Monday, August 15, 2011

On travelling solo

I’ve travelled solo a long time.  You might think that I am making a virtue of necessity.  After all, I am an only child,  I have somehow remained single, and I move so much that I long since left my closest friends behind in another province or country..

Isn’t someone who goes out in public by herself bereaved, isolated,  friendless  or all of the above?  No, actually I quite enjoy going out by myself.  Does that mean I don’t like people?  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I am as eclectic in my friendships as I am in other enjoyments.

I don’t always go about by myself.   I amuse houseguests by taking them out on little expeditions, often  to places I scouted out on my own.   Sometimes I go on small trips with my mother or with friends.   Sometimes I meet up with someone to go to a concert or play.  

Such shared activities are pleasant in their way.  But they are not at all the same as a solo experience.  My first consideration is no longer the expedition, concert or play, but the happiness and comfort of the person or people I am with.  Where do they wish to go?  When does it suit them to arrive?  When do they need to hurry home to attend to their families?  Do they find the temperature of the car too warm or too cold?  Do they find the  seats uncomfortable?  Are they tired?  Do they need to unburden themselves of their stresses, worries or problems?  If I know them through work, will we wind up talking “shop ?  

My profession requires me often to put my preferences and interests aside for the good of others..  I need times when I do not accommodate to others, when I do not have their well-being as my first priority.  Often when I am sorely in need of such times, the meetings multiply, couples come by to see me about weddings, and  I get word of a dying person or a bereaved family.    And so I  carve out times of respite when and where I can.

Such times, short or long, are contemplative times.     Contemplative  does not mean detached and otherworldly- it means being present, immersed, enjoying my surroundings.   It means not having to hurry from point A to point B, but pausing to admire the view.  It means setting aside my to-do list .  It means letting go of my worries and other people’s worries about money, work prospects, getting older and the state of the world.  It means being  here  , and not somewhere else.  It means being now, not back in the past or forward into the future.  It means being.

I do not discount kindness to one’s friends and family., and I cherish kindnesses received.   But if I want to have a contemplative, renewing and restorative experience, it is usually better for me to travel solo.

For example, I do better visiting art galleries alone, unless I am in the company of a visual artist or fine arts student.  Left to my own devices, I will wander around  at least twice, lingering with the works I found most captivating..  I will fall into random conversations with the art gallery owner or staff, and with anyone else who comes along.   If it’s an exhibition opening, I want to find out what makes the artist “tick”.

Even if there are 20 other art galleries in town- as in a place like Lunenburg, Nova Scotia-  I don’t mind about “doing” them all.   The way I look at art galleries,   I would rather have been to one or two galleries and truly, have been there  and not halfway to the next one, or halfway back in the previous one..

Very few people want to hang about in a gallery as long as I do  I was guilty once of keeping a friend waiting for an hour when I went in to look at an exhibition in Regina of just a few impressionists. I could not “get through” them in the 20 minutes I had negotiated..  Since then I have come to understand that 20 minutes is more than enough for many an art-gallery visitor.  It’s better that we don’t travel together!

I also choose to be a solo concert-goer  or theatre-goer too, unless I’m with someone who is as curious about theatre or , even more important, as hooked on classical music as I am.  My ventures into the concert-hall are a refuge and relief from all the mundane chores and stresses of everyday life.  I want to study the programme. I want to settle myself into the space.  I would rather be there half an hour early so that my spirit as well as my body have a chance to arrive.  I cherish the moments of sitting and just being. 

At a concert or play,  if I do talk – before, after or at the intermission- I would rather talk to people I do not know, or whom I would never see anywhere else.  As in art galleries, I savour the chance to get beyond my usual circle and glimpse a life story I would otherwise have missed. .  That’s much more likely to happen if I am not busy catching up with a companion.

 At the end of a beautiful and moving piece of music,  or a thought-provoking play, I like to emerge from it in my own time and my own way.  I don’t want to be in a hurry to leave the space and return to whatever it is I am supposed to be doing. If someone else is on a high and wants to share that with me, I welcome that- but my spirit isn’t ready, quite yet,  to go back to “same old, same old”.

It was when I went to university student recitals by myself, that I got my courage up to go talk to the student performers   and learn a bit about their enjoyments, challenges, hopes and dreams. That’s how I discovered it might also be fun to talk to cast and crew if they were available after a play- perhaps find out what it felt like to play that character or deepen my appreciation of the stagecraft..

As for eating out, yes, I am thankful to go out with friends or family , when I cannot work food preparation time and social time into the same day.  But I am on a limited budget, so it’s a special treat to take myself out.  It’s a chance to soak up an ambience, to take in the energy of a different space, to do a little discreet  people-watching, to imagine their stories,  to enjoy the sound , sometimes, of various languages.  It’s a chance  to read, or think, or look  out the window, or just be. . 

Also I like to eat slowly, savouring each morsel.  This works better when I am  not sitting with others  who are anxious for dessert or a quick get-away.  I am like a Mediterranean eater who’s unaccountably got transplanted into a North American fast-food restaurant. I loved eating in Italy because one did not have to rush from course to course, and because, with one exception, the plates never got whisked away until we were all through eating.  So, far from feeling guilty for holding everyone else up,  the slowest eater set the pace . When in North America, it’s only when I eat alone that I enjoy the luxury of setting the pace for myself.

And as for road trips, conversation is good.  But so is : turning up the radio to my favourite programme and listening to it all the way through, or savouring a beautiful view, or deciding when I am ready to stop for a coffee or lunch or stroll, or when I am energized and enjoying the radio and good for another hour or two.. 

As for plane trips,  what better time to read through a whole long novel from start to finish- a luxury almost unattainable at home!  Or to contemplate the shape and texture of the clouds?   Or  lose myself in my own , random, unstructured thoughts?   Or to let glorious strands of Mozart  unfold themselves into my conscious memory?

So, much as  I love people, I also love travelling solo. More of that in my next posting......