One year ago today I was packing my bag for what was likely the fifth of sixth time. Analyzing the number of t-shirts, pants, and pairs of underwear I had rolled up into little balls, always hovering between too many and not enough. Attempting to figure out the most economic and convenient way to place these items into the large, purple backpack had become a welcome puzzle to me – a distraction for my mind from the bigger picture.
Over the last few months, when my mind wasn’t hovering between too many and not enough, it was hovering between too insane or too afraid. The farthest I’d ever been away from home alone was Edmonton, Alberta, a cute four hour flight from Toronto to the near-end of the prairies of Canada. It was nothing compared to crossing an ocean and forcing yourself to spend a month alone, figuring out a country you’ve only known in photographs and guidebooks, and figuring out yourself.
By the time the next day rolled around and I was boarding my first of two flights that would land me in Dublin my mind was calm. There was no more packing I could do, no more preparing. I would get there in the morning and I would have to just do it, that was that. To say I wasn’t anxious would be a lie but I realized very quickly, as I wandered up and down Grafton Street looking for my hostel (not realizing that I was still a good few blocks away from Temple Bar) that what I didn’t know I would have to ask – whether I liked it or not. As soon as I asked for help I was in the hostel’s lobby within ten minutes.
I look back on that month now with a heavy mixture of nostalgia, pride, and wonder. I think of the girl I was there and she doesn’t seem to be the one here. She was fearless – unafraid to approach strangers, make fast friends, dance in public without any alcohol in her system. She was content with doing nothing, she was content with doing everything, she was intensely content. She wrote so much the callous she had back in grade school on her right hand’s middle finger started to redevelop. She shared her feelings, her fears, and her plans with absolute strangers who felt like family. She jay-walked and wandered and didn’t become overwhelmingly worried when she was lost. She constantly believed that everything would work out.
It is, perhaps, because I forced myself to do something that otherwise I never would have done: live for a month without the people I have always known. I had contact with them, but not physical, and as much as I could try to relay how I was feeling it could never be the same as feeling it yourself. One year later I feel like I’ve lost that girl – the girl who would try new adventures, do things alone, ask for help, and openly talk about herself. I feel like I lost her quickly and instead of moving forward I snuggled right back in to the life I always had, jobs included.
The only thing I feel she helped me out with was heading for that first date with Sam – the one I was so nervous for I was forty-five minutes early and had to wander down Bloor Street wasting time and reassessing my makeup choice every time I saw a mirror. The girl in Ireland never reassessed her makeup choice (likely because she brought very little with her and didn’t care) and if she was early, she wandered in delight. However, some part of that bravery was still there because I met him and allowed myself to love him almost instantly.
I wonder now about the path I’ve chosen, work-wise, and whether I’ve decided to choose a path that I enjoyed or simply one that is easy. I have these romantic ideas about being a writer, to get paid to write, which perhaps isn’t so romantic but my idea of how it works is – as if it requires sitting down all day, drinking tea, and going for walks as you desire. Maybe if you are Nora Roberts that is how it works, but only maybe, and it’s like my brain refuses to remind me of everything else that goes into it: research, time, emotion, editing, criticism, rewriting, frustration, hope. My brain likes to see the good side to most things and when the bad sides rear their ugly heads I become stopped in my tracks, afraid of this sudden surprise that should never have been a surprise at all. Do I hate baking as a job because I hate it, or because it ended up being more than big chocolate chip cookies and frilly aprons? Do I love working at the bookstore because I love books, or does it also have something to do with the fact that not much exertion is required from me?
Have I turned down or failed to show up at, for many reasons, various baking jobs because the universe was against me or because I was just plain scared?
I am learning to get that girl back. I’ve started writing in my little journal every day again, even if it’s a little snippet of an idea that I don’t want to forget. Half of the things I wrote down in Ireland are useless but at the time they needed to make their way from my brain to the page. I am trying to delve in to what I really want and to accept that life requires work and no matter what I want to do be it baking, writing, or traveling (and getting paid to write about traveling, I hope), it will always require effort on my part.
The world is scary if you let it be. Okay, there are places that are just generally intimidating and there are some scary people in it, let’s not all get our heads in the clouds here, but it doesn’t mean that you (I) have to be scared to live your life. I lived my life in Ireland and was happy to do it, every day, minus the two days in Cork during which I was terribly homesick and miserable but still made my way out to explore the city, but I have realized one important thing since I came home from that trip: it was work. It required planning, research, learning, socialization, and to be ready to move, listen, and absorb every single day. That was one whole month without a day off for my body or mind and I hardly even realized it.
Because I forced myself to do it and understood how much I loved it.
And maybe it’s time that I force myself to do the same now.