There had been clues and inklings of course. I had been angry right before I left. I was exhausted from six long years of near constant skirmishes followed by tense ceasefires with coworkers that threatened to be never ending. I was stuck in a job and town that felt deeply wrong, without not knowing how to escape or where to even go.
I had no idea what to do with my life, and had already tried so many things… I felt I had been deeply, unintentionally decadent with time — letting it slip through my fingers with nothing to show for it. It was time I would never get back and the sense of that loss, the failure of me to do anything worthwhile, to accomplish anything at all, had left me haunted and unceasingly sad.
My life felt like it was nothing more than a tumultuous tango between numbness and despair, a push pull affair that left me both exhausted and bored.
It was starting to feel hopeless. I had recently stopped even trying to change any of it, and the joy I had been deeply longing for, the meaningful life I had believed in years ago now felt like a scam, some kind of fairy tale, a pill fed to us, the inmates here on earth, to keep us quiet and forever sedate, busy searching out there for something that didn’t exist.
Paris was my last ditch effort to shake things up. A crazy effort that I only half believed would work. Paris was my swan song. That’s how I thought of it anyway. I could at least say I did this.
It wasn’t until my very last day in Paris that I suddenly realized that it had actually worked. No one was more surprised than me as I found myself unexpectedly, inexplicably emotional at thought of leaving. I had to try hard to hide tears from unsuspecting strangers in cabs and airport lines.
I was surprised because Paris was no cakewalk for me. Paris was like no other vacation I’ve ever had. Paris had been challenging, complex and mysterious. Paris never let me get comfortable, or ever figure her out completely. I was intimidated and awed by the city.
On the plane ride back home, with long hours with nothing to do but think, I was surprised to find myself wondering, “Would I ever make it back to Paris? Would I ever feel at home there? Would it always be this challenging? And Why did I want to go back?”
Something had changed within me, but what I couldn’t name yet.
There is this moment in a plane, usually when you start to descend, that the weight of all the world, the gravity of all that is the world and it’s ways presses down on you from all sides. You feel your body resist the unnatural compression, but it’s more than just your body, isn’t it?
The plane and the pressure are just a metaphor made manifest, a physical sensation that perfectly illustrates the pressure, the gravity we feel daily, but rarely even notice anymore. It’s the pressure and weight of the culture’s deep desire to make you fit, by pushing you into a space smaller than your soul can bare.
In Paris I was both anonymous and foreign. I position which left me oddly weightless and buoyant there. The rules didn’t apply to me. I barely knew what the rules were here, let alone how and when to correctly apply them. I was scared, sometimes paralyzed with fear, but I was freer there than I’d ever been here in my safe sedate world back home.
The emotional baggage I thought had now, through years of carrying it, become an immutable part of my being, a pitted scar, lifted away as easily as a ballon filled with helium floats away when there’s no string left to keep it attached.
In Paris I wore red lipstick, I had the kind of sexy hair that looks as if it was the result of a passionate encounter. I wore grown up perfume that suggests sex and mystery and femaleness. I had passionate opinions about things. I talked about the things that mattered to me. I left things artfully undone… I didn’t try to make my outfit or makeup perfect. In fact, I stopped trying to perfect at all, instead I looked for what was interesting or unique.
With my culture and the rules of it gone– vanished from my mind, so was the weight of all my personal rules. Rules ingested from years of living within that culture and being at the mercy of its it’s relentless propagandizing. Without travel I didn’t have a way to stand back and look at it objectively, and decide, is this what I believe or want? Such is the power of travel.
Liz Gilbert says that running away from home is a popular choice when one is stuck because it works. I concur.