Traveling is a study in movement. When we arrive at a place, we immediately get to work inhabiting it. We expand into it: we unpack, we take up residence. Whether it's a house, an apartment, a hotel room, or a campsite, we move out into it, we expand to the size of our space; with our things, with our presence. When we leave, we contract. Slowly, our things disappear from the space, and we're like a turtle going back into our shell. And when we look around and notice that it's as if we were never there, it's strangely comforting and disturbing all at the same time. We sit in that quiet empty space and wait until it's time to go. Our things are all packed and orderly. We may never come there again, may never look at those floors, those windows, those ugly prints on the wall, ever again. Others will come after us, will expand into the space and then contract, and then leave, and others after them. But we'll have no knowledge of that. We'll be somewhere else, in some other space, expanding to fit it.
I come home, and it's like I never left. The cats, who have had other company for a month, recognize me immediately and come to be stroked, as they didn't with their other caretakers. They demand that we return to our old routines.
The place I left was 95 degrees every day, and here it's 60 and cloudy. In New Orleans, I kept having to explain to people that California wasn't all sun and beaches, that northern California was actually cool and foggy in the summer, and that it had been raining here for weeks. "Oh," they would inevitably say. It's so much quieter here: no garbage and delivery trucks going by at all hours, no partiers and workers walking through the narrow streets, their voices echoing off the buildings. No sounds of ship horns, no calliope (thank god!) I wonder if I'll remember how to drive my car, or how to get to work, but of course these things are all so ingrained in me that they can never be forgotten. Body memory will take over. I missed driving, and I look forward to once again getting behind the wheel.
The one thing I don't look forward to is explaining my trip to people. "How was your trip?" They'll say. And I won't know how to answer. "It was great!" is what I'll probably say. And it was, of course. It was wondrous, fun, exciting, interesting. I got reenergized to write my novel at the same time that the book I went there to write has seemingly died on the vine. On the other hand, I didn't write as much as I wanted to and never really got into a writing groove. I ate wonderful food, (and got food poisoning on my last day), listened to fabulous music (and got sidetracked more than once and didn't make it to music I was intending to see), explored a town that I love (and realized how the people there are struggling emotionally), met interesting people (and remembered that people can sometimes be total shits), and, as always, rode the waves of emotion the way I always will (both the difficult and the wonderful). But how do you explain that?
I think I expect that people will want to see that I've changed in some obvious way, even a temporary way like being suntanned. I am, a bit, but when you're in 95-degree weather, you don't hang out in the sun. Will I seem more relaxed? Or more stressed after traveling home while suffering from food poisoning?
There is no succinct explanation available for a monthlong trip away from most things familiar, and I dread getting stuck in that cliche of saying "Oh, it was a wonderful trip!" when things are so much more complex than that.
Friends and family who visited me have written e-mails to me despairing of the culture shock they experienced when they returned here, sad to be gone from New Orleans, worrying about how I will adjust. But I don't feel sad to be back. Leaving our world is exciting and interesting, but hopefully, it makes us appreciate our world a little. Now, my stuff sits in piles, waiting to be unpacked. The suitcase is on the floor, spilling over, clothes waiting to be sorted into clean, dirty, gifts. Friends need to be called, work needs to be done. Was I ever even gone? But the question: "How was your trip?" proves that I was gone, reminds me to keep my head out of the routine for just a little bit longer. And for that I'm grateful.