Tag: Personality

9Jan

Move It (Metaphorically Speaking)

Last weekend, we drove to an outlet mall a little ways out of town. I’d intended to use the opportunity for a nap, still feeling every bit a shadow wraith after our 4 a.m. New Year’s Eve, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the scenery. Winter in Umbria is an unconventional beauty. They call this the Green Heart of Italy because of its evergreens—spruces nodding their tufted heads in time with junipers, cypresses straight-backed and regal—but I’m captivated by the deciduous trees as well, their line-drawn latticework against the blue, each birds’ nest the silhouette of a secret. White-tipped mountains smudge the horizon. In the foreground, tilled fields and olive groves follow the eccentric lilt of the landscape. Each town has a way of looking like it was grown here, stone towers and archways hugging the hilltops and the low winter sun fanning through. The general effect is that of a Van Gogh painting.

“Why don’t we go out exploring more often?” Dan asked me.

“Because we never have it on our schedule.”

As I answered, I thought about how easily a schedule can function as blinders, the parameters of my day confined to whatever I’ve planned out beforehand. I appreciate having a schedule, just as I appreciate lists and goal outlines and brainstorming diagrams and all manner of ISTJ-happy organizational strategies. I actually put “Apply makeup” on my to-do list for this morning, if that gives you an idea of how much satisfaction I find in mapping out every last moment. (Yes, I have problems.)

It’s easy to get stuck in a perpetual state of planning though. My focus can be so narrow and unaccepting of deviation that waking up in the morning can feel like staring down a ski chute. Did you see the “Best Ski Line of 2014” video going around a few weeks ago? Like that. The precision of it all has a way of paralyzing me, and it’s easier to keep refining my plan, adding more items to the list, and maybe going back to my brainstorming pages than it is to kick off.

Not getting things done, of course, leads to profound dissatisfaction at the end of a day, and not having space to maneuver beyond my schedule—going out with my family to explore the winter landscape, for instance—crushes. As I’ve been thinking this week about how to beat both the paralysis and the inflexibility in this new year, two words have come to mind: “Move it.” It’s a mantra, a motto, a ridiculously catchy children’s song, and a reminder. “Move it” means taking action, doing the things that I’m liable to keep putting off forever. It also means shaking a little, shimmying a lot, cultivating the art of wiggle room in my life.

I hadn’t really planned on coming up with a word (or, uh, a phrase) for 2015, but it seems like one found me all the same, my direction for the year now pirouetting like Van Gogh hills toward the horizon.

Winter in Umbria 4

P.S. – Have you picked a word or a phrase for the new year? I’d love to hear it!

28Nov

The Waiting Room

Patience is a virtue, I know, but it’s not my virtue.

I would tell you that the problem is my current schedule, that if time weren’t such a commodity I’d happily lean back in my raft and let the hours carry me downstream, but I can remember this sense of urgency dogging me even on childhood afternoons when I had nothing to do but roost in my favorite tree reading Nancy Drew. I’ve always been a wind-up doll, whirling into my own momentum when I’m in motion, tense with expectation when I’m at rest.

I know better than to take it personally when the traffic turns to sludge or the customer in front of me brandishes fifty-seven coupons or the office is now closed, please come back tomorrow. But folks… the struggle is real. I need no reminders to rage, rage against the dying of the light. What I do need is practice at peeling my one eye away from the clock and my other eye from the lady in front of me who is describing her lunch in microscopic detail to the cashier even though I just need to pay for the one pair of socks. I need practice at taking the pace of the real world in stride.

And I am here today to attest that there is no better opportunity to practice this than when your calendar becomes polka-dotted with doctor’s appointments. I’ve been to eleven in the last three weeks. Eleven, which are about ten and a half more doctor’s appointments than we have in an average month. Some of them have been routine visits for the girls, but the rest have been for me, and I can’t tell you how far outside my comfort zone this catapults me, how poorly I deal with medical limbo.

Something is wrong with my body—maybe my heart, maybe my thyroid, maybe something else entirely. We don’t know yet, and this is the kind of wait that feels like it might just wind me a click past my stretchability.

There are the hours spent in waiting rooms… Yellow chairs, blue chairs, clinical beige, institutional gray. Signs on every door saying “Don’t Knock.” A solitary signal bar on my phone that comes and goes as if riding the tide of my thoughts.

And then there are the hours spent in my mind, a waiting room that never closes… Deep maroon worry, fluorescent blinks of irritation, blank putty-colored stretches of unknowing. All possible outcomes waiting behind those closed doors on which I’m not allowed to knock. An off-tempo pendulum swinging between anxiety and chagrin.

Because what it it’s nothing? What if I continue to ace these medical tests until the only explanation left is that I’m a psychosomatic phony? I honestly couldn’t tell you if the outcome I dread most is a diagnosis or the lack of one. Either way, I wait.

It feels like trying to sprint underwater, urgency trapped in slow motion. I often find myself thinking that I just want resolution so I can get on with my life, and that’s a normal response, right? I’m sure I’ve heard that sentiment expressed by at least a dozen characters on House and something like two hundred on Grey’s Anatomy (which is impressive considering I’ve only seen a handful of episodes). I realize though that when I think this way, it shows I’ve let the parameters of my world shrink to the size of a waiting room. I’ve let one small arena of unknowing press pause on my entire life.

Well then. You’ve heard the Thomas à Kempis quote, “The acknowledgement of our weakness is the first step in repairing our loss”? In this, at least, I can feel like I’m making progress. The last few weeks have failed to turn me into a breezy and beatific version of myself, but I have felt the headlong staccato of my mind relaxing a bit as I’ve reminded myself (and re-reminded myself… and re-re-reminded myself) that life goes on.

Which it does, of course, in all its beautiful, maddening, un-streamlined glory. My days continue to fill like overstuffed gift baskets. The traffic is in there, but so are story times with the girls and coffee dates with the husband and three-hour dinner conversations with friends. The doctor’s appointments are in there, but so are leftover apple pies and Sufjan’s Songs for Christmas. There’s reassurance, actually, in knowing that life is absolutely unruffled by my impatience with it. I’m glad to remain a minor character if it means that in my pauses just as in my fast-forwards, life will go on going on.

It’s a cliché, I know, but it’s my cliché.

15Oct

“Me Too” Moments With Myself

Having minored in psychology back in the day, I’m no stranger to the personality test. Every week or so in class, I’d be handed a questionnaire, the answers to which would reveal my Jungian archetype or my Type A/B profile or the likelihood that I would curl up in a ball and cry if ever put in charge of a junior high field trip. (Answer: 1 zillion percent.) I took these questionnaires as seriously as if they were pop quizzes, and I could never get past the feeling that I was unprepared. True, it doesn’t get much more open-book than using your own brain as reference for how you operate.  The problem was that I could never confidently circle one choice and move on.

“You know how to put every minute of your time to good purpose: YES or NO?”

Yes. Well, sort of. I suppose it would be accurate to say that I TRY to put every minute of my time to good purpose, but whether I’m actually accomplishing that or not is up for debate. I mean, yesterday evening I spent an hour and a half sneaking around with my roommate pranking the student art exhibit with creations we made out of paper towels and Sharpies, and while fun, it was probably not the best use of an hour and a half. On the other hand, it was a great bonding experience for my roomie and I. On the other other hand, though, we could have bonded over preemptively studying for finals or something. But we made memories! But we also wasted paper towels. Also, come to think of it, we may have inadvertently offended some of our classmates who contributed real art to the exhibit, which wasn’t our intention. If anything, we were trying to make fun of Picasso who is both famous and dead enough to take a little ribbing. Oh crap, now I’m making fun of dead people and putting my soul in jeopardy when I should be finishing up this questionnaire, which clearly shows that I don’t know how to put every minute of my time to good purpose, and oh hell…

Innocent Bethany
“Capillary Attraction” on Quilted Bounty

I probably should have ended up as somebody’s case study.

Recently though, I learned why personality tests have always been such a struggle for me, and in a neat ode to irony, I learned this from a personality test itself. Dan was away on a business trip, and I had about twenty-five too many things to do before I picked up the girls from school… so naturally, I decided to ditch the list and give myself an impromptu crash course in Enneagram theory instead. (See earlier re: knowing how to put every moment of time to good purpose. Boy do I ever.) Have you heard of the Enneagram* before? It had been on my radar for a year or so, but I’d always regarded the topic more or less the way I do the essential oils trend: so preemptively exhausted by the idea that FOMO** doesn’t even put up a fight.

* Pronounced “ANY-a-gram” for those of you whose brains, like mine, begin to melt with anxiety when they can’t figure out how to pronounce a word.

** “Fear Of Missing Out” for those of you whose brains, like mine, huddle up in a dark corner to cry when they can’t figure out an acronym.

I can’t tell you why I suddenly decided that I needed to learn everything about the Enneagram over the course of one too-busy Thursday morning, but I’m glad that I did. And by “glad,” I mean wildly relieved with a side of regret for not having researched this sooner. The longer I read, the clearer it became that despite my psychology textbooks and decades-old journals and lifelong fascination with human nature, I had never seen myself fitting in among the spectrum of personhood. I had spent every minute of my life to date thinking of myself as an anomaly.

That, I learned within two seconds of completing the Enneagram test, is because I’m an Individualist. Seeing myself as fundamentally different from everyone else on earth is a trait that I share with approximately one out of nine people (including, I’m charmed to say, both Kat Von D. and Rumi). Uncertainty about our identities is a hallmark of our personality type, as is withdrawal into the solitary mazes of our emotions. I might be a weird and complicated human being, but anomaly I most certainly am not.

Don’t worry; I’m not about to put you through a crash course in the Enneagram system (though if you’re interested, I’ll link to some resources at the end), nor am I going to expound much further on what my personality type entails. To be honest, I cringe at the thought of anyone reading up on my type as it so exactly describes me and is so unflinchingly thorough. That’s the difference that this personality test made for me above all the others though: It showed me a complete portrait of myself, good and bad, strengths and weaknesses, advantages and pitfalls, ways that I make the world a better place and ways that I inflict damage on it.

Looking at myself that way—as a multi-dimensional member of a known group instead of as an incomprehensible loner—is good and hard at once. I think that part of me was attached to the idea that I was utterly unique and that my shortcomings could be explained away as idiosyncrasies. If I didn’t understand all of myself, then I didn’t need to face all of myself. Now, it’s as if someone has handed me a close-up picture of my face with blemishes and wrinkles and scars enhanced rather than Photoshopped away, and it doesn’t make for a feel-good viewing experience.

That said, the wild relief I mentioned earlier flows deeper than discomfort. Being known as myself by myself is a gift to my thirties, the self-discovery I never quite attained during the years traditionally earmarked for it. I’m seeing clearly at last how all my mannerisms trace paths back to the same emotional switchboard, how I make sense even when I don’t. I’ve become an observer of my own overthinking ways instead of their victim. I have the perspective now to strategize my own growth instead of floundering in despair. And what’s more, so very much more, I’m not alone. I’ve got Johnny Depp and Frida Kahlo and Tchaikovsky in this Type 4 camp with me after all.

I’m reminded of the scene in “The Matrix Reloaded” (bear with me here) in which the Oracle tells Neo that he’s already made a choice; now he just needs to understand why he made it. I didn’t get that line at the time, probably because they’re talking about Neo’s choice to eat a piece of candy, and what is there to figure out? Candy is delicious and should be eaten, the end. Eleven years after watching the film, though, I’m starting to find just how empowering it can be to understand your own motivations. Knowing what makes you tick is a powerful confidence-builder, and being able to offer a sympathetic “Me too!” to yourself when thoughts or feelings overwhelm is one of the most effective self-care techniques I’ve found.

It feels an awful lot like making a friend.

What do you think about self-analysis and personality tests? Is there one in particular that’s helped you to make sense of yourself? (If you answer “Which Twilight Character Are You?” I’m going to force you to watch this until your eyeballs bleed.)

Oh, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram, you can dive into the information online at the Enneagram Institute, read the founders’ Introduction to the Enneagram, check out Richard Rohr’s A Christian Perspective, or take advantage of my friend Leigh’s personal coaching services.

7Oct

Confessions of a Terrible Texter

This past Saturday evening, I found myself standing in the middle of the kitchen with a stick of butter in my hand and absolutely no idea what I’d intended to do with it. This was concerning to me, given that not thirty seconds before, I had opened the fridge with no clue what I was trying to retrieve from it. Apparently, I had remembered—butter!—and then forgotten again in the time it would take a competent adult human to spell a-m-n-e-s-i-a. “What am I trying to do?” I wailed to Dan, who was busy preparing dinner. He looked at me the way one might regard a self-cannibalizing pet*, equal parts concern and WTF?!

*We once had a hamster named Pickle who gnawed his own leg to smithereens. Better, I suppose, than our mouse Minnie who, despite her chummy name, ate her two little terrarium-mates one weekend when we were out of town. We don’t have the best track record with rodents.

Brownies. I was making brownies. I couldn’t seem to hold that thought still in my focus for longer than twenty seconds though. After re-finding my place in the recipe, I deposited the butter in a double boiler and then looked around the kitchen feeling lost and fragmented. All I really wanted to do in that moment was pull my smartphone out of my pocket and retreat into the lull of social media streams. The impulse was so strong, so insistent and sudden and reactive, that it startled me more than my memory lapses had done. Was I really about to soothe my disengaged mind by disengaging further?

I finished baking in a kind of unsatisfied stupor.

/ / /

On Sunday afternoon, a friend texted me saying she’d noticed we weren’t at church that morning, and was everyone well? I read her text and then mentally added it to the long list of messages awaiting my reply. Of course I should have written back immediately. It would have taken a single minute of my time and then been off my mind, plus it would have communicated my very real gratitude for her concern. Texting for me, however, has always taken on a form of Gestalt psychology in which my reply is weightier than the sum of its parts—the minute of time it takes, the choice of wording, the motion of my finger on the touchscreen. Entering a conversation requires my presence.

[Cue the overwhelm.]

Text messaging. WhatsApp. Voxer. Twitter. Facebook. Pinterest. Instagram. Each one a little universe full of people I care about, people to whom I want to give my full energy, attention, and emotional engagement. It’s not possible though, at least not considering my personality** and the creaking slowness with which my brain changes direction. I want to be present for all, but I can’t, and my extremely unhelpful coping strategy is to check out. Use social media to escape rather than engage. Let the faint interactive buzz of clicking “Like” substitute for the warmth of hard-won connection.

** ISTJ for you Myers-Briggs folks, Type 4 for you Enneagrammers. Basically, I’m an introvert who overthinks everything, including which personality test highlights this the best.

Tucking all these potential conversations away into spare pockets of my brain for later retrieval only serves to make me more fragmented, but the more fragmented I become, the more compulsively I scroll through social media in search of distraction. It’s the worst kind of loop, the kind that leaves me guilty and tired and replaces a section of my brain with Swiss cheese every time I pass “Go.”

I still haven’t replied to that text.

/ / /

Everyone and his Great Aunt Ruth knows that to make it in the online world these days, one needs to be both proficient and prolific in social media. This has a way of freezing my fingers cold on the keys.

If I can’t generate frequent snack packs of content throughout each day in addition to these slow-cooked posts, then am I in the wrong field? How are other writers able to be “on” for so long and in so many places each day without flying into a billion brittle bits?

I know the answer, of course, or at least some of its nuances. I know that personality and temperament have more of an impact on us than we often realize (more on this in an upcoming post) and that some good folks derive energy from the very things that sap mine. I know that a tremendous amount of work is often tucked into the archives of success, that diligence has its reward and its cost. I know that the sacrifices behind the scenes of others’ art might put my small concessions to shame. I also know that one size was never meant to fit all, no matter what the business experts claim.

Still, opening Twitter feels like smacking myself repeatedly in the face with a flunk card.

/ / /

I confess that while part of me feels snubbed every time a friend announces that he or she is sick of social media and wishes to get rid of it forever, another part of me completely understands. It’s not from the social media itself that I want freedom but from my own responses to it, the stress and disconnect and addiction and guilt, the impulse to self-soothe by scrolling through contacts’ photo streams, the wild-eyed withdrawal from conversation. I’d like to think that this is what my friends have meant as well—that we’re sick of the versions of ourselves we encounter when we reach for our smartphones.

This confession doesn’t come with a moral or with a list of tidy solutions. I will still be a terrible texter and a flaky Facebooker when the sun comes up tomorrow. (If you’re one of the ones waiting on a reply from me, I am sorry and can offer you contrition brownies if you come over.) Rather, this is my way of looking the beast in the eye and owning the reflection of myself I find there. It’s a truth-telling exercise. It’s a return to engagement, slow-cooker style.

18Aug

An HSP Watches the News

At the bidding of a friend, I finally took the Highly Sensitive Person test this morning and ended up selecting 25 of the 27 points. (14 are enough to classify someone as a HSP, so I assume 25 means something like Watch Out, This Person May Spontaneously Combust At Any Moment.) This explains a lot about how I operate in general and how I processed last week in particular. According to the book on which the test is based, we combustible folk absorb more of the environment around us and thus become more overwhelmed than the 80-85% of the population with normally functioning brain-filters. Therefore, if—hypothetically—I spent a week hearing about the atrocities committed by ISIS in Iraq, watching Humans of New York give faces to those suffering in the Middle East, revisiting my old depression diaries in response to Robin Williams’s suicide, and following the shocking play of events in Ferguson, I might—hypothetically—have trouble unpeeling myself from bed in the morning.

I have been heartbroken by the news, and this has been bothering some people.

Some people have not been heartbroken by the news, and this has been bothering me.

Everywhere I’ve looked this last week, humanity has confronted me: prejudice and suffering and community and callousness and hope and no-hope and initiative and frustration and rhetoric and rawness and so many conflicting interpretations of which rights we should allow to those different from us. As a species, we have yet to mutually agree to each other’s right to live; opinions just get more fragmented from there. And it’s all so much, so very much, so close to too much for my porous mind to bear.

 “A billion people died on the news tonight
But not so many cried at the terrible sight
Well Mama said, It’s just make-believe
You can’t believe everything you see
So baby, close your eyes to the lullabies
On the news tonight”

Over the weekend, I was pulled in by this passage from my favorite book, in which 12-year-old Douglas Spaulding is confronting the reality of death:

“At the cowboy matinee last Saturday a man had dropped down dead on the white-hot screen. Douglas had cried out. For years he had seen billions of cowboys shot, hung, burned, destroyed. But now, this one particular man…
He’ll never walk, run, sit, laugh, cry, won’t do anything ever, thought Douglas. Now he’s turning cold. Douglas’s teeth chattered, his heart pumped sludge in his chest. He shut his eyes and let the convulsion shake him.
He had to get away from these other boys because they weren’t thinking about death, they just laughed and yelled at the dead man as if he still lived. Douglas and the dead man were on a boat pulling away, with all the others left behind on the bright shore, running, jumping, hilarious with motion, not knowing that the boat, the dead man and Douglas were going, going, and now gone into darkness.”

This is how it is for me, how it is when I hear that a child has been beheaded by a terrorist group in Iraq or a teenager shot by police in Missouri or a comedian hung by his own fractured mind in California. I feel the loss of life like a blow to my head, and the weight of all the things that person will no longer do or see or experience or be sends concentric shock waves through my system. Do you feel it too? The immense mushroom cloud of tragedy balled up in that single word, dead?

If you don’t, that’s okay. At least, I’m doing my very best to accept that it’s okay. According to the test I took this morning, Douglas Spaulding, Jack Johnson, and I are among a small percentage of people who feel everything deeply. This doesn’t mean that others feel nothing; it just means they have a thicker layer of protection between themselves and the goings on in the world. It just means that they can watch the news, compartmentalize what they’ve seen, and go on with their days.

When I watch the news, I fall in headfirst.

My conscience has waffled back and forth for years on the topic: Should I stay up to date on events as a responsible and caring citizen of Earth? Or should I avoid the news as much as possible in order to spare my heart and mind from constant overload? Should I engage the negativity, or should I retreat from it? Is awareness worth taking nightly boat trips alone with the dead? I haven’t reached a conclusion yet that gives me peace, and maybe that’s because the world is so far from a place of peace. As long as I continue to be a Highly Sensitive Person in a highly human world, I’m going to struggle with a weight that most people don’t often feel. Every news link I click in my lifetime will carry a price.

I’ve been thinking though that if I were the one in the news this last week, if it were my death being announced in professional newscasterly tones and argued about by a parade of talking heads, I would want someone out there to cry for me. I would want the loss of my life to mean enough even to a complete stranger in another country that she would lose sleep over it. I would want her to get willingly into that boat with me, away from the motion and noise, out where I was no longer a news story but a full human carrying the sum of my years and experiences and aspirations with me off the edge of the world.

So I’m here… not seeking out the news today but not hiding from it either, not exactly loving my status as Highly Sensitive Person but not exactly wanting to trade it out either. If my role in this sea of humanity is to care—even too much, even beyond my own pain threshold—then I’ll care to the best of my ability. And if your role is different, I’ll do my best to remember that you’re the normal one here… and that whenever I spontaneously combust over the ten o’clock news, you’re the one who can put out the flames.

6Jun

Shock Wave

On Wednesday night, the four of us had the chance to watch Italy’s national soccer team play a friendly match against Luxembourg right here in our local stadium. This felt… epic. The World Cup is the only sporting event I’ve ever really followed, and the Italian squad has reached Dream Team proportions in my mind. That the very first live soccer game of my life would be the NATIONAL TEAM, playing in my OWN NEIGHBORHOOD, felt significant enough to inspire a ballad or two. Or, at the very least, a live-blog.

That was before we got in line outside the stadium though. Do you remember this? Now picture the same scenario with thousands of people instead of just twenty-three. The crowd didn’t so much move forward as it did compress, everyone elbow-first, angry yells breaking out every five seconds or so as someone else jumped the line. We stood in that thing for an hour and a half, having an increasingly difficult time protecting the girls from the crush, and finally we had to jump the line ourselves, ducking under the barrier because it was either that or risk our children’s lives.

When we made it into the stadium, the game was already starting, and our seats had been taken by someone else, and any last wisps of humor I may have been holding blew away. I was in no mood to live-blog. All I wanted to do in that moment was move to Canada where I would never have to worry about having my face elbowed or my children squished or my seat stolen. Other unpleasant public encounters these last seven years in Italy sprang to memory as if on cue: mothers pushing their children in front of mine to use the showers after swim class, other drivers rushing to take the parking spot for which I’d been waiting, bus-fuls of comfortably seated people watching me struggle to balance, standing, with a baby and a toddler in my arms.

I hate having to play by the rules of Every Man For Himself. It makes me feel slimy and indecent, and I’ve often found myself furious with the Italian culture for forcing me into an assertive posture that doesn’t fit me. I don’t want to have to stick up for myself. I don’t want to have to confront strangers. I much prefer polite, orderly systems in which everyone follows the same code of civility and keeps his elbows to himself, thank you very much.

This line of thinking didn’t last long on Wednesday evening though. With a mix of disbelief and admiration, I watched as thousands of people who had just been shoving and yelling at each other outside came together as one enthusiastic entity. The whole stadium broke out in the Italian national anthem and then moved on to fight songs (“Whoever’s not jumping is for Luxembourg!”). They kept The Wave going around and around. Their cheering rose and fell in perfect synchronism, and no one’s spirit seemed dampened in the least by the fact that the Italian team was playing like a herd of elderly milk cows. (Luxembourg tied Italy 1-1 in the second half, and you could see the players’ shrugs of indifference from the stands. Moooooo.)

It didn’t take long for me to get swept up in the raucous, communal fun of it all. I’d been looking forward to the evening because of the chance to watch the national team play, but in the end, the fans were what made the game worth attending. They exemplified everything I love about Italians—their loyalty, their warmth, their sense of community (notwithstanding how they act in line), and their commitment to enjoying life—and reminded me that as much as adjusting to this culture can unsettle and drain me, it can also fill and delight. Sometimes even on the same night.

Italian soccer game 2

14May

Reentry

It might surprise you, given the nature of my blog, to hear that I’m not a natural at traveling. Don’t get me wrong; I love traveling and take every available opportunity to trot the globe. I’m just not particularly well suited to it.

Here’s what I mean: Planning itineraries sends my ISTJ brain into decision-making purgatory, though not planning them is worse. (“Let’s just wing it” is not nor ever shall be a valid sleeping arrangement.) Packing takes me about six times longer than it should, and I end up bringing the wrong kind of shoes regardless. If I don’t get stretches of alone time during a trip to process and recharge, I end up losing myself, though every minute I do take for myself take feels like a misappropriation of resources. I blend in almost nowhere on the planet, I sunburn at the [literal] drop of a hat, and public transportation gives me gray hair. Also? I’m hopelessly squeamish. Spiders in our tent, lobster eyestalks in my scampi, any animal, plant, or mud-related life form in a lake… They’re liable to make me faint on the spot. For real. Just ask Dan how well I handled the extreme anatomical accuracy of our seaside dinner Friday night.

Of all the different challenges that come with travel, however, reentry is by far the hardest for me. No matter how much I’m looking forward to sleeping in my own bed and slipping back into my own routines, returning from a trip tends to go about as smoothly as the final third of every astronaut movie ever made. The atmosphere rubs me the wrong way. My mind begins to malfunction. Everything is shaking and dramatic and underscored by off-key violins, and it always takes a few days before I’m able to readjust to gravity. Or in this week’s case, to get my land legs back.

Bethany on the boat

Dan and I spent this last weekend on a boat (a brilliant Airbnb find on his part) to celebrate our upcoming 11th anniversary. We slept under the Mediterranean stars, picnicked just off the coast of Cinque Terre, and formed our own tour group of two to explore the coves and islands nearby. We were either on or in the water for two days straight, and the waves and I have been mutually reluctant to let the other go. I can still feel the floor sway ever so slightly when I close my eyes. The sun is still painting jewel tones on the bay. The breeze is still singing a cappella with the seabirds and the rigging of passing sailboats. I was never going to be ready to leave.

Lighthouse on Isola Palmaria

Captain Dan

Islands from above - 1

Bethany and Dan hiking

Chiesa di San Pietro - 1

Porto Venere

I’m getting my equilibrium back though, slowly but surely. Absurd amounts of sleep have helped, as have molasses cookies, fresh nail polish, and a spontaneous family outing to the park this afternoon. I think that often, in my love for chronicling our adventures, I skip over the frustrating or sad parts—the romantic dinners that fall flat or the tourist attractions that end up being closed or the homecomings that are less Norman Rockwell and more Deep Impact. As a result, I forget to add extra grace to future packing lists. Frustrations then magnify, and I berate myself for feeling anything less than relaxed when the trip is over. It’s as if I believe that nostalgia should work like a simultaneous interpreter, infusing experiences with a real-time sentimentality that leaves no room for disgruntlement.

Life is not a Hallmark movie though, and I should know well by now how multi-faceted and messy travel can be is. Sure, some days it’s sea and sky and colorful villages and cold wine on the beach… but some days it’s reentry and struggle and the real-life work of forging melancholy into nostalgia. I’m not particularly well suited to this part either. But if I can get over myself enough to keep camping with the spiders and ordering the scampi and saying yes to the vast unpredictability of going somewhere new, then I can summon grace enough to let this week’s crash landing be a part of the beautiful whole instead of its undoing.

Mediterranean in the distance

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