I haven’t written a blog post in two weeks because, two weekends ago, I was at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts in Orlando, Florida, and there was simply too much going on for me to write one. And the weekend after that, I was still recovering from having been gone for a weekend, which of course put me terribly behind on my work. But it was worth it.
I’ve been wanting to write, for a while now, about traveling light. I started thinking about this topic while I was packing for ICFA, and I’ve been thinking about it since because in July, after I get back from Hungary, I will be moving to a new apartment. So part of what I’ll be doing between now and then is going through all my stuff, figuring out what I want to keep and what I don’t. Because both when I’m going someplace and in life generally, I prefer to travel light. When I tried to title this post, I had to title it Traveling Light II, since I’d written a post called Traveling Light several years ago. Evidently, this is something I’ve been thinking about for a while.
In this post, I’ll include some pictures from ICFA. Right now, Boston is in the middle of our typical long, cold spring. So it’s funny to post these pictures of Florida, where it was warm and I was careful to wear plenty of sunscreen.
Also, there was an alligator. (I didn’t see it, but a friend of mine took a picture later that weekend. So it was there. Please do not feed it.)
So, traveling light. It means packing what you need, and no more than that. I’m actually not very good at packing lightly for a conference like ICFA, because I’m never quite sure what I’ll need. At this particular ICFA, I needed t-shirts and summer skirts for outdoors, and sweaters and shawls for inside the hotel. I also needed a banquet dress, because there was a banquet. I needed flats for the day and heels for the evenings. The convenient thing about being female is that all your clothes fold up small: it’s easy to pack t-shirts and scarves. It’s hard and inconvenient to pack heels, and yet I didn’t want to go without them, because vanity. And the inconvenient thing about being female, at least for me, is that I needed things like face wash, and sunscreen, and shampoo. And I needed my own, because my skin is the sensitive kind that, if you use any old thing on it, turns against you. I always have a bag to check at the airport.
(This is me with three writer friends: Bo Bolander, Francesca Myman, and Valya Dudycz Lupescu. That skirt is one of my thrift store finds.)
But in general, I try to travel light, and I won’t be packing that much more heavily for my month in Hungary than I did for my weekend in Florida. My suitcase will be full, rather than only about half full, but I’ll have the same sorts of things: black t-shirts, three summer skirts, two pairs of jeans. Sneakers, flats. Pajamas. In Hungary, I’ll be able to do laundry, and I know where to buy things if I need them. Anyway, the most important things remain the same, whether I’m packing for three days or thirty: my laptop, my phone, credit cards. Identification. Pens and my Moleskine notebook.
(This is me with another writer friend, Sofia Samatar. What I’m wearing: black t-shirt and cotton skirt, so I’ll be fine outdoors, and a black swingy sweater for the cold hotel rooms. I also have a shawl if I get too cold. The coral necklace belonged to my grandmother.)
I’ve never quite seen the point of having more than you need, and I suppose traveling so much has reinforced that in me. I’ve always been very happy going away somewhere, living out of a suitcase for a while. There’s a sense of lightness about it, the sense that you can leave your stuff behind and still be fine, that your stuff does not define you. Don’t get me wrong, I love my stuff. But I try to live by the William Morris principle: I try to make sure that everything I own is either useful or beautiful. So yes, I do have some things that are not, technically speaking, useful — that I don’t necessarily use. Like seven pairs of vintage white gloves (some kid, some lace). But I put them in the beautiful category. And if something is neither so useful that I actually use it, nor so beautiful that I can’t bear to part with it, then I part with it. Because it’s only going to weigh me down. So that’s what I’ll be doing between now and July: sorting through my stuff and making sure that everything I have is something I want to move to the new apartment. (Well, except for June, when I’ll be in Hungary. Living out of a suitcase.)
(This is me at the banquet on the last night of ICFA, with Nancy Hightower and Valya Dudycz Lupescu. I’m wearing the banquet dress, which I bought at a thrift store for $15. It needed to be cleaned, and the zipper needed to be repaired, but I think it turned out very nicely!)
It’s funny how sayings we hear influence us. There’s one I think about a lot: “Shrouds have no pockets.” It’s supposed to be Irish, and it does sound best if you say it with an Irish accent, in which “shrouds” has at least three syllables. What it means, of course, is that you can’t take anything with you. And of course you can’t. So there’s no reason to hoard anything you don’t actually use or enjoy: it’s not going with you anyway. Having too much stuff often means wasting time taking care of it. I want to have just enough to live a lovely, elegant, comfortable life. More than that isn’t necessary.
When I said that I preferred to travel light, someone said, “I thought you meant in terms of emotional baggage.” And yes, I suppose that’s another way of thinking about it, but I think it’s much harder to get rid of emotional baggage than it is to get rid of material things. Imagine if we all had to check our emotional baggage at the airport: we would have to pay so much for the extra weight! As I’ve said before, we live metaphorically. We live as though the world were magical, whether it is or not. (I think it is, but won’t quarrel with anyone who thinks otherwise.) I know a woman who lost her home at a young age; now, as an adult, she owns four houses. She doesn’t need four houses, and most of them stand empty most of the year. No one needs four houses . . . They are material responses to her emotional baggage.
So I honestly think the best way to deal with emotional baggage is to clean your physical space. It’s like a spell: a physical action that has a psychological consequence. Several years ago, when I was going through some very difficult things psychologically, I left the country. I went home to Hungary, to my grandmother’s apartment, where I had lived as a child. It was a symbolic way to deal with my problems, and you know, it worked. There was not enough room in my luggage for psychological problems: there was barely enough room for pajamas and shampoo. So I left my emotional baggage behind. When I came back, it was so much easier to deal with, because my brain was cleaner, clearer, for having been away, for having lived out of a suitcase for a while.
(This is me in a hotel bathroom mirror, at 5 a.m. before I need to catch a shuttle to the airport. On two hours of sleep. I returned to so much work, and yet, it was worthwhile getting away. I think we all need to get away, sometimes.)
A month ago, a friend of mine died unexpectedly. Yesterday, another friend died, also unexpectedly. It was the sort of thing where he’s eating dinner at a restaurant and feels a sharp pain, and by the time he arrives at the hospital it’s already too late. Several hours later, he’s dead of a heart attack. So sudden. They were not close friends, so I don’t feel the aching sorrow you feel when family members or close friends die. But they were friends I communicated with regularly, mostly on social media. And they were both about my age. So what I feel more than anything else is a sense of shock. It’s shocking to lose people so young, so suddenly. It’s like having cold water thrown at you. It’s like having Death come for Everyman. You realize that you could be next, and shrouds have no pockets.
So what do you do? Well, you certainly don’t focus on STUFF. No, you focus on your work and art, on creating the things you create, because those are what you’ll leave after you. And you focus on living as fully as you can, on talking to friends and feeling the sun on your face. On traveling to Hungary for lessons in Hungarian (which is why I’m going), and buying white gloves you’ll never use simply because they’re beautiful, or a banquet dress even if you’re not sure whether you’ll be able to use it for more than one banquet. On reading books (I always bring books, although luckily there’s an English bookstore in Budapest). Or of course, if you’re me, writing them . . .
My last photo is of me in Florida, with the sun on my face. Walking around, looking at the trees and water, watching lizards on the balustrade. It’s a photo of me being happy, feeling light . . .