The tendency to reach equilibirum

In The Art of Travel, 1: Awakenings, Sydney by Sasha3 Comments

I woke up to footsteps on cobblestone outside my street-level window, the morning still dark. I had forgotten where I was for a moment, the way I sometimes used to at summer camp or sleepovers. It smelled of vegetable soup and I was wearing jeans as pajamas.

To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.

Also the loneliest, the most magnificent, the most indicative of being alive.

I decided to go for a walk, and, as I did, the sky turned from black to gray as if it were a printer that had run out of ink. I wore the boots I trusted most and walked uphill for miles in a small city on the west coast of Norway. I had come overseas alone. I wasn’t exactly sure why.

When I reached the top, I saw an expanse of fir trees. Skovgaard was right to romanticize Scandinavian forests: deep green, but, more importantly, cyan, magenta and yellow.

I wasn’t sure what time it was, but I walked for what felt like long enough for Thoreau to write a book about me. Northern forests are dangerous—I proceeded through the landscape knowing so, wearing what I’d probably show up to a date in. Somewhere nearby, there were bears and poisonous mushrooms.

If purpose of this writing is to introduce myself, then I’ll say that the most important thing to learn is that I have a lot of trust. I once read that it is the tendency of all natural systems to drift back towards equilibrium after a disturbance, and then I realized the same must be true of me. Now, I don’t fear discomfort. I think vulnerability is a great display of strength. I know very well that the planet keeps turning.

I like to travel alone, but it isn’t as enchanting as you might imagine. Instead, it’s often confusing, and uneasy, and even scary. But, as in the words of Roxane Gay, one of my favorite essayists, “there is freedom in that fear… that freedom makes it easier to appear fearless.” Surely, I’m aware that the world is hard to navigate and often dangerous. I don’t think safety, or the illusion of, is the answer.

In these moments of discomfort—international flight cancellations, loss of cellular service in desperate times, inability to navigate google maps, loneliness and boredom—my trust in myself grows. Some say that if a couple wants to put their compatibility to the test, they should travel together. I think the same applies to individuals. I am never relaxed or tan after traveling alone. I am reassured, though. I am reminded that I can do most things alone.

I write this from my desk in Sydney, Australia, where I’m doing a semester abroad. It’s undeniably beautiful here, but coral reefs are dying, and sharks are being culled, and the semester will end soon. I can feel the momentary nature of it all,  but I feel empowered rather than defeated. It’s like being at the beach on a Sunday afternoon and knowing there’s work in the morning, but wanting to stay a bit longer because its warm and wonderful.  I know the lushness of the planet cannot last much longer, and so I see as much of it as I can.  I know my life will not be this dreamy for long, and so I am unapologetically adventurous, brave, and impulsive. 

At the end of my hike in Norway, I came across a playground.

Shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty.

I played alone for the sake of playfulness. I hope you would too.

(Image: Norway; Source: Sasha Keenan)

Comments

  1. Sasha, this is beautiful! The way you write makes me feel as if I’m there, experiencing everything right along with you. The way you describe your surroundings shows how how intuitive, observant, and present you are, and I can’t wait to read your future posts while you’re in Sydney. I love Roxane Gay too (Bad Feminist is one of my favorite books), and I really connected to her line that you included in this post. Most of all, I think there is so much truth to your comment on solo traveling. I think people often think of solo traveling and imagine it to be like a dreamy movie, but the reality is often really, really hard.. When I was 18 my best friend and I went backpacking alone for 3 weeks across Eastern Europe and we were constantly getting lost/ losing things, but at the end of the trip we felt so much pride in ourselves and in what we had accomplished. It was a great reminder that we are a lot stronger and more capable than we think.

  2. Your writing is beautiful and descriptive without being overly flowery or cliché. It has an light rhythm that makes me feel like I’m following you in a dream state. Also, Roxanne Gay is so influential––I liked how you incorporate an outside quote to support your ideas. I relate to the idea of fear and freedom going hand in hand, especially since solo traveling offers so much potential for liberation of spirit while also so much mental/physical danger. That’s part of the beauty in traveling alone, though…there’s almost always personal growth that comes out of plans going awry. It’s funny that we go through this process to a certain extent at NYU in New York as well. Our school is so independent that we are forced to learn how to thrive on our own, which serves us well when we embark on journeys across the globe. I like how you end your piece on a happy note; a playground is a good allegory for all of the fun, amazing experiences that travel can bring.

  3. This is a beautiful piece, and, after writing my own, exactly what I needed to hear. Being afraid and being vulnerable are feelings that we are trained to (or perhaps instinctively) shy away from and yet they are ultimately the most rewarding. The expectation of travel to be a kind of “Eat, Pray, Love,” cathartic, ‘glowy’ experience is a thing of Instagram feeds and airline billboards and if we hold ourselves to that standard, disappointment is inevitable. Rather, I really like what you wrote about being reminded that you can do most things alone, even if the process to get there is stressful.

    At the end of the day, we have ourselves, and that is perhaps what study abroad is all about; amid learning to pack light shedding many of our material possessions, and entering isolating situations, we rely on WHO we are and come to an understanding of who we can be.

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