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Notes on Unpacking My (Mental) Suitcase

I left London on Monday. My body is back in Northern California, but my mind, stubborn, remains in Europe. Right now, it’s probably vegging out in a warm, cozy pub in Islington, or strolling down a street in Covent Garden, where I stayed (thanks to my dear friend Nick and his lovely girlfriend Jenn).

Branches, Friedrichshain, Berlin.

As for my soul? My soul is lost as usual, in the wanderlusting, romantic sense. (As the ever-insightful and clever @dreamersawake said on Twitter, my soul is taking its sweet time to journey back across the Atlantic.) And I don’t keep my soul on a short leash, as it is happiest when I let it explore. Elusive, it is.

This morning, I mentioned online that I had several pieces of writing swirling in my head. Four, to be exact. Nick (my other friend Nick, so as not to confuse you) suggested a “Europe mash up,” and I first thought that was a horrendous idea—why on earth would I share the cobwebs, the half-formed ideas, the raw emotions, the jetlag materialized on paper? But I realized it may, at the very least, further the simmering of ideas.

Along the Thames River at Night, London, UK.

I pack light, traveling with a medium-sized backpack, so the removal of clothes from my bag, post-trip, is a swift process. But the unpacking of my mind takes time, particularly if I didn’t write much while abroad. I started off well in Berlin, due to being wide awake in my hotel room a few times, at four in the morning. (Productive insomnia is fantastic.)

So, here’s a virtual purging of my (mental) suitcase, and a sampling of the pages in my Moleskine. Just a bit of cleaning up. Once my mind returns, I’ll diligently expand on some thoughts in my next posts.

* * *

Hefeweizen and Haffner, Datscha, Friedrichshain, Berlin.

Sebastian Haffner’s Defying Hitler. (Cheers to Lauren for lending me the memoir.) Passages to note:

On the Stresemann era of peace, 1924-29 p. 56

“A generation of young Germans . . . had never learned to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful, and worthwhile, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of the political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk. In the end they waited eagerly for the first disturbance, the first setback or incident, so that they could put this period of peace behind them and set out on some new collective adventure.”

This unity, this collective madness. I understand how it was (and is) possible. How morbid. And how (strangely) exhilarating.

On young love, p. 67

“It is most certainly a romantic lie that one really loves only once in a lifetime. It is rather futile to seek to compare amorous experiences which are in essence incomparable, and try to classify them in some order, and declare, ‘I loved this or that woman most of all.’ It is true, however, that at a certain stage in life, about the age of twenty, a love affair and the choice of partner affect one’s destiny and character more than at others. For the woman one loves stands for more than just herself; a whole view of the world, a notion of life, an ideal, if you will, but one come alive, made flesh and blood. It is the privilege of some youths of twenty to love in a woman what later, as a man, they will look upon as their guiding star.”

To grow up, to form one’s mind, during the rise of the Third Reich. I cannot fathom. And I fear that love, or any positive emotions, rarely survived. Passages like the one above… Ever so fleeting. And comforting. I wonder, if a person was able to relive his or her life in a very different era, would they fundamentally be the same person?

* * *

River, Bath, UK.

Loved seeing that mother and son on the U-Bahn.

To Do: Ask mom and dad what I was like on family vacations when I was little. Dependent? Observant? Needy? As a traveler, was I anything like the perpetually crying kindergartener I was? Oh, good god.

* * *

Online relationships: no longer superficial?

A need for them. Not to replace, but to enhance.

I have a constant, urgent need to travel solo. I have a need to be with close friends, people I love and who know me well. I have a need to seek the company of friends who don’t live physically close to me, to connect and discuss things I simply don’t do with friends from home. Why is this? And is there a danger in compartmentalizing these relationships?

Why have I begun to view my real-life friends and pals from the past on Facebook differently than my virtual friends? I’ve thought about this contrast for a while now. An increasingly significant concern as I formulate my views on the importance of online connections.

* * *

Estrella Cerveza (x2), Shoreditch, UK.

Possible useless “How To” posts:

How To Gain £5.5 by Eating a Flower

How To Transform Into a Gremlin (With or Without Whiskey)

How To Slowly Shift the Worldview that Mogwai(s) are Evil Beings

* * *

How do I write about something without writing about it? I think I have done this before. Extreme subtlety? Metaphor? Ostensibly meaningless fragments? Honestly not sure. Yet.

* * *

I keep returning to Traveling With a Purpose: Pointless?, which I wrote in Berlin. I don’t agree with my February 19 self. And yet, I do. I immediately think of Bosch. Of his Garden of Earthly Delights. Many, many, many pieces, nonsensical on their own, but ultimately meaning something when combined.

Past AHA! moments. Past thresholds, crossroads. They come and go, and the wisdom picked up from such moments dissipates. I am left to travel again, somewhere new. I gather I should pluck these moments from my memory and place each into a glass jar. And I hope that each time I gaze through the glass, I see the things I’ve learned, the people I’ve met and who have changed me, the ideas that push me to keep exploring.

Coherence soon.

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Categories: musing travel writing

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Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Writer at Writing Through the Fog. Editor at Automattic.

10 replies

  1. Well, well, well. It just so happens that I received a helpful direct message on Twitter promptly after sending out a tweet asking for leads on Chinese folklore experts, preferably ones with Indiana Jones-like hunting skills.

    With such help, I can produce a benevolent version of the species in time.

    I accept the challenge, Sowden.


    Like this

  2. And an ostracized, introspective Mogwai teams up with an immoral, rogue cyber-squirrel to embark on an epic journey of self-discovery, love, and betrayal in which they attempt to recover said travel writer’s mind. Sold. I’m quitting my day job. Oh… I already did that part…

    Like this

    1. So yeah, you quit your day job, you’ll have tons more time to craft this story. Hopefully Cairo will prove inspirational. I think we should kill this thread of mogwai-related comments; I fear someone may come along and steal our ideas.

      By now you should be back in the land of pharaohs. Welcome back.

      Like this

      1. Oh, that’s right, kill the discussion before I can chip in.

        Nick, I think Cheri needs to back up her ill-chosen comments on how Mogwai/s are actually nice and fluffy and help old ladies across the street and make daisy-chains, yadda yadda, by actually finding the evidence and showing it to us.
        In person.
        In *China*.

        I challenge you, Cheri.

        There’s no time limit, and many factors must align in all our lives to make it possible. But…I challenge you, Cheri.

        So there.

        Like this

  3. Just wish I knew what you were talking about… Yeah, I guess you had to be there! ;)

    And yes, I’m interested in my take on online/nomadic relationships, too. (Not quite sure where it’ll go.) Feels like it’s such a big and intriguing discussion, and lots to be said.

    Amazing how the mind takes much more time unpacking and settling after a trip. If you see my mind on the streets over there before you take off for Egypt, gently tell it to come back to me. I feel like mush without it!

    Like this

    1. “If you see my mind on the streets over there before you take off for Egypt, gently tell it to come back to me.” – yeah, maybe. Or maybe I’ll put it in a glass jar (gently) and take it with me, feed it after midnight and see what happens…

      (still not getting notifications about comments… must have a gremlin…)

      Like this

      1. If you take it with you, this pretty much means I can blame you for any and all shitty writing I post in the future.

        Travel writer A steals travel writer B’s mind in a jar, flees to Egypt, performs post-midnight experiments on it in the desert. Another epic tale brewing, for sure.

        Like this

  4. Sweet post, and a great way to start ordering your thoughts. Coupla things:
    ~ those how-to’s will be awesome, especially the guide to making a quick buck through eating foliage. I think that could be a series; would go massive. Just wish I knew what you were talking about…
    ~ interested – for obvious reasons! – in reading your take on online relationships and how they intersect with the “real world” (and perhaps how nomadic relationships intersect with the “real world” too), especially the idea of compartmentalization.
    ~ coherence is over-rated. Musing mash-ups (mush-ups?) is where it’s at.

    Like this


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