For a moment, I forgot what city I was in.
If you have ever been in New York City, you know how absurd it would be to not remember you are in New York City. Too many places and faces in too short of a time was, obviously, taxing my brain.
The main purpose of my journey is to connect and to talk about connecting through sharing our stories, whether starting with A Man Without Words or The Boy Who Cried Wolf or the new story we are creating simply by being together and sharing. I now have far too many stories to write about. If I wrote more, then I would have less time to share with others, making new stories – another balancing act while traveling through life.
Traveling is no different from living anywhere. It’s just more concentrated. With a slower and more routine day, made up of mostly our well worn habits, I can process more easily the new places, faces, and stories. I have time to reflect, categorize and file, then go to sleep and start a new day with mostly habits, and just a few new stories. Often, however, my habits prevent me from seeing, meeting and creating anything new. It is easy to lull myself into the feeling of living a full life when I am mostly going through the motions on automatic pilot.
Traveling wakes me up. I try to have my same old habits, but I can’t find anything or have to ask where something is that I need to get on with the habit. Or, I have to change – ouch! Meeting new streets, transportation systems, houses, and all the new faces attached to different ways of looking, expressing and being does tax the brain. I am forced to think and be open enough to learn in order to live through the day without getting lost, going hungry, and doing something besides avoiding getting lost and being hungry. I am forced to live with my eyes, mind and heart open; I cannot rely on autopilot thinking or non-thinking.
In Berkeley, I know so many people. Some of those people I have known for years and years. The difficulty – almost an impossibility – is to see a familiar face without all the assumptions accumulated through those years. I change everyday. I certainly have changed from year to year. How could I assume to know the person across the table from me just because I recognize that face which looks almost the same as the one I saw across from me eleven years ago? It is so much easier to follow the habit of assuming I know someone or something than it is to have an open mind and an open heart (e.g., being tolerant of someone having the nerve to change and make me think afresh).
One of the rude awakenings is having to learn just how to be in Chicago, just walking down the street or asking someone how to find the purple line, as opposed to how “we” do it in Berkeley (you know, the right way, and without purple lines). I actually have to be alert and open enough to learn new ways of acting in public (it was hard enough the first time). Chicago was not too difficult, but then this Western American found herself on the streets of Boston. This is where habits can be dangerous. Walking out onto the street my first morning, looking for a nice cup of habit, I was operating on autopilot, behaving as if in Berkeley. “Good morning,” I said with a smile, looking the unsuspecting Bostonian in his eyes. The immediate tension in his body and eyes darting away from me as quickly as possible, after the initial glare at my offensive behavior, was a clue that I was no longer in Berkeley. Just to be sure (after all, I hadn’t yet had my coffee), I experimented with simply eye contact with passersby, and a slight head nod of acknowledgement of passing a fellow human. After the third “who-do-you-think-you-are?” or the British “what-do-you-think-you’re-playing-at?” look, I, fortunately, spied a Café where it appeared they were exchanging money for cups of coffee in a somewhat familiar manner. I hurried past the next two people with my eyes clearly on my destination.
I soon left Boston for New York City where I learned that it wouldn’t have mattered if I had sang, “Good morning” while staring at someone with a big grin only inches away. My existence was not actually acknowledged in that constant stream of millions. Also, it was too noisy to say or hear anything most of the time. It is perhaps the noise that turned off my brain for the moment when I forgot what city I was in.
Traveling, like life, is a challenging balancing act. After feeling a bit traumatized by Boston and New York, I have been a recluse in a Takoma Park home of a dear and generous friend. I have befriended three cats who act very much like Berkeley cats, offering respite from learning new behaviors. I did venture out, yesterday, and bravely sat out in public scribbling some notes, reminding myself to work the name “Ossining” into my next blog post. To my surprise, everyone who passed greeted me with a bright “good morning” along with a sweet smile.
I have no idea who they think they are.