Just over a week ago, I penned a hopeful dispatch from London’s Heathrow Airport in the pages of my journal.
It was afternoon, and I was squeezed into a tiny table at a crowded café in terminal five, scribbling notes about my trip as I waited for my flight to Los Angeles to begin boarding. After two weeks in Europe, I was homeward bound, and I was more than ready to return. I was ready to return to my life and to once again take up the big, important projects – both career and life – that I’d been putting off. I was ready to hit the ground running with a renewed sense of purpose.
And return I did, after a sleepless ten hour flight, a terse exchange with an LAX cab driver – who kicked me out of his car after he learned I’d be paying my fare with a credit card – and a foggy few days spent trying to catch up and reintegrate myself, amidst strange sleep patterns and cloudy, confused dreams in which I existed both in the place I was and the place I’d been, simultaneously. Palm trees in Prague . . . what the??
But my jet lag wore off. And reality set in. And as it did, I found my sense of hopefulness waning. It became difficult, once again, to keep my spirits up.
My post-vacation hangover made me realize something simple, yet true: it’s easy for me to feel optimistic when I’m away, because it’s easier to look at my life for what it could be, as seen from a distance, than for what it actually is, when it’s right up close. Strolling the banks of the Thames or the Vltava, bundled up against the February chill, my L.A. life looked like some sort of sun-soaked dream. A dream that I couldn’t wait to return to.
But my actual L.A. life isn’t exactly a sun-soaked dream. It is much more difficult than the palm trees would have you believe. It’s full of traffic jams and smog and grown up decisions and a high cost of living and endless bills to pay. It’s creative burnout and failed relationships and an ongoing struggle to make peace with my past. More than anything, life in LA. these days is a struggle to figure out who the heck I am after I’ve been so many versions of myself and none of them have worked out.
Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. And yes, it’s disgusting. Let’s get real for a second. I’ve just returned home to Los Angeles, which, weather-wise, is pretty damn pleasant compared to what most of the rest of the world is experiencing in late February. I just spent two weeks in Europe on an incredible adventure – the type of self-indulgent trip that most people only dream of. And all around me in this sprawling, massive, city, there are reminders that my life, for all of my complaints, is not really that bad.
As I scribble these words into my journal, I’m sitting in another café, half a world away from the one at Heathrow. But you can’t really call it a café: it’s a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Right in front of me, in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight, is a most unfortunate business transaction: an exchange between a prostitute and her pimp. She: edgy, nervous, eager to please, fingernails caked in dirt (that’s how close she is to me) with a tiny, scruffy dog in her lap. He: cold, disinterested, rude, and treats her so callously, it’s obvious that he sees her as nothing more than property. My stomach turns and I try to pretend I don’t see them, but it’s impossible. I feel guilty for obsessing about my own stupid problems, ashamed when the girl’s eye briefly meets mine, and then sad, as I look away and cast my eyes downward, toward the floor.
The best thing about my trip to Europe was that it reminded me of the carefree, hopeful girl that I used to be when I lived in London as a twenty-one-year-old college student, when the world stretched out wide in front of me, when possibility seemed limitless and I still believed that nothing bad could happen to me. The worst thing about my trip to Europe was that I returned, knowing for sure that I am no longer that girl.
Real life is very unlike my European vacation, and much more like the scene I witnessed at the Coffee Bean. It confronts you with its realness, with its complexity. Sometimes it’s gritty and sad. Sometimes it forces you to look away.
Every time I leave town, I’m happy. For a time. But then I come back, and the old problems are still here, and I’m still here. And time is passing and life is happening all around me. And I’m not really any closer to figuring it all out.
So I have decided that it’s time. Time to say yes to the here and now – even if the here and now is gritty and difficult and real. Even if it makes me sad. It’s time to commit and connect to my real life in a way that I’ve been avoiding. Time to buckle down and do the hard work. Because you can’t correct what you don’t confront. And the hour is growing late.
This might be the craziest adventure yet. Wish me luck?
Until next time, friends.
Very well written. It’s amazing how our perspective changes before, during and after travel. I believe that each time we go changes us and allows us to view our lives differently. Looks like you had some great adventures and I look forward to reading more. Glad I stumbled across your post!
I love this piece, Sarah. Please keep sending your comments
Love, Aunt Noreen
Thank you, Aunt Noreen! You keep reading, I’ll keep writing.
Never read such a sharp and delicate analysis about travelling and the feelings that go with before. Delightful piece, thank you!
I look forward to hearing about the important next step. It sounds like a bold one!
Now is the only true reality, embrace it and enjoy your adventure
Amazing post! Well said and good luck on this big adventure. Loved your pictures too 🙂
So very honest! I love that about your writing! That inability to be completely transparent is what really diminishes my capabilities as a writer.
Adelante…go for it…the same happens to me….thanks for writting
Yep, what I have learned is it’s now or never, because I don’t know what’s coming. I wish you Good Luck.
I know that a vacation can be an escape from reality. I like to look at it as part of my reality…. The fortunate reality that I have in the ability to incorporate different places and experiences in my life. It helps me to feel less depressed when I return and that “escape” is over.
I enjoyed reading your post. And your photos were beautiful!
“…I’ve been so many versions of myself and none of them have worked out… Really, Sarah? Really?
Could it be that every one of those versions of yourself worked out perfectly? You were who you were when you were. You have known love, friendship, recognition, joy, courage, accomplishment, and more in each of those versions. Sounds pretty successful to me, even as a casual observer.
It’s the work of a lifetime, these versions that change shape and size and tone and tenor… while we unwrap our core. Because the core remains. However deep. It is there. Always has been. For the unwrapping. For the remembering.
I think it is what we humans are here to do… To remember. To make our way back.
And for you, Sarah, right now happens to be a time when you are actively moving closer to your core by examining yet another version of yourself – ready and ripe for the unpeeling. Necessary but not easy. In fact, it is damn hard. But you are making your way back.
Back to a time of remembering. There is a sweetness in that remembering. However bitter the loss of who and what version you were once upon a time – the sweetness lies in the uncovering of who you are at your core. As you move closer, each version is a hallmark of success.
You say you are “not that girl anymore”. Of course not. I doubt you really want to be. What you remember as light and carefree, I bet she saw as scared and unsure, no matter how stubborn and full of bravado.
And the passing of parents and partners in a concentrated period of time wasn’t fair. And, unfairly, those events coincided to push you to the next version of yourself with a jolt. Seems almost too much. Would be for anyone. Not to be taken lightly.
However, as I have wondered before… would you be putting yourself in the way of change at this time in your life, anyway? Could it be that you are simply ready for the next version of Sarah? Grief and loss may have seemed to propel you unfairly – but I do suggest that you would be a woman on the move at this stage in life whatever the circumstances… There are important versions of yourself to uncover, a core to unwrap, a complete Sarah to remember.
So I applaud you for saying yes to the here and now. To the hard work. To the gritty and the pretty. To the confronting although I may not agree that there is anything that needs correcting. You remember fondly that 20 something girl. Someday, you will remember with the same fondness this 30 something woman, applauding her courage and her insight and her willingness. The one who is still willing to unwrap her core, all the way to the bare depths of her soul. All the way to the final stages of remembering who she really is. Who you really are.
Thank you, again, for sharing your process and your progress with us. You remind us to find hope in ourselves. To dare to remember who we are.
Beautiful analysis of how people feel during and after the vacations! Needless to say, I feel the exact same way every time my vacation ends.
It’s all the part of figuring out who we are and how we fit in this world, I guess.
I really can relate to your words! I like reading your posts, they are honest and very intelligent. I am sorry for my English, I hope you understand. Kind regards!
Vacations are always full of happiness. It is the small piece of time we can choose to leave reality and focus on nothing but the rose colored world ahead. I relate to the cruelty of my own reality. Sometimes, it’s hard to always be happy but it is most definitely okay to embrace sadness too. Count your blessings daily and try dwell on the goodness. I know it’s not easy, but sometimes all it takes it to focus with all of your strength on positivism to get you over that huge hurdle. All the best to you! As always a wonderful piece.
Wish you all the luck in the world. Post Vacation Trauma 🙂 can affect one’s mood. 🙂
hey! Not anyone can say “i just been 2 weeks in Europe”. You can relive every moment in your head as a fond memory. But… meantime… back to reality! Get a move on!
(And take care)
So much of this resonates – and I think London has a strange way of bringing these thoughts out of a person. It is very much like LA that way – a city of potential, but with it is a high price tag and a whole raft of challenges.
This made me cry. I can’t say i am a travelled woman. However i know something about sadness and trying so hard to escape it only to come home and it opens the door for you. This is a beautiful piece. Hope you find what it is you seek.