The singular goal of our original Gap Year was to figure out how to reinvent ourselves, as a couple and as individuals. The big questions: where would we live, how would we remain productive, what would our respective “work” be, when and where would we travel?
Twenty-three months have passed and we’re still figuring it out. I’m frustrated by this. My impatient nature wants a different outcome: “Mission accomplished! Reinvention completed!”
But like most complicated things, reinvention doesn’t unfold in a smooth path, no matter how much you want it to. It is a series of small steps, many of them intentional and many others seemingly random at the time. When you look back, it begins to make more sense.
Embracing Uncertainty – ?
So here goes with my attempt to be reasonably transparent about what has been going on for the past few months. I say “reasonably” because I don’t feel comfortable revealing every twist and turn in my mental gyrations – or in our relationship.
Just telling you that (and using the word “gyrations”) is almost enough to explain the hiatus in our blog. It has been a tough winter, with bitter cold and endless snow. There have been psychological ups and downs. The excitement of an adventure-filled gap year has worn off.
As we turned the corner into 2015, we both realized that we are moving into the next phase of a new life. We are settling down and trying to make all the pieces work. Yet the big questions I mentioned above (where, when, how, why) still confront us.
In retrospect, hungering for change (as our tagline puts it) is relatively easy. It really wasn’t that hard to leap off the cliff of our old life into an adventurous gap year. But embracing uncertainty as an ongoing lifestyle has proven to be much more difficult.
Over the past four or five months, frequent travel and lack of predictable daily or weekly routines has translated into “uncertainty.” And uncertainty, for me, translates into anxiety.
March was a busy month as we traveled to Barcelona, London, and Paris (there was a reason for visiting each city); and then to an island off the coast of France. The trip sounds wonderful and indeed there were many wonderful moments. But I was often in a state of existential angst.
(An exception was our eight-day French immersion on Belle-Isle-en-Mer. This was a very purposeful adventure and it was the high point of our trip outside the U.S. Read Sam’s detailed account. We co-wrote this one.)
What is our purpose?
Jet lag – and any kind of locale change – often prompts an existential “Why” for me. What am I doing here? What is the point? This winter it lasted for weeks. I stumbled onto David Brooks‘ new book, The Road to Character, and his corresponding columns on purpose and on a moral bucket list at just the right moment.
For I realized that I was asking, what was our – and my – purpose?
Why were we traveling? Was it just to escape the brutal winter on Deer Isle? (We left on Feb. 27th and returned in early May.) Were we acting like retired people (who travel for the sake of traveling) even though neither one of us considers ourselves “retired”?
How could I keep my work a top priority when we were traveling through different time zones? What was the significance and place of my work (book coach and publisher) now that Sam is no longer employed? What did this mean for us as a couple if one of us had daily work commitments and the other didn’t?
Could we really live in two places? How does that work? I love living in Brooklyn. I love the urban hustle and convenience and participating in our three young granddaughters’ daily routines.
But I also love living on the coast of Maine. How to reconcile the two?
I miss things about our life in D.C., especially the spring blossoms and warmer weather. Did we make the right decision to sell our house, cut most ties and leave?
Were we doing something wrong?
I felt anxious and as if I were continually searching, a familiar feeling and one I normally associate with depression. But was this questioning different? Were we doing something wrong these past few months?
With this gyration of contradictory and confused feelings, I couldn’t think clearly enough to post to the blog. Nor was Sam writing much.
To repeat, it was a tough winter. It was hard on our relationship and hard on each of us individually. But with spring finally here, everyone’s mood including mine has brightened. It’s easier in retrospect to figure out what was wrong during this period. Here are some specifics I can point to.
What wasn’t right: nomading, not belonging, interrupted work
– I am not a nomad at heart, even though it sounds great (see links below).
– I have a deep need to “belong” to a community, to feel a part of a place and connected to people. I slide into depression when I feel disconnected. When we are in Stonington, my work as a board member of the Stonington Opera House keeps me grounded.
– I like working and it is essential to my identity. I am a book coach and publisher. I help visionary nonfiction writers, who are struggling to write, make the journey over the mountain from idea to book. I also run writing workshops. And I am working on my own book. But it’s hard to work efficiently, to write and to plan workshops when you are moving around a lot.
– I haven’t figured out the algorithm of living in two places. We are still experimenting. I think for us it means a chunk of time (at least one month or several months) in each place. Not two or three weeks here or there. Changing locale and community is too dislocating otherwise.
It is now clear that neither Sam nor I is good at “nomading,” a trendy term you might have encountered in The New York Times and other places.
And yes, with a nod to David Brooks‘ excellent question, I am still defining my purpose.
“Every reflective person sooner or later faces certain questions: What is the purpose of my life? How do I find a moral compass so I can tell right from wrong? What should I do day by day to feel fulfillment and deep joy?
– David Brooks (The New York Times, May 5, 2015)
Those are the key questions when you are fashioning a new life, in new places, with new daily routines.
With that I’ll sign off and let Sam have his say about our hiatus.
A Grand Tour With 46 Oases: an AirBnB Travel Adventure (New York Times, Feb. 2015)
Retirees Dump Their Possessions and Hit the Road (New York Times, Aug. 2014)
well if you want to do some planning ahead, Wisconsin is playing Maryland in College Park on Saturday, November 7, and you are welcome to join us. Game time, unfortunately, will not be announced until 10 days prior. You have first refusal for the tix. And we’ll see you in Maine in July, let’s plan on a ride. NLH
Nancy, November is a ways off. I can’t plan that far ahead. Can’t wait to ride with you in Maine!
In effect you wrote, “We need anchors in our lives.” And you said it well with a depth of honesty and emotion that reveals a tough inner struggle. Well said! Thanks for sharing.
Barbara, thanks for reading. “Anchors,” yes, that is perfect.
Debbie, thank you for your very thoughtful and self-reflective post. We have found that travel with friends or family is more rewarding than with just the two of us. Making memories with others forges strong bonds of friendship and for makes for great stories over drinks later.
Andy, we’ve had the same thoughts about traveling with friends. It’s hard to coordinate schedules. Even better perhaps is to travel “with a purpose” – whether it be to learn French or volunteer in Africa. Thank you as always for reading. xo
Debbie, there are a few of us figuring this stuff out. I’m right there with you. Thanks for sharing. Be well and take good care.
Thanks Lois. I guess it proves that “reinvention” continues no matter where or what you are doing – !
Debbie….I’ve enjoyed your postings over the last two years, especially this one. My wife and I have been “living in two places” for about twelve years now. While they are both great locations (downtown Annapolis and a small island in the Bahamas (Harbour Island))…(yea, I know, tough)…it does have its issues. I agree with your timing…..we also spend two or three months during each visit. But, the thing that is really getting old is the “shut down” and “open up” at each location/each visit. You seem to just get all the projects from the “opening” done (especially in a high maintenance location like the Bahamas….I’m sure Maine’s winters also create their share of projects) before you start thinking about shutting things down. Also, like your work with the Opera, we have been lucky enough to find a project in restoring and operating the island Library to give “purpose” and “connection” to our time there, so we didn’t just become “beach bums”.
I’ve also been following the “nomad craze” espoused by folks like Lynne Martin. It would be great to have someone else worrying about the maintenance before/during/after your visit. Think we might try it for one or two trips just to see how it feels.
Anyway, good luck…..I’ll go back to being a lurker.
Thanks for your thoughtful reply. Funny how the “luxury” of being able to live in several places has its downside, isn’t it? The Bahamas sounds like an excellent choice for the winter.