Travel and the self
It could turn out awfully pretentious, this. Hopefully, not so much.
I have travelled alone, of course I have, but mainly in my own car. Or on a train. Once I flew to Guernsey on my own, and once I caught a train from Philadelphia to New York on my lonesome, but my last trip (researching the book) was the longest time I had spent travelling as any version of my self that I wished to be; given that I had no other person around to conform to.
I slept alone, ate alone, drove alone. Found my way places alone and navigated cultural differences alone. From time to time my deafness intruded enough to affect my understanding of what was being said, which added to the isolation. This is not a bad thing, it just is. I began to wonder… who am I? What am I doing here? I was about four thousand miles from the children that have given my life its main meaning for a decade. I was in the middle of a great continent and could, in theory, walk from the North Pole to the South. I was a dot on the globe. Actually, not even a dot.
We reference ourselves by what we do, who we share our space with, who we talk to every day. When everything is new and different, we have lost our own index. We can thumb the familiar looking pages, either frantically or wearily, but nothing reads the same any more. I think that is how I came to feel most at home with a nonagenarian, in her cabin by the lake in the middle of nowhere, because any familiarity in my travelling life was in talking to her, a process I had begun a year ago from my own front room. The setting and circumstances were unusual, but the voices we used were the same, recognisable, a touchstone. The rest of the time I was, in terms of my own view of my self, in flux.
I don’t think it has all settled yet. In fact, I will be rather disappointed when, and if, it does.
I am always going somewhere in my head. In the future, it would be nice to match more of the internal wanderings with the physical reality of the same.