Audiobooks are a part of our life…before, while traveling, and again now that we’ve returned home. While traveling, we listened to audiobooks (most often referred to as “books on tape” proving the age of the parents carefully selecting books for our family’s education and entertainment). We listened to many while in Europe as that was where we most frequently rented a car and therefore could share in an audio experience collectively. We attempted to choose books that through the use of history and fiction could bring a place to life in a historic way for our story-devouring children.
In Peru, we listened to Turn Right at Machu Picchu which beautifully brought to life the story of the controversial Hiram Bigham III as well as the landscape of the area we personally explored on our own trek. In England, we listened to The Constant Princess a quite fictionalized story of Catherine of Aragon and her life both in Spain and England. This one was our first big stretch of inappropriateness as the narrator discussed details of her wedding night as well as other less child-friendly forays. I quickly learned that my quick-twitch action to turn the volume down as adult scenes arrived only served to bring attention more fully to them. I soon gave up my meager attempts at censorship and let the story expand young minds beyond the bounds of history. After that, we got looser rather than more restrictive and launched into two Dan Brown novels while in Italy, Inferno and The Da Vinci Code. We followed those up with the heart-wrenching and beautiful one-two punch of The Book Thief (set during the Holocaust) and Angela’s Ashes (set in Ireland during the Great Depression). What we listened to wasn’t easy stuff. It made us talk. It was too much at times, not just our kids, but for all of us. AND our books brought to life, through story, some of the intangibles of history in a way that facts, figures, and even photos have a difficult time doing. Our connection to people (fictional or factual) gave more heart and context to otherwise seemingly distant experiences. All our stories were just that, stories…based in some historical time and place, but stories. We were enthralled and connected to history and to each other.
Here in this ordinary life, audiobooks join us on long road trips, carpool and for me as I tootle around town running errands or returning from carpool without the car-load of kids. Currently, my carpool is devouring one book and I’m listening to a few others, one story one, one more of a self-help type, two to work with different audiobook moods. Today, while listening to The Gift of an Ordinary Day by Katrina Kenison (recommended by a dear friend as a memoir she thought I’d like in both style and content) I found myself drifting off while she spoke about what home really means to her and drifting into what it means for me. For her, home was the routines and structure that defines a life being lived wherever it is rather than a house. Home, she says, can be created anywhere. This last part of her musings I agree with, home can be created anywhere, but for me I am bristling with the whole concept of routine especially as a cornerstone of home.
It has been over a month now since returning to L.A….five and a half weeks since we collected our suitcases at LAX for the last time on our nearly year-long journey. The first few weeks I was floating on the joy and fulfillment wake left by the experience of so long away, away and together with family. My first real break, the first real moments of slipping away from that current that allowed all to be well with the world even when it wasn’t, happened when the kids started school. It was the routine associated with home that splashed water into my mouth while I floated and sent me thrashing around sputtering and flailing.
I have fantasized about the boys going back to school, of languid hours of “me time” awaiting after school drop off, opportunities to attend yoga classes I love and the simple routines I have adored in the past like making my tea or coffee and making my way back to my desk to immerse myself in the project of the day. These mental fabrications and travel-rough-spot-salves are based on a way of life that used to exist in some form in a time before. Like the author I’m listening to, I found solace and joy in regularity, routine, and an organized calendar. Today, these things seem to make my skin bristle and I ponder the change.
It used to be that exact routine and rhythm that gave me, and I know my kids, comfort and a predictability to life. Things around could get cacophonous and we could all grab hold of the side-railing called routine. Our lives were busy, crazy, overly-filled, but we had our routines and they steadied us as the rest of our busyness dodged us this way and that.
Craziness has met us here…much of it self-inflicted. We rented out our house for a year and came home to the challenges that follow leaving our quirky Topanga home of 15 years in the less than caring hands of others. Knowing we needed a car for our trips to Mammoth, we sold mine requiring a new car purchase within a few weeks of our return. And, we gave away most of our living room furniture along with the Sharpie on the pillows and food stains on the cushions, ready to make the break from the sofas of our children’s childhoods to ones their more grown-up selves could maybe, just maybe appreciate and enjoy without the love that requires personalization of a juvenile type. Without anywhere to sit and the acquisition of first a rug and then a highly unique, albeit beautiful, coffee table in Morocco sent us to hiring an old friend who is also a designer to aid with what we thought would be refinishing the floors, painting the walls and buying a few pieces of furniture, but grew into far more. Yes, the craziness of life here met us full on!
What surprised me though, was that the routine of regular life back here didn’t offer the comfort it usually use to. When I could look at my calendar and see YOGA on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I knew I had “me time” carved out and scheduled. That used to give me a sense of joy.
Today is Wednesday. My calendar reminded me this morning that I had yoga at 9:30 with one of my favorite instructors. It is the most organized of my days; I drive carpool, do yoga, shower, run a few errands including grabbing much-needed groceries and head back to drive the other side of carpool. Organized, reliable, steady, and today…rather than refreshing me I felt parched as I unconsciously drove to my awaiting appointment with myself. My energy started to drop, a dark mood cloud flowed overhead, and Katrina Kenison read on and on about home and everyday life. Unlike last Wednesday, when I felt this same response to a similar day, today, I caught myself. I got off the freeway early, found a Starbucks bathroom in which to change out of my yoga clothes, got back into my car and sat.
That was the moment of truly gifting to myself “me time.” What did I want to do? What would truly be self-nurturing? Most often the answer to that question is yoga, hence the reason it lands on my calendar as a placeholder for personal time. Today, however, the effort of yoga felt like too much. In yoga, there is a lot of surrender, but there is also quite a bit of effort, the two parts of hatha yoga, the ha and tha. Life is offering plenty of opportunities to exert effort. What I needed today was surrender, care, attention and a chance to express myself.
I drove my nurture-needing-self to the salon. I got my eyebrows done and picked the more expensive “spa-pedicure” complete with massaging chair and surrendered. Letting go into the moment, I closed my eyes and felt into the care being offered to my body by the mechanical hands at my back and the four hands touching my body–two on my feet and two on my hands. In the past I might have been busy with my phone or my thoughts while such luxury was bestowed, but not today. Today I practiced the yoga one of my primary teachers assigned to me years ago, but that I doubt she meant it for a spa day, I “presenced” each moment. This meant no judging, no good/bad, no preferences, just being and receiving the gifts offered exactly as they were being given, fully. The yoga of spa day and routine breaking. My mat stayed rolled up in my trunk and my yoga practice so far today has been deep.
Now, I sit waiting for my lunch, finding expression in words to an audience of ether. I reflect down at my toes, unfamiliar now “done” as they haven’t been in over a year in their previously customary silver polish, and I question what it means to have a “home.” No, for me, now in this new incarnation of myself, home is not found in routines or rhythm, schedules or well-organized calendars nor in complete itemized to-do-lists. Home is a feeling within my body. I found it last night as the boys and I played “Mille Borne” while eating a meal my former self would have judged as far too simple, a meal of bagel pizzas and frozen peas. Home is the moment shared with a friend in a yoga studio on Tuesday while she hugged me and communicated her understanding of my altered state of being. Home is the moment this morning in the bathroom of the Starbucks where I changed clothes and didn’t buy coffee. And home is now, in these moments while I explore the landscape inside me, when I slow down enough in the craziness and busyness that has been a hallmark of my life here, to reflect and listen to the voice and silence inside. Home is not in the routine, but the moments of truly living that routines often mask rather than bringing fully to life. Home is this moment, this feeling in my body right now.
I like home…wherever and whenever I can find my way there. Location is not necessary.
While some places are easier than others, home can be with me anywhere. In fact, home was often easier to find while traveling than it has been since I’ve been back. Too often I’ve responded to my day out of habit and routine and in so doing killing my sense of home. It has been the ways I’ve broken those and acted most differently to situations and people that have brought me closest to home here. So while I am still surrounded by boxes I plan to allow myself to unpack them slowly, impulsively when called for rather than adding them to a to-do-list. We’ll see. I may not be able to hang like this for long…practicing responding rather than giving everything structure, but right now that sounds like good medicine.