"A commonplace book is what a provident poet cannot subsist without, for this proverbial reason, that “great wits have short memories:” and whereas, on the other hand, poets, being liars by profession, ought to have good memories; to reconcile these, a book of this sort, is in the nature of a supplemental memory, or a record of what occurs remarkable in every day’s reading or conversation." - Jonathan Swift, "A Letter of Advice to a Young Poet"

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Travel: Pacific Northwest Road Trip, part I

No blogging for a while because I took myself out of the internetosphere for a week to go camping up on the northern California coast and to visit the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR.

I'm not very experienced in travel writing, and I don't really want to write an exhortation to visit the ocean or the redwoods (although you certainly should, because they are rare and awe-inspiring, and the state parks need support). But I do want to record my own experience of walking through incredibly old forests for days on end, because it was such a relief and a good change from my daily life. I live a very busy life, partly by choice, but that element of choice is actually one of the biggest stresses in my day to day existence. Urban modern life is just so chockablock full of choices - what to eat for breakfast, whether to start the day by working or by blogging (I opted for the latter today, but only as long as I'm sipping my tea), what brand of shoes to buy, and how many skirts to pack in my suitcase. To name only a few of the forks in the road that I encounter over the course of a single day.

These are obviously extremely good choices to have. Nothing in particular rests on them, and they imply a plethora of opportunities and resources. Many people would love to have these choices on their plate, and I don't blame them. But I find decisions, even the smallest ones, extremely difficult to make, sometimes to the point of excruciating. I constantly find myself torn between loving the variety and possibility of my life and the allure of a simpler life where there would be less things cluttering my mind at any given moment.

So it was wonderful to spend a week doing only a certain set of things: walking (mostly preset trails), reading (only brought one novel), eating (same porridge for breakfast every morning), setting up and taking down a tent (a comforting routine), and sleeping (one mat and one sleeping bag, no decisions over how many blankets or pillows I needed). Minimalism, basically, was a really good experience to get back to (I spent a lot of time camping in my childhood, but I hadn't been for years).

I don't think I could ever cut my life down to that scale permanently, at least not at this stage of it. I love clothes and food and music and travel too much to settle for less variety in any of those. My taste is varied and I like it that way. But I'm also trying to live more with the attitude that life is relatively long and that it's OK to settle for less at certain moments. I can get to the other stuff later. And if I never do, then at least I'll have enjoyed and experienced the things I did more fully.

In that vein, I turned down an interview opportunity recently for a job at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I was going to try to squeeze in some work experience before starting my course in the fall. But then I realized that I was grasping for too much and making my life complicated. There were a lot of difficult choices involved in pursuing the job, and my making the one decision to turn down the interview, I freed myself of all those other choices. Which means that instead, I'll get some other choices about what to do with the few weeks of free time I've now got, but as John Green said in a recent video, I can always just go to an art museum, which sounds just about perfect right now.

Well, I meant for this post to be a bit more of a summary of my trip, but instead you got some rambles and reflections. Perhaps I'll fill in with a part two later this week talking about the plays I saw in Ashland. Stay tuned.

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