Our luggage ready to leave St. Ferriol
What happens after? To an outside observer, as I was for many years on other blogs as we planned our Big Trip, the first few months upon return are worthy of attention. Assuming you quit jobs and generally burned-or at least shut down- bridges when you left, what do you do when you return? What do you do for income, health insurance, work? And if, somehow, these are not concerns, how do you integrate into a community that has adjusted to your absence? What if you were happy to leave certain things, and now you have to deal with them again? How about the fact that you were seeing magnificent cities, exotic countryside, and UNESCO sites daily and now you spend your time listening to hold music waiting for another disgruntled customer service rep at the utility company? Additionally, in our case, there was a brutally unkind national election going on and discussing it had become perilous whatever one’s beliefs.
Back to America The USA is wonderful for many things, as I was reminded often while traveling. People all over the world admire US opportunities, wealth, and ideals, and many long to live here. But for me returning to the US, my difficult re-adjustment was taking place against the usual backdrop of rampant US consumerism and waste relative to most things we had seen around the world. I offer as one small example- laundry. Everywhere we went, people did not use clothes dryers, even if they owned one. We saw clotheslines of many designs in China and Southeast Asia. The Rajasthan air dried things rapidly whether hung inside or outside. Our generous hosts in famously rainy London had an ordinary tumble dryer next to the washing machine but seemed to prefer the foldable clothes drying rack, they even had a drying rack that plugged in-their ‘electric clothes dryer’! At the castle in France, S hung out her laundry on a picturesque line and was very aware of water use. She watered the garden with rinse water from the dishes. People we met in China and India and even Europe had small living spaces, few possessions, and generally used relatively little resources. Here in the US we have the perception of unlimited water, gas, electricity, and garbage disposal and we live accordingly. It is commonplace to drive everywhere, heat or cool the house to 68 degrees F, and throw out countless disposable single-use items, and to throw out food. I have always tried to counteract this in my own household, and it is a challenge in the US milieu of overconsumption.
I was blue. I think the hardest thing for me has been losing the beacon of the trip. I looked forward to it for so many years and now I enjoy looking back, but this is bittersweet because it is over. And, as I probably mentioned, I couldn’t work for over two months due to paperwork issues. I don’t know if I’ve ever had so long a stretch without work, school, newborns, or travel. During the trip, I was happy to consider living abroad or in upstate NY, so returning to the city was a bit of a letdown. When I started work a few weeks ago it was a welcome change, but it is also extremely challenging because I haven’t worked for 15 months. It is humbling and another reminder the trip is over.
Some things help. I had to make some structure for myself when I wasn’t working. I couldn’t really spend any money. I forced myself to write and meditate almost every day, and to go jogging every other day. I wrote 50,000 words in November with the NaNoWriMo challenge. We were able to visit my parents in Ohio for a few days, and there was my sister-in-law’s wedding, and the holidays. I wish I could say I started studying Chinese or did a week of hiking somewhere or refinished our kitchen or something, but I haven’t been feeling very ambitious. I did help re-do our cast iron tub and paint the bathroom, which looks great. New charcoal walls, refinished original 1890’s tub, original wall tile, thanks, Victorians!
I become obsessed with Hamilton the musical and I’ve been reading a lot of US history after jogging to the Hamilton soundtrack. I find it calming in this political climate, and also inspiring in several ways- great stories of the actual history and people, great music, amazing Lin-Manuel Miranda! And now I’m working, which gives me a schedule and income and a challenge to meet. And of course I am very lucky to live with Mr. Fantastic and our kids who are all happy to be back. They are doing very well with their friends and activities. I am taking longer to get into a groove here but it’s coming along. What I really need to do is plan another trip. Happy 2017 and here’s to happiness at home in the new year!