishing thing, yes, discipline comes into the picture. I laugh as I write this because I'm the same way! How many brawls I've had with myself about this. I usually lose.

    Enjoy the day. Enjoy having no schedule! It seems you're trying to be back on a clock, fitting things in here and there and there. There is no clock, except that Big One. Suck up the beauty of where you are at that very moment. I know you are doing that too. Ramping down and breathing. What's the book, Eat Drink Blah? Hurrah on the watercolour. I only write this because you raised these questions. I'm not usually so direct, or maybe I am. Haha!

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    1. Be direct! I did ask for it...it's not so much trying to be back on a clock as wanting to be sure my life after retirement continues to have meaning. Which, I get it, is something between banal and precious. But still. There it is. But I'm Eating and Drinking and Grabbing the Day. Sucking up lots of beauty as well, for those days when it will be hard to imagine or remember. Thanks for the company in thinking this stuff through. Ah Life!

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  7. Love this post. My partner and I ran into some of the same issues on our short trip this summer -- both introverts have to figure out how to be together and alone enough. I can't wait to plan a longer one where we can experiment more.

    This fall I feel retirement is closer than I thought. With careful planning we have the resources, and neither of us feel as excited as usual to be in the classroom. I still enjoy it, but I have to work up to it rather than it flowing naturally. I can't fault my students, but I definitely am beginning to look at other opportunities. None will be in the art field since I am hopeless there, but perhaps more photography and writing and less grading and lecturing. It's exciting and scary since I have always at least partially defined myself by my job. On the other hand, who knows how much longer I will have to travel and do other things that I have not been able to do due to work and family commitments? Big decisions.....
    Lynn

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    1. So glad you can relate, Lynn. We're really lucky that we can talk this stuff through (or is it that I'm lucky to have a very tolerant partner? No! I'm sure he feels very lucky as well 😉).
      Exciting and scary, yes, this is what I know of the time before retiring. And I'm still feeling some of that, i.e. What have I done? In the end, what made the decision for me was exactly what you've come to, that we just don't know how much time remains for those things we've been putting off.

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  8. During your holidays you've posted more interesting posts than I expected,with beautiful photos. Don't judge yourself so harsh. These seven weeks are maybe meant to be time of contemplate,exploring,savouring things around you,to memorize people and places for future writing. We all need time like this,so be proud of yourself!
    I am completely satisfied with quality of photos you make,colourful and informative. You want them to be better for future use? A good reason to come there one more time:-)
    Take your time here,make notes,be alone as long as you can and need it (even in Rome you can go for an early walk or run,to regenerate yourself for yourself and others),day has only 24 hours and life is a marathon,not a race on 100m.
    And when you come home,you'll have a lot of things to post and write about. We can wait.
    Seize the beauty of your days on holiday,the beauty of serendipity and/or planned days
    For a lot of years my holidays have to be very good planned( this is a must),but now and than there is a sparkle of surprise. From the beginning of my travels I always considered my visit to every city and country as a first in many that will folow. Mainly this was not true,but it is good to dream :-)
    And about retirement ,some other time
    Dottoressa

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    1. Thank you, kind Dottoressa! It's true, it's my husband's constant lament, that I judge myself too harshly, always. I'm working on it....
      I like your idea of treating each visit as the first of many. This would help guard against the tendency some people have to travel with a list of must-sees and then exhaust themselves chasing their targets. Sometimes there is really only time to sit and watch people, over a coffee, and imagine what it must be to walk to work alongside them....
      And some day, yes, we can talk about retirement.

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  9. Mater! Quick ps! Get out to a cafe, order cafe complet and read A Cup Of Jo blog. Interview with Ruth Reichl is a timely joy! Excuse my exclamation marks but not my bossy manner. You could make her steak sandwich for dinner too. C'est parti!

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    1. Bossy is a good thing when it's pointing to a Ruth Reichl interview. I'm on it! Thanks!

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  10. I tend to be a solitary individual and get testy when I have someone around all the time. My writing projects take more than writing skill and that creative part needs to be nurtured. One could devote hours to writing and not have product. I found that when I was working with the children's book editor. He felt that I could write but I didn't have a marketable idea. I want my retirement time (especially these early 60's years) to be productive but what does that mean? When I have course work or something to work through, I can measure progress. Running or cycling, is quantitative as well. Today, Duchesse wrote about a friend with cancer and about doing what we want to be doing.
    It seems to me, that even when I am doing what I want to be doing, I can be fretful.
    Monsieur is rustling in the kitchen and puppy is dragging my freshly ironed dish towel as I try to clarify my ideas. Perhaps the testiness is just part of the introvert disposition
    and needs to accepted as such. Enjoy your remaining time in Bordeaux and perhaps you will find some personal time in Rome.

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    1. You understand what I'm talking about exactly. I'm a fairly social introvert, but I really like to have at least an hour or two all to myself each day and that can be tougher to arrange when traveling. And, for me, creative endeavours require a fair bit of fallow time, of percolation....I know there will be room for that when we get back home though, so for now I'm doing my best to shift perspective a bit. Thanks for commenting.

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  11. A wise & thoughtful post plus lots of wise & thoughtful comments . I agree with Dotteressa - don't be so hard on yourself , enjoy your holiday
    Wendy in York

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    1. Thanks, Wendy. I think I've written my way out of the fretting and back into holiday mode...

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  12. I'm a little a head of you in the transition into retirement but still, almost a year in, feeling and experiencing much as you are. My take on transitions is that by their very nature they are disruptive, interesting, thought provoking. Reflect back on developmental phases -- kid to teen, teen to young adult, and on. These phases are learning experiences as is your new phase of retirement. Though this phase is the one where we must acknowledge that time is finite. Restlessness? I've yet to figure out what it means to me or what the feeling is trying to tell me. It is there. It bubbles up. It is part of my transition.

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  13. You're spot on, Gail. And the transition seems to involve so many levels this time, and mortality has never been more evident. . .

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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