Musings, Travel

Space and time

The Beauty of Life, by ArtistInThePlains on Etsy

There’s a lot of packing going on over here, which is surprising to me because it doesn’t feel like we ever really unpacked. But I guess things have been rummaged through,  bought and sold, and besides, Adam has left already so this is the perfect time to rummage through his belongings and “edit” them. 

(That’s what it’s called when you throw away your husband’s dearest, grossest possessions without his knowledge and/or permission, right? K, good. Because I am doing a LOT of editing.)

(This post is a test to see if Adam ever reads my blog [he doesn’t]. If he does, I will get a panicked phone call in the next ten minutes.)

ANYWAY. I am packing, and reorganizing, and editing, and ruminating, too. Ruminating on patience and the passage of time, and how it has possibly been a year since we moved here. How much has changed and how we spent our days, and everything that has been said, done, and  wished for in that time.

I feel as though I have developed a sense of fatalism in the last year. I don’t know whether it’s because we’ve been rootless for so long that I don’t really believe it will ever end, or indicative of a bigger mental shift. Things are still up in the air and I am less stressed than ever. It just doesn’t really matter, and I know that sounds sort of depressing but it’s actually kind of freeing.

*****

Seven years ago I took a four-month trip to Australia.


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We had moved to a small BC town from Calgary, AB and I was having a really hard time adjusting to small town life. It was unnerving that people recognized me at the post office, knew my husband (then-boyfriend) because of the job that he had, and would stop by our table at a restaurant on Valentine’s day to thank him for something, or ask him about an issue that they were having. It was culture shock, and I felt like I needed to run. So I went to the other side of the world with my best friend.

It was an amazing trip in an absolutely gorgeous country. But four months is a long time. By month three we had ended up broke and jobless in Melbourne, staying in a funky little district called St. Kilda’s. On a whim we decided to fly across the continent to Perth. We ended up bartending in a small town called Cottesloe Beach. Our view overlooked over the ocean, and after every shift we drank on the beach, laughing with the other staff as the ocean lapped our feet. I learned to scuba dive, and to surf. I sat and watched some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.

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And toward the end I remember staring out over this gorgeous landscape, and missing Adam so much it hurt. I felt utterly miserable and I would have given anything to trade this world-class beach – the sun and the sand and the beautiful Australian men with their darling accents – for my boyfriend back in the town where it rained for 32 days straight. I booked my flight home almost a month early.

I realized that I could feel sad anywhere. I could feel angry anywhere. Conversely (and perhaps in a sentiment more befitting of an uplifting blog post) I could also be happy anywhere. It had very little to do with my surroundings, and everything to do with me.

This was enlightening, but also unnerving.

Your location is concrete, identifiable and easy to blame. If you don’t like it you simply take out a map and figure out where you want to go instead.

Moods are more challenging to pin down. They are gauzy, impermanent things that shift and change every time you look at them. It’s hard to see where you are, and sometimes even harder to see where you want to be or even how to get there. I don’t always feel in control of my moods. It’s tough, at times, to see the positive, especially when you are measuring your current situation against your sometimes-unrealistic exacting standards and feeling like you’re coming up short.

This has been a struggle over the past year and I think Adam fared a bit better than I did, but I think that’s also because I am the planner in our little twosome and it was very challenging to not be planning or moving forward.

*****

I wasn’t very good at scuba diving. I was at some of the most incredible reefs in the world, immersed in this a living breathing kaleidoscope of fish and coral, and I couldn’t relax. My dive coach mocked me mercilessly because I swam around with a white-knucked grip on my respirator.

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I was a little spooked by sharks, and by having that third dimension (above/below) to keep track of, too. I eventually gave up and snorkeled instead, drifting around the surface, admiring things from a distance as the rest of the crew happy paddled around in the deep. My back was perpetually sunburnt and my neck permanently cricked, but my breathing was slow and regular. No more white knuckles.

At a distance I felt more calm, more able to appreciate the beauty without constantly looking over my shoulder or worrying what was lurking just out of sight.

This is where I am at my best. Looking back, evaluating from a distance. I need time away to form an opinion, to sort through my thoughts and impressions. Nothing makes sense to me in the moment, I feel anxious and like I am swimming in circles, heart racing and out of breath. Just trying to get through.

It feels wrong to admit to our zen-obsessed culture that I can only see the beauty when I reflect. It flies in the face of all of advice to “be present” and “live in the moment”. But I am coming to terms with the fact that I just don’t do my best work in the now. Things in the day-to-day are just a blur of unrelated dots and daubs of paint, haphazard and indistinguishable until I can stand back, look at it from a distance and see the water lilies. The sunrise.

I need to remind myself of this, every now and then. I need this reminder because it’s tempting to blame my mood on my surroundings, and to extrapolate the inverse from that conclusion. I’ll be happy if… I will be content when…

Sometimes I look back and wish I was there again, beaching it up without a husband or a baby. Back where my daily wardrobe always started with a bikini. Where the most pressing question each day was what to eat. When I pierced my nose with two Swedish guys, and it felt like freedom -a small,  late-stage rebellion.

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I need to remind myself that I sometimes felt miserable on those beaches. I had some of my best moments back home in the rain. Things look clearer in retrospect and I just need to give myself time and distance to make sense of it all.

*****

So. Cardboard boxes and masking tape. Sharpies. Boxes labelled “Kitchen” and “Olive’s Room”. Moving trucks and flights, new jobs, a new city. Everything right now is just this massive mess of dabs and harsh strokes, sometimes it honestly just seems like a total mess. Sometimes I wish I’d picked a more conventional path, sometimes I wish I had a paint-by-numbers instead. Nothing connects and things are uncertain and we leap – again – hoping we’ll land on our feet this time.

Beaches and snowbanks. My past and our future – the present a blur, forming into memories to be sifted over and packed up later.

It will make sense later.

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13 Comments

  • Reply Valerah March 18, 2014 at 8:54 AM

    the last picture is gorgeous. i’ve always wanted to go to australia/nz and this entry reminds me SO much of my own past travels too. i relate to this on so many levels!

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 19, 2014 at 10:15 PM

      The photo is from the Whitsunday islands, one of the most breathtaking places I have ever been. The sand was so white and so fine that it felt like powdered sugar.
      I really miss those travelling days! I hope we can resurrect them in some small way when we’re a bit more settled…

  • Reply KL March 18, 2014 at 9:08 AM

    “It will make sense later.”

    So perfect. So true.

  • Reply Ashley March 18, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    This is the post I needed to read today. My husband and I are waiting on/hoping for the opportunity to move to Minnesota to be near his family now that we have a baby. We currently live in Arizona. It is gorgeous here right now – just absolutely perfect. The weather people dream about (and that Canadians winter here for). Sunny and in the 70s every single day. It is like – I dunno 2 degrees and snowing in Minnesota. I went on a walk yesterday and just willed myself to soak it in and appreciate it instead of just thinking of the next move but it’s hard to do on a daily basis. It’s like a Seurat. Up close the colors are so vibrant and the dots are so perfectly round but it doesn’t really make any sense until you step back and see it from a distance.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 19, 2014 at 10:17 PM

      Ohhh I hear you SO much Ashley, on the waiting and the sinking feeling of heading towards a colder climate…but also being so EXCITED, too!
      I hope things work out for you guys, being near family when there’s a baby in the picture is just the absolute best.

  • Reply Kate Harvey March 18, 2014 at 9:49 AM

    This is lovely. I’m going through just the same thing. Waiting to move, packing, not knowing exactly (or really at all) what our new lives will look like and when our family will grow and how these impossible pieces will fit together. Sometimes I do envy friends of mine who chose simpler paths, or who just ended up in simpler situations. It’s my sweet husband who reminds me that ours is the exciting life 🙂 Maybe that thought will bring you a little bit of comfort too as it does me.

    • Reply sweetmadeleine March 19, 2014 at 10:18 PM

      The uncertainty kills me – or feels like it does. The not being able to picture what my life will look like just drives me absolutely batty. I think the past year has been an extended meditation on this. I think I failed – haha!
      Exciting is right – never a dull moment around here.

    • Reply eventually flows September 24, 2014 at 10:03 AM

      It’s good to get a fresh way of looking at it.

    • Reply life insurance for seniors November 17, 2014 at 8:50 AM

      That kind of thinking shows you’re on top of your game

  • Reply tuesday ten | little miss black bean March 18, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    […] I always look forward to reading Madeleine‘s posts, and this one is no […]

  • Reply Sam Pereira March 18, 2014 at 4:30 PM

    Oh sweetheart! Moving will do that to you! With all that you have coming up, it’s no wonder you’re looking back, and thinking, thinking, thinking.
    Everything will be o.k.

  • Reply jamieramirez March 19, 2014 at 11:53 AM

    have you heard daniel kahneman’s TED talk about the “experiencing self” versus the “remembering self”? this talk immediately sprang to mind after reading this blog entry of yours. and anyway, cool, non-judgmental scientific research is so much more compelling than the falsehood of the seeming zen obsession of the times, right?

    http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kahneman_the_riddle_of_experience_vs_memory

  • Reply Michelle March 23, 2014 at 5:38 AM

    I loved the way you wrote this post Madeleine! Very emotive, and poetic. Loved the pics and the reminiscing about WA (where I grew up. I miss those incredible sunsets EVERY DAY) and I agree with you wholeheartedly about sometimes feeling like you don’t ‘live in the moment’… I love life, love travel, do things, but sometimes it feels like it didn’t really happen…? No, not that strong, more ‘it happened but until I’ve processed it and written it down I can’t really APPRECIATE it.’ I think? Maybe that’s part of the reason I’ve kept a diary for the past 25 years…

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