Vacationing Alone

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 0 Comment(s)

I am currently on the tail end of my first solo vacation in a very long while.  And, in fact, if we make the distinction between a vacation (where you go to a single place for relaxation [or skiing]) and a trip (where you are hopping from one place to the next, gobbling up the culture as you head to the next hostel/hotel/train seat/etc.), this may be my first solo vacay ever.  Mmf could not get away.  One of the downsides of being an educator who continues to educate oneself, is that the university and public school systems have off-setting spring breaks, and therefore mmf is stuck in the great white(ish) north. 

This creates a somewhat awkward situation when you meet people and strike up a conversation (as both I, and people on vacation, are want to do).  Eventually, unless I feel like going on a lying binge where I create a reality whereby I am a nature photographer on assignment to capture some of the beauty that results from declaring wilderness “protected,” they ask about my relationship status.  And while famous photographer matt doesn’t have small problems like a fiancĂ© stuck at home and irritable bowel syndrome, the more genuine matt does.  And so I mention my fiancĂ© and then they of course ask, “Oh, where is she?”  And it’s not the question that’s awkward.  It’s that when they ask the question, their eyebrows arch and they hold their breath in such a way that says “are you guys having problems at home.” 

And were not.  And I tell them as such.  I mention the school systems and the off-setting breaks and they listen and nod and say, “oh oh oh,” but about 75% of them are still thinking “there’s definitely trouble there.”   And since seeing that in their eyes pisses me off, that is awkward. 

But back to being on vacation solo.  Mmf and I have started to play a new “making plans” game.  Here’s how it goes.  We, like all couples, hem and haw over the nightly plans.  Cooking/ordering/from where/beers?/energy levels/morning wake up times.  All of these subjects get tossed around in the “what are we doin tonight” metaphorical box, shaken up, and discussed until we decide or 8:30 comes around and we are so hangry that we settle for gnawing on each other throats.  I know you know what im taking about.  So, in this new twist to the same ol script, the person who is feeling more amenable, has the later wake up time, has more energy, asks the grumpier, less feeling-open person, “if you had your druthers, what would you do tonight.”  And yes, druthers is a fantastic word.  Really the whole game relies on the fact that such a cool word was given such a useful meaning.  We are simply exploiting our love for tasty vocabulary.   To conclude the game, the less energy person then can say anything from “eat mac & cheese and go to bed” (which frees high energy person to go out if s/he wants) or to suggest the actual thing they would go out for.  I know that I have introduced elements of my relationship on this blog before that I believe are life changing (ahem . . . butt-snuggle . . . ahem).  I’m not sure the druthers game is quite as course altering.  Often, the idea of what one would do if they had their druthers becomes yet another category to speculate about.  Which, obviously, subverts it’s entire purpose.  Thankfully, I’m really only telling you about this game as a literary vehicle for what I really want to tell you about, and in that respect, I believe it has served it’s purpose admirably.

Here’s the connection.  When vacationing alone, every decision you make is, on some base-level, your druthers.  Given only your own agenda, the decisions you make are now representative of exactly what you want to be doing.  For someone with a powerful neurotic brain like myself, the prospect of learning my inner desires is a bit daunting.  Will I never leave the bed and learn I am actually a humongous lazy pile of poop?  Will I crack with no one to talk to and spend my hours roaming through town hoping to chat up interesting tourists?  The major point here is that the idea of learning about yourself, directly from yourself, can be scary.  And the first few days here, both in trying to de-stress and to adjust to being alone, was a bit hairy.  There were moments when the house I’m in felt big and I felt small.  Where the world was a world away and I was Major Tom floating away into the starry abyss.

The most striking of these moments came my first night here, as I pulled the car out of the driveway onto the cliff-face it resides on.  Because the drive-way is steeply downhill, when you're leaving and you reach the “main-road” (it would be an insult to roads everywhere not to put quotes around the idea of this as a road at all—let alone a main one—yet that is it’s function), you sort of crest up to it.  There is a moment where you get the effect of being at the top of a roller-coaster, surrounded by nothing all around, preparing for your descent.  And as I hit this crest, windows down, radio off, vines and overgrowth all around me, I felt a sense of chilly calm course through my body.  I have tried to explain how it felt, and the crazy truth is this; to me, the calm I felt – a calm of stillness, of being briefly super-imposed on the environment around you – felt how I conceptualize the calm you feel before you die. 

And I know that sounds morbid.  But I don’t mean it that way.  I wasn’t scared, but there was an element of being solitary.  There was an appreciation and a sadness all wrapped together.  Now, I guess I should be explicit in saying that I don’t have any particular inside info with regards to death.  Never met the guy (or gal).   So this is all just coming from a speculation about what the moment previous to passing away (and I guess I am on some level pre-supposing that I do not meet an untimely demise—in which case you may not even know it’s your last moment prior to it being so) is like in my sub- and now explicit – consciousness. 

Here is the other thing I have learned about spending time alone.  The first days are the hardest.  When I moved to Japan, the first night in my actual apartment up in the mountains, I was left there with no clean bedding (my American predecessor had screwed me over, asking for some money for all the stuff that she was leaving me, but all the stuff she left was absolute crap.  Most famously, the sheets had what we could only later describe as “elephant sided cum stains” right in the center of them), no AC (it was very hot), no phone, no email, no car, no bike, no nothing.  I did have a heated toilet seat however.  The combined effect of being in the middle of nowhere, having no way to communicate with anyone (no phone + a huge language barrier), and no way of getting anywhere (not that I would know where to go), were all just too much for me.  And, on my un-sheeted bed/couch – I lost my shit for about an hour. 

Remembering that you aren’t such bad company takes awhile.  Longer for some than others.  It is now day 4 of my 5 full days down here, and I still have so much to do just for myself, that I could easily extend my time here sans company.  And, perhaps even more importantly, I’ve found that as I’ve settled more and more comfortably into being with myself, the stress that I have been working so hard to evade has begun to lose my scent. 

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