I’m trying to make space in my life right now – space to have moments with people and in places, to have moments at home, because space demands to be filled. And I’ve learned where there is space demanding to be filled, something will come along to fill it. Space is what allows us to be open and to encounter the new in the everyday.
People. Ideas. Thoughts. Perceptions and patterns. Stories. Characters. Relationship and connection.
And this is why I always find new ideas or new perspectives while travelling. I’m open because travelling strips away the responsibility and burdens of everyday life, creating vast openness. I don’t have to decide anything but what to watch or when to sleep or where to explore in my rental car. The same principle works in retreating: an escape from the noise and clutter. A filtering and rebirth into wide open spaces.
It is universal; the artist will tell you without space, creativity cannot happen. And by creativity, I don’t mean the abstract state or the manner of being – I mean the gritty, raw practice of making. Making of words and songs, poems, ideas, new intentions, new ways of thinking and seeing the world. All of that is the product of making.
When I travel, the space clears for me. I am one of those clichéd writers that can produce great work on a plane or a train. I think and then I write, and thinking happens well in those metal tubes. I dictate story lines and sing melody lines into my phone, saving every drop of making that is in me. I have a habit of falling in love with fascinating ideas (and occasionally people) right before I travel anywhere. There’s something about leaving a place that makes me want to hold on to it, even if my return is imminent. A fragment of home that I can carry with me. What I’ve learned is that every journey leaves a mark on me this way, it carries its own theme and everything I see or touch or taste while I am travelling carries that mark on it.
So space happens in the movement, in the between, in the transitions between train stations on the way, on highways or in airport lounges. It is peace, to a busy mind. I retreat inward and while my smiles remain gracious, my words become few. The interior dialogue between alter-egos dominates all and ideas pour forth. Space happens on the long, twisting back roads of a foreign land and in days spent in silence because you do not have the language of the place.
Space, because the clutter of what you are used to seeing is stripped away. Your mind can wander freely and your eyes see things – new.
For example, there is a man in a well-cut suit drinking coffee at the cheap café in the center court of the transit lounge. He has status privileges but he hasn’t taken advantage of them. I can tell why. He has the look of a man who is thinking of home, his eyes fastened on the handbag store across the hall. He is thinking about how his wife, whose blue eyes look particularly weary and love-worn lately, might like the one in peach. It’s a practical but fashionable design and it would go with the dress she was wearing the last time he was home; which might have been last week or maybe last month. Maybe it was the second to last time he was home.
Either way, I wish I could tell him, yes – she would love the handbag but he should just send her a letter. A letter to tell her he is sitting in an airport on his way home and he is not thinking about how the meeting went or whether he thinks Rob will close the deal. No, he is simply thinking of her and whether he has done enough to keep her love this month, because he worries so that his absence is too much and too often. He fears becoming one of those men whose love fades away before his eyes because of inattention. He could simply write that and send it to her. Sign it ‘much love from Changi Airport, Singapore.’ And he could do it from the next airport too.
‘Dear Grace, I am thinking of you and that orange dress you were wearing. I like how you wear that dress and I am coming home soon. Please be there, because you are home to me. I am doing my best and I think you are doing yours; let’s carry on.’
There’s a story in that and some truth about how we relate to one another, how we long for one another. How we try and how we fear failure even in the midst of circumstances that should provide us with security and hope.
Or the young man in well-worn denim and faded t-shirt but brand new shoes. Shoes so pristine they must still be giving him blisters. He looks nervously at his travel wallet for the third time, lifting his phone to the horizon a couple of times and checking his watch. He is all coiled energy, anticipation and anxiety. His eyes are unable to stay in one place too long because his thoughts are stretched between here and there, wherever he’s headed to. His carry-on looks uncomfortably full and he has not one, but two hoodies wrapped around his waist. Ah, I see it now. He is travelling from home for the first time and doesn’t intend to return home anytime soon. He’s not just travelling, he’s planning on landing somewhere for a while. These shoes were one last splurge before he has to face the challenge of finding a job or making new friends and becoming accustomed to life away. Sure as the sun rising, he’s wondering if it’s too soon to let his parents know he’s made it this far.
The man sitting in the café, thinking about his wife.
The young man moving to a new country, alone for the first time.
The girl travelling to her sister’s wedding, feeling alone.
The child gazing out the airport window, beginning the first inkling of a dream to be a pilot.
The woman who hosts travellers every day, but has never left her island home.
Without distraction, the mind falls to thought more intentionally than you realise. If you pay attention, it is a wonderful way to discover what matters to you. First your happy thoughts will come to you, followed by your fears and then whatever is making you hopeful. Once you have worked through all of those things, then you might discover what sadness you are carrying. Go even further and you will find yourself at the deep, deep happiness, where you are completely yourself.
I discover myself, at the end of the silent-not silence and the travelling spaces; still myself. A storyteller. A poetry-lover, wanderer and mystical romantic. A hopeful idealist, pragmatic optimist. I am home; in my skin and my places. I have space now; I have made space for the new and whatever stories that will give me to tell. You live with yourself at the end of the day, no matter where you are. So be brave enough to be yourself – complex, simple, passionate, chilled out … Whoever you are, be unapologetically yourself. Be yourself as a friend, yourself as a lover. Be a fighter for that which you care about. Be a giver of whatever you have. Be you. Please. The world is better that way.
I have travelled all the way to here – home where I began, to begin again. Life is after all, beginning after beginning overlapping and colliding with each other.