Archive for June 16th, 2008

It has been more than a week since I returned to Toronto. When I am asked “How was China?”, I am having difficulty crafting a response that is neither gushing, as in “amazing, exciting, challenging, life changing” or triggers a long hyper paced outpouring of stories and anecdotes that have my poor listeners drinking from the proverbial verbal fire hose. Somewhere in there, is a middle ground but I have not found it yet. For China was all of those things and more for me. On my outbound flight, I read an interesting article, suitably in the airline magazine, that explored the transforming power of travel. I tore it out, not really understanding at the time, how much it would eventually resonate with me, but sensing that there was something in the content that might be important on my journey.

“Getting lost to yourself might be the best way to find out who you are” was the closing statement. Yes, emphatically yes, and now I understand how and why. If you have not had the experience of losing yourself in a city or country, where every simple action becomes a challenge, then it is difficult to convey the sense of consciousness that must accompany every single waking minute. It is tiring at first, and generally frustrating, but once you abandon yourself to the flow of this kind of travel, then it becomes the essence of the experience itself. Every sense is heightened, every adaptive ability is stretched, every strength and weakness exaggerated. You discover that you are braver than you ever thought, not just because you are doing something that others think is brave and they would not attempt themselves. (I got that incredulous reaction from western women around my age almost universally in China). Nonetheless, I also recognized when I was not up to everything that came my way, and where a more adventurous soul might have leaped in for the sake of the memory, the bragging rights, the “we will never pass this way again, so go for it”, I demurred. And I learned to forgive myself for that. For not feeling the need to prove myself brave. To myself or to anyone else.

Was that perhaps the greatest gift of my trip to China? It was certainly one of them. But the greatest prize of all was the discovery of how much I enjoyed writing. And that I have changed my self definition to writer. (Sounds so much more productive than “retired”). When asked what I did for a living in a charming cafe in Shanghai, I said, “I am a writer”. Out loud, to a perfect stranger, just to try it on for size. Now of course, her reaction, was “oh, what have you written?. I cast around for a suitable answer, coming up with only a lame, nothing you would know. Now, that is the downside of verbalizing one’s dreams: you create an expectation in the recipient of something concrete when all you have to offer are some thoughts in a battered notebook and a couple of possible titles. And of course, that opening question is closely followed by: “Are you writing a book? What’s it about?” Mmmh, again, questions to which my answers are vague and mumbled. But, it does force the issue. I recall an oft quoted story of a published writer making polite cocktail chat to a business man who announced somewhat pompously, that when he retired, he too was going to become a writer. To which the novelist replied, yes, and I’m going to become a brain surgeon. The point of course, is that writing says easy and does hard. But like travel, writing puts me in a place where I am truly, completely in the moment. In the zone, as the athletes say. There is no better place for me to be.

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