Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Thanksgiving in March

During my spring break last year I took a trip to Bali. My best girlfriend of fourteen years, Melissa, was on the last leg of a long few months traveling in Asia, all three schools I worked at were on break at the same time, and I had some wiggle room on my credit card. This is a picture of a few Balinese offerings, which were placed on the ground outside every home, store, and temple. They're part of a particular strain of Hinduism practiced only on Bali. The trays themselves are about 4 X 4 inches, and as we walked the streets of Ubud we saw many women sitting on the front steps of their stores, weaving basket-trays for the next day's offering.
We met amazing people. We watched the sun set over the ocean at Ulu Watu and Tanah Lot. We marveled at the Kecak dancers and bought small piles of batik. We ate these painfully delicious banana pancakes by the little pool at Artini Cottages. Let me not waste too much time telling stories of "My Enchanted Days on Bali," since it's been done, it's all true, and I'm saving it for some essay sometime.
Let me instead remember that I wouldn't have gone on the trip if it hadn't been for Melissa.
I'm on spring break again, and this time I'm staying home in Cambridge, getting caught up on paper grading and novel-writing, cleaning out the closet, organizing many piles of papers that have accumulated over the past six months, drinking tea, and waiting out the winter. I'd feel sorry for myself except that yesterday, very casually on the phone, I reserved a spot in my godmother's cabin on a cruise to Alaska in July.
This means that this summer, I will spend over two weeks in France and Italy with my dearest friends and closest other family, the Cristofanis, return home to co-direct a summer camp, then scoot out to Seattle and spend a week with godmom Susan in Alaska, before returning to California to prepare for Burning Man.
I'm overflowing with gratitude to the people who love me enough to help make this kind of life possible. I work incredibly hard to pay for as much as I can, but I would never be able to do this kind of traveling if I didn't have generous help, and groups of people who believe in community traveling, sharing experiences, and the fundamental value of diving into the new, together. Sometimes being a writer means that others invest towards your uncertain future--offering you adventures or chances at solitude that will likely help your work. Many writers never feel the kind of support I do, financially or emotionally, and think that either (a) people like me were born with money or (b) we DO something in particular, like in a bartering system, to be given such opportunities. When I explain that my family was middle-middle class when I was young, with no money for international travel, and that I offer nothing in particular but my love, sense of wonder, and shared future wealth/experience with those who share with me now, it seems insane!
But it is real.
When I was 24, and had been working full-time at the Veteran's Hospital in West LA for two years, in addition to working nights performing with the Toledo Show, I decided I was ready for a change. I gave notice at my job and Melissa and I planned a trip to Thailand. On my last day at the VA, my coworkers threw a party. After I convinced them that the trip was actually rather inexpensive, I still was met with some incredulity.
"Why do you get to go on this trip?" one of the bosses asked me. "I've been working here fifteen years and never been on a trip like this."
"I get to go because I'm going," I said, as I'd run out of other explanations.
I'd told them that I was going into debt for it, that I wasn't sure what I'd do for money when I got back, but that I was certain I'd work it out. I'd told them that Melissa and I wanted to do this adventure together, and that neither of us had been to Asia at all before. I'd tried to convince them that it was an exercise in creative, as well as physical, freedom. But in the end, the truth was that I "got" to go because I was willing to, and because I had people in my life willing to help.
So today I extend my gratitude to everyone who has included me in their adventures, shared time and space and food and income with me, offered me chances to do things I wouldn't otherwise be able to do, and had faith in my ability to truly assimilate and benefit from these experiences. I also extend gratitude to myself, for staying open and receptive to these possibilities, for giving everything I can in return, for continuing to write, and for cultivating adventurous community.
Now, I'm going to turn the heat up and pretend it's May already...


  1. "I get to go, because I am going" feels like it should be the travel mantra for all people.

    What a great sentiment. I get to do this because I was willing to do it and I decided to make it happen.

  2. Fabulous entry, Vanessa. I also work for the VA, and love your godmother Susan (her books saved my life) and I met you at one of her workshops. Keep traveling and experiencing all you can. And please write all about it. You ROCK.

  3. Thanks SS!
    What an encouraging comment!