Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Pulling Myself Together! A Post-Travel Invitation

When I learned that the theme for this month's By Invitaton Only posts was "Unity," I'll admit to being rather intimidated. Such big ideas come under this umbrella, and I wondered how I could contribute in a meanginful way, without slipping into the overly general, the tempting sentimental, the nearly glib. . .

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.
Nana/Frances/Materfamilias in Paris: you will know me by my curls, the Eiffel tower by its lines of metal, and the Patisserie to the right, in red, by my say-so. I was told of the Patisserie by the artist, my 5-year-old granddaughter, who helped Integrate this Traveller's experiences by drawing them for her, right here in Vancouver, at home.


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.

Regardless of the fractions others might affix to my French and Italian language skills, however, my efforts in both are part of what makes me whole. And while part of those efforts is my travel, another important part is my practice here at home.  And integrating those two parts is just one of the tasks I'm undertaking this week in an effort to Unite my Traveling Self with my Everyday-at-Home Self -- to "pull myself together."

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. . . .







32 comments:

  1. Lovely, lovely post, Frances. Don't know how you managed it between getting home and feeling not up to snuff.
    I haven't read the Artist's Way in Years. You've inspired me to pull out the several books on writing and creativity that I used to refer to when I was teaching. So many cool ideas, and such a privilege in retirement to be able to play with creativity.
    I'm trying to "pull myself together" as well. Seems as if I never quite manage the together part:) But then again, maybe I should stop shooting for complete unity and just enjoy the process.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I never manage actually getting it together, but I do keep pulling ;-) I think that enjoying the process is the only way to go!

      Delete
  2. What an interesting take on this subject, pulling oneself together, integrating the different pieces of self after weeks of living one (or several) atypical versions. Fascinating, Frances.

    I love this (new, for me) concept of integrating the travelling self with the say-at-home self; my travelling self is one I have always much preferred, but I wonder if that is because those times are generally removed from the usual sources of obligation and stress. Or, perhaps they have been preferred because they have most frequently been in a country and language that somehow suits some core aspect of my "integrated" self better than the land of my citizenship... Hmmm...

    I note your desire to return to morning writing discipline. Yes! So important, along with some of the other practice elements of Artist's Way and (my little quasi-Bible) Writing Down the Bones.

    Thank you again for this thoughtful treatment of the subject. Wonderful -- and incredibly good of you to participate when "pulling oneself together" after so much jet lag!

    xo
    D.A.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. During the years I concentrated on grad school, then the years of teaching once I finished my doc., travelling for more than a few weeks wasn't an option, and discipline was (for too) easy to come by for achieving goals. There's something to what you say about the obligation being mostly removed during times of travel, and I, too, have preferred that freer self. Now, though, to integrate some of the discipline that may have got lost, post-retirement. . .

      Delete
  3. I really enjoyed this post! And though I haven't traveled for that length of time since my early 20's, I understand that feeling of trying to re-integrate. From travel and being immersed in another language, and also from transition.

    We're doing a different kind of "pulling ourselves together" as our kitchen and bathroom renovation is getting closed to finished. Having only a makeshift kitchen has kind of felt like traveling or camping out. There's the inconvenience, but also the sense of indefinite impermanence that's wearing, and I'm looking forward to being "home again."

    I'm so glad you were able to have this time with your grand-daughter!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The kind of transition you're going through is like travel in many ways. And what a great expression, "the sense of indefinite impermanence." I recognise that from a big, way-too-long reno we did back in the day -- that sense that it will never, ever, be over, much as common sense assures that it will.

      Hope you're cooking on your shiny new stove by next week. Or at least showering in a spiffy new bathroom ;-)

      Delete
  4. Welcome home! I think the Integrated Self is, if we're lucky, and if all the caretaking required (both freely done and as obligation) permits, the task of these later years.

    I love that you bring up integers;).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree -- if not now, it's never going to happen, right?

      Delete
  5. So enjoyed reading this, and now making a new friend !!! Have a great day !!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Marsha! And I just checked out your plan for getting a group of women together to rent an Italian villa -- fabulous! We're doing something similar with family (in Croatia) around the same time, or I'd be in like a dirty shirt! ;-)

      Delete
    2. Croatia is lovely too, and very similar to nearby parts of Italy, but I don't speak Croatian or any Slavic language, so that would make me feel more alien there that in France or Italy, or even a Spanish-speaking country. I do speak Spanish, but not as fluently, and the Italian really leaks into the Spanish...

      Delete
    3. We spent a week there last year, in Zagreb, Split, and Zador. The language is a barrier, true, but we managed to find enough spoken English (or to use our meagre Italian or our fairly decent French). Such a beautiful country, and the food! MMMMmmm

      Delete
  6. A lot of facettes make the unique,interesting person that you are
    Sometimes it is hard and tiring to juggle all of them at the same time
    Living in a foreign city,in foreign language and culture,even just for a while, could make some little changes to our behaviour,it could enrich our vocabulary,our opinions and knowledge and,similar to body clock,it takes some time to integrate
    Dottoressa

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It really can be tiring to do the juggle, yet we value all the different balls . . .
      But time, you're so right, it does take time, this integration. . . and patience.

      Delete
  7. So much to respond to in this post. Your admission of not working on your special writing project, and having the 'easy' excuse of family commitments particularly resonated - I unexpectedly have time for my own writing but am finding it so hard to do. My life has absolutely no sense of unity at the moment, since last year involved both the end of a long marriage and the end of a teaching job for me, both such integral parts of my self-identity. I'm hoping that yoga and writing might put me back together again, but it's interesting how much we resist. I also re-read The Artist's Way last year ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those would be such big changes to integrate -- the marriage ending, the job as well. I've been watching your creativity assert itself in your gorgeous food photography lately -- I'd forgotten about your yoga. . . And yes, it fascinates me how much I resist. (and do you also tell yourself the story that "if you were really a writer, you would just want to write, or you would have already? -- Cameron has been very helpful on this, for me, but still. . .

      Delete
  8. I have not read The Artist's Way...and reading this post makes me curious...
    Your grasp of French must be much better than mine as I find that french movies without English Subtitles are virtually impossible to follow.
    Hope you feel better soon as this nasty cough and cold seems to linger for weeks.
    Off to check out the other posts on this subject.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It helps that I can read French fairly well, so I try watching French movies with French subtitles whenever that's available, and it does help the aural comprehension (my real weakness, compounded by my hearing deficit).
      Yes, the doctor told me that sometimes a cough will linger for 6-8 weeks after a virus has mostly played itself out. Yikes!

      Delete
  9. There is much to absorb and ponder in this beautifully written post and like other readers I am impressed by your energy when you are not feeling 100%. I do hope you can shake this cold soon.
    I have never been one to say, "it's good to be home." I always wish our trips could last longer and I could live several different lifetimes in almost each of our destinations! After one memorable 3-week trip to Japan I experienced real culture shock when we returned to Canada.
    Frances in Sidney

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We've been lucky the last few years in taking 6 weeks or more for a trip, and at that length, I inevitably wish for the comforts of home, the simple ones like the tea made just the way I like it and drunk from my favourite mug, or a shower that I don't have to work so hard to get the temperature right. . . Three weeks in Japan, I can imagine that would effect some real re-setting. . .

      Delete
  10. It strikes me that you are quite critical of yourself. From what I read on your blog, your life is chock full of activity and competing interests. It sounds marvelous- and exhausting. Trying to be a good mother/grandmother, a loving wife, a friend, a physical being, a creative artist- that is a LOT to juggle. (Not to mention that you left a beloved home and moved to an urban environment instead of a more rural one.)You have an active travel schedule and, I hate to admit it, making the necessary physical and mental adjustments to travel do not become easier with age. I understand your desire to nurture the creative part of YOU- but priorities seem easier for most of us when they are theoretical. The devil is indeed in the details. So, for my two cents worth, I say BRAVO! You are an active, interesting, involved, aspiring woman with loads to juggle. Give yourself some acknowledgment for all you do so well!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. OH, I am, yes, quite self-critical, and ever so. I wish I were more able to recognise my own achievements and to accept my shortcomings more easily, but I have a Tough Inner Critic and rather often see myself as lazy, quite honestly. But in wanting to nurture my creative self, I think I'm actually being selfish, in a positive way, and I'm so grateful for your encouragement and your validation -- may I quote you, to my Tough Inner Critic? xo

      Delete
  11. Travel does mess with our senses. Our physical body is home, but our heart and soul has not quite returned, especially if traveling for an extended time. For me it takes a few weeks...for the parts of me to be in unity. Maybe we reinvent our selves when we travel. You are too hard on yourself. Maybe after this break, your writing will flow in a different direction.
    Ali

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So interesting. I first read your second sentence as beginning "our physical body is [our] home" -- and there's ample food for thought there, regarding travel. . .
      I love your notion that my writing might want to flow in a different direction -- perhaps the break will have been a good thing.

      Delete
  12. I have to agree with BuffaloGal but , of course , it is difficult to change who you are . Travel was always important to me & I still enjoy it but not at the same pace or for the same length of time . I can enjoy busy cities , for a few days but I need more downtime now - I’m a little older than you :) and little children , much as you love them , can also be very tiring . Add in an energy sapping cold virus & I’m not surprised you are flagging . Be kind to yourself . Now I’m off to look up ‘ integers ‘ , you are always teaching me new words .
    Wendy in York

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Wendy -- it is difficult to change. So true about the change of pace for travel as we age. This was a challenging trip and I'm thinking about how to build in some respite next go . . .

      Delete
  13. Welcome home; hopefully you will find some relief after your doctor visit...coughing is so exhausting, at a time when rest is so important.

    I have been thinking about this since yesterday. I like the space or disconnection between the 'sections' of self. Breathing room.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Georgia. I'm slowly improving, and rest/sleep seems to be the key.

      This is such an intriguing notion, this "space or disconnection between the 'sections' of self." "Breathing room," exactly, and perhaps this is why I'm stopping to think about integration -- perhaps I'm not quite ready. Your phrase recalls for me something I once read (in literary theory, somewhere) about short stories (in a collection) having an "ontological gap" between them; whereas a novel wants to keep you in its world, a short story collection keeps letting/pushing you out to enter another one. And that space in between, that "ontological gap" makes room for breathing, for consciousness, analysis, awareness. . .

      Delete
  14. Hello
    The Artists Ways has a sequel - Veins of Gold - I think. Also well worth reading and yes I agree wholeheartedly that our later years are for integration and making sense of it all - if we are lucky.
    Love
    Lizer Pearl

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Lizer! I'll look for that book.

      Delete
  15. I would take those Duolingo stats with a cantaloupe-zised grain of salt. It is one very narrow form of learning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh believe me, I don't need to be told -- they crack me up, those stats! So ridiculously precise, so very meaningless ;-)
      But I do find Duolingo a fun way to get a quick refresher on vocab and grammar. I also like Coffee Break Italian/French, etc.

      Delete

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...