The Journey Within
I have an original print by a Vietnamese painter. It’s all earthy brown tones in beautiful calligraphic English with a sweeping center “J” and smaller letters spread across the print that look almost Asian.
If you look closely, the print reads, “The Journey Within.” I bought it from one of my favorite Austin eateries, Tam Deli–just one of the places I’ll surely miss in Austin, my home, off and on, since 1962.
I should mention Tam Deli is owned by two lovely sisters from Vietnam. Their French-Vietnamese bakery contains the only “real” melt-in-your-mouth cream puffs I’ve eaten since my father made them from scratch when I was young. I’m also partial to their shrimp-egg-cilantro sandwich on French bun.
I realize that any pilgrimage is both external and internal. So, I must ask myself, in order to tell you, why I’m setting out on this particular journey across America. Like any question, and any answer, the truth is rife with complexities, both internal and external.
Who Am I and Why Am I Taking This Journey?
I’m a retired, 68-year old former community college teacher, which explains why I have the time for such a journey. But this doesn’t tell you why I want to take this trip, nor what my motivations are. Nor does it explain what I hope to learn, do, see, and experience during this period of travel for the next 3 to 6 months to a year (depending).
For a recent creative writing workshop “bio” for work published in their Silver Voices in Ink series with Badgerdog Literary Publishing, Inc., I styled myself a “late-blooming escape artist”–referring to travels undertaken since my mid-30s when I’d never really left Texas before then.
Since then, however, I’ve been to China to teach English, lived in Salt Lake City for 7 years, in Pittsburgh for one year, and traveled to California, Oregon, Idaho, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Florida (give or take a few states and cities).
Two Journeys Abroad
After retiring from teaching in 2007, I went to a summer conference on the history of rhetoric in Strasbourg, France. There, I met up with Bulgarian friend, Donka Alexandrova and made one new friend from South Korea, with whom I still exchange “Spring, Summer, Fall Winter” seasonal e-mails.
After the conference, Donka flew back to Sofia, and I took a train to Venice for a solo “romantic” holiday (it was all I’d hoped and more!). Then, I took trains through Slovenia, Bosnia, and Serbia to Sofia for a brief visit in Bulgaria (more on these great train rides later!).
While in Bulgaria the summer of 2007, Donka, her son and a friend drove me to Veliko Turnovo, a charming limestone-covered hill town in central Bulgaria, which reminded me of the Texas Hill Country. I made plans to return the next year.
In August 2008, I did return and stayed for 5 months in Sofia, with one side trip to a mountain resort, Kyustendil, near the Macedonian border.
At Kyustendil, I visited one of Donka’s students who’d been to the U.S. Alas, I’d arrived a day too late though only 50 miles away from the famed Struga Poetry Evenings, in part, a UN (UNESCO)-sponsored international poetry and cultural festival held near Skopje, Macedonia.
“During its long successful existence, the festival has hosted about 4,000 poets, translators, essayists and literary critics from about 95 countries of the world.” – Wikipedia, Struga Poetry Evenings. In 2005, The Struga-named international Poet Laureate was W. S. Merwin, my favorite American poet.
You can see my wanderlust is not without some focus, and also seems to grow the more I go!
Impetus for the Journey Across America
The immediate impetus for this trip across America was a class in “Creative Living” taught by an artist friend, Genie Martin. I took her class in the aftermath of returning from the 5 months in Bulgaria, when I was beginning to feel, “Well . . . what next?”
Not really resettled in Austin, not yet willing to take off again, I was in a kind of limbo. Genie’s class helped me dream this trip. (Be careful what you dream!) That was 2 years ago.
In the meantime, I tried a lot of other things, until the way opened to realize this dream/journey. Nothing I’d done (and I wasn’t just sitting around) seemed to stick, until I started planning this trip.
Just goes to show–go with your “original nature”–every time. If and when you can.
Even though I remained in Austin for 2-1/2 years, I never did quite re-settle. I did, however, find several great new “homes.
Homes I’ll Miss
The first home where I lived after my return was that of Louise Donnell, who graciously accepted a new housemate in her already full life on extremely short notice. Her household pets–Lulu, the good-hearted (older Rotweiller) and Miss Emma/Mims, her calm and queenly cat–became vicarious pets I loved as if they were my own.
Another “home” I will miss dearly has been tai chi classes with Jim Williams (fourseasonstaichi.com) at the Asbury Methodist Church Tuesday nights and Ramsey Park Saturday mornings. Jim is a teacher whose lessons lay ever so lightly upon the soul or, as he proclaims in our classes, “No pressure; we’re on the 20-year plan here.” community home has been the First Unitarian Universalist Church on Grover Street in Austin. I’d attended this particular church off and on (mostly off) ever since the late 1960s, when I first came to Austin. I even once directed a performance/play/service with then Student Religious Liberals, the college-age Unitarian group
Still, I’d never joined this church offiicially. Somehow, the farther I travelled, the closer I felt to the Unitarian approach to all things secular and spiritual. So, I joined the Austin First Unitarian Universalist Church this past year, acknowledging a home I’ve had for many years without realizing it, at last making it real.
Finally, my home-away-from-home has quite often been thehome of friends, Tom and Genie Martin. Their familiar blue couch has long been my refuge in times of transition (and there have been a number of these). There are stories here that I won’t tell just yet.
I will say I am so grateful for their friendship. They are almost my oldest friends in Austin and among those that I count to be friends-as-family.
There are times when such friends seem to be the only people who support changes we are making, including accepting us despite our mistakes, while family may simply be bewildered by our choices. Tom and Genie are exactly those friends for me.
I should also mention someone I’ve never met who is a prime inspiration for this journey. Her name is Dervla Murphy. I read her while in Bulgaria (where, as it happened, I enjoyed the friendship of several librarians; through one, I checked out her book from the British(/Irish) section of the Sofia Lbrary–and I still have my Sofia Library Card).
Ms. Murphy traveled the world through much of her adult life, often by bicycle. Her book I read, Through the Embers of Chaos: Balkan Journeys, is about travels through the Balkans, on a bike, while in her 70s.
When she’s traveling, Ms. Murphy absorbs not only local culture and character in the life before her, but informs herself and us about the complex social/political histories/cultures through which she passes. She writes with passion and wit and is an inspiration, true and simple!
This is just a beginning and only part of why I’m about to leave the city and state that have been home to me for most of my life. More later.
My plane leaves September 7, so there is still time to think about the impetus and inspiration for such a journey before the journey itself takes over. I know, the journey is already being undertaken and is, in fact, in full swing, just in a new phase.
Let the journey begin!