For me, the surest route to any kind of truth seems to be through the particular, the quotidian, the material, and at this moment, as I adjust to being back home after almost six weeks of travel, I've decided to approach the notion of "Unity" from my own sense of fragmentedness as I try to integrate
my December and January experiences in France, Switzerland, and Italy with the life I'm nestling back into now in Vancouver.
To integrate, of course, is to unite, and Integrity, in one of its most important meanings, is a wholeness. An integer, if you'll remember your grade-school math, is a whole number, rather than a fraction. But how to unite my fractions, my constituent parts, without effacing or blurring them, how to be whole and maintain integrity. That's a constant question for me, to be honest, but even more so at the borders that travel illuminates -- not just those geographic borders represented by the tediously long queue at Charles de Gaulle Airport's Border Police, but also those liminal spaces or times that travel offers by removing us from certain obligations while offering us new challenges and re-energising our senses.
On the plane, flying home from Paris, I watched Return to Montauk (highly recommend, by the way). The soundtrack was in English, for the most part, but the only subtitles available were French, and I need subtitles to supplement my compromised hearing. I was amused and pleased to see that this system worked, that reading the French allowed me to fill in the English words I missed hearing. Similarly, when I watched M. et. Mme. Adelman (also recommend, with minor reservations) a bit later, I followed the English subtitles to help me fill in the French dialogue -- rather than simply reading those subtitles and watching the film through the lens of its English translation.
|In front of the Carousel in Paris -- note that I didn't regret bringing those green Fluevog boots, which I had some misgivings about. . .|
I'd watched L'Echange des Princesses (wonderful film, will be appearing soon in an English-subtitled version, The Royal Exchange -- watch for it) with a Parisian friend a few days earlier, and without any subtitling at all, I might have caught 30 to 50% of the dialogue; somehow, between that, the acting, and all the other filmic clues allowed me grasp the overall plot and most of the intrigues. Duolingo amusingly tells me that my French fluency has dropped to 58% over the time away from my regular schedule -- my absence has been punished, so that I'm at a fraction of my former ability (although, in reality, my time in France reinvigorated my conversational skills, at the very least). My Italian fluency, Duolingo tells me assuredly, is only 4% lower, at 54%. The Italians with whom I made efforts to converse for practical purposes of shopping, eating, getting directions, etc., would beg to differ.
In other words, in case the point isn't quite obvious, my not-quite-whole hearing combined with my definitely not-the-whole-package language skills to yield an integrated comprehension and enjoyment -- with the whole being even, perhaps, greater than the sum of the parts.
Of course, my first steps at uniting these two was dictated by the sheerly physical. After a ten-hour flight, plus the several hours pre-boarding and the horrid hour post-flight, waiting at the luggage carousel, I arrived home with a body clock confused by the nine-hour time difference. So sleep and food and tea and more sleep were the simple orders of my first two days. On the third day, I tentatively tried a small workout, my first since this cold hit way back on Boxing Day. (Seemed a good idea, and I felt okay at the time, but I'm coughing again and glands/ear/throat sore, so I'm seeing a G.P. later today). I'm finally sleeping almost a reasonable amount at a reasonable time, now, so my body is almost re-united, almost integrated, with the local clock.
|At Villa d'Este|
With my physical self adjusting to the local, the emotional processing begins to kick in -- missing so much the Little Girl we'd had a chance to get close to in Italy, wondering how much of that closeness we'll be able to call up next time we see her. The satisfaction of having got to know our son-in-law better, the disappointment that we hadn't had more time with our daughter-- mixed with our pleasure that she'd been able to complete her yoga teacher training course. And now, here in Vancouver, the joys of embracing the local grandchildren again, the gratitude at the daughters and sons-in-law who picked me up at the airport, stocked my fridge, invited me for dinner, generally looked after my slightly sick, jet-lagged, weary self until Pater got back home. In the next week or two, a ferry trip to visit our Son's family, another grandchild I haven't seen for several months. How to pull all these strands together, to integrate my family emotionally if not physically, across the distances involved?
Sunday morning, I wrote my Morning Pages for the first time since before our trip. Since I began this morning exercise after reading Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way earlier this year, I've found it such a useful guide to a personal unity/integrity that foregrounds making room for my creativity -- primarily, in my case, as a way to keep a personal writing project on track against the many internal voices that often find reason to give up. The Morning Pages undeniably work for me, and yet I regularly resist taking that half hour, and travelling offered a perfect excuse to abandon them. But what else I'd abandoned alongside became quite obvious Sunday morning, revealed by the nib of my fountain pen, scratching thoughts across the page.
I saw how clearly I'd allowed some discouragement late last fall, over the worth of what I've been writing, to piggy-back on the disrupted schedule and ample distraction of our winter trip. It didn't hurt that our primary reason for travel was to help with our granddaughter in our daughter's absence. Sacrificing creativity for family -- the perfect excuse! Never mind that I could easily have found half an hour daily if I'd prioritised that part of myself. Instead, I've come home to admit that I have written nothing on that project for almost three months. Sure, I did some writing in my travel journal and I wrote the occasional blog post, but even that writing was fairly desultory. Further, it was only ever fit into the cracks of the schedule, worked around other people's priorities. (And to be fair, those very people would happily have made room for my priorities, had I only asserted them.)
Besides the Morning Pages she prescribes, Julia Cameron also insists on building regular Artist's Dates into our schedules if we want to nurture our creative selves. My travel experiences provided much of what I look for on an artist's date -- those solo walks along the beach with my camera; riding the train through the Swiss Alps with Pater; wandering the streets of Paris window-shopping; sitting alone in a brasserie, discreetly observing the other diners; marvelling my way through the rooms of an art exhibition. Now to pull those experiences together, to bring them forward where I can reflect on them, draw from them for writing inspiration, or just relive them again, enjoying the memories and trusting that they will show up in my creative pursuits someday.
So over the next few weeks, as I begin writing more consistently, I'm also going to be scrolling through my travel journal and sorting my digital photos, making notes or simply sitting with my recollections. I'm going to pick up my Italian practice again, my French as well; I might try some sketching from the photographs of this last trip. Perhaps I'll plant some cyclamens in a pot on my terrace garden, transplanting that "souvenir" image from the streets of Italy. . . .I'll finish the pair of socks I was knitting on the trains and planes of this journey, another "pulling together," if you don't mind. . .
We have a number of trips planned for this year, and at least one of them will be as long as this last. So it seems important to continue integrating the Travelling Me with the Stay-at-Home Me. This Integrated Self might not be what first comes to mind when you think of "Unity" -- and I'm not sure I've worked the trope, made the point, convincingly (oh, that foggy cold-brain, you know? on top of jet lag?!!). But I've enjoyed the opportunity to write about "Pulling Myself Together," and now I'm keen to hop over to A Daily Plate of Crazy and see what approach the other invitees have taken to the theme.
You should pop over there as well -- there's sure to be some interesting posts. Before you go, though, I'd love your feedback. Do you ever feel fragmented when you come back from travelling? Or are there other endeavours or experiences that leave you feeling a bit like Jane Fonda's character in ON Golden Pond, one foot on the dock, one on the gunwale of a boat that's drifting. . . ? Taking a course, for example, or heading a project at work, or engaging in a physical challenge -- anything that shifts your usual schedule or environment or priorities? And in such cases, do you mostly allow time to effect the integration for you? Or do you have a few techniques. . . .