I’m with Catherine in Edinburgh, and we’re listening to the Chieftains and nothing could be more Scottish. The crocuses are blooming in the park across the street, and I have two cups of coffee in front of me. Everything in Edinburgh is old, even the New Town, which was built in 1765. If the pound compared a little better to the dollar, I would stay here forever. Edinburgh was supposed to be my last stop, because I would get to spend a week with Catherine, who is the best person, and not just because she let me stay in her flat for a week and took me driving through the highlands.
We talk a lot when we’re together, not all of it serious. We drink a lot of coffee. We go on a lot of walks and see a lot of really gorgeous things, including a Nathan Coley piece on the lawn of the National Gallery of Modern Art, which I was very excited about. On a drive back to the city after she took me to see the beach at Portobello, Catherine asked me why I went traveling. I thought about it for a long time, and told her that I would tell her, eventually, when I had an answer.
I started on this trip originally to fill the time between when I applied for graduate school and when I received answers on my acceptance or rejection. Applying to graduate programs was a brutal process, and when I tried to simultaneously think about what I wanted to do in graduate school and what I would do if I wasn’t accepted, making the dreaded five year plan, I realized I had a lot of ideas and not much clarity to sort them out. At its crux, this trip was as much about seeing a little bit more of the world, as it was about removing myself from my normal environment for awhile. I wanted to see if I would change, if I left the space where I had constructed my identity.
On the move, I was writing again, and writing for myself in a way that I hadn’t enjoyed in a long time. I wrote through a lot of the issues I’d been distracted by. There’s a sticky note on my desk from my sophomore year literature class reminding me that Simone de Beauvoir would have said that defining yourself by your career is a way of alienating yourself, but that’s exactly what I had been doing, trying to define myself, if not by my career, by some single thing. What’s more, I didn’t know myself very well. I had become really concerned with becoming a certain kind of person, without really knowing who I was already. After two months with myself, by myself most of the time, I realized I’d been psychoanalyzing the patient a lot without spending any time with them. As information trickled into my email about graduate school and news from back home, I realized how much I had psyched myself out over my graduate applications, how terrified I’d been about the future, and, most of all, how vehemently I thought I had to have everything figured out.
I haven’t self-actualized. Far from it. But I’m less tempted to call deviations from The Life Plan failures. Before I left, I said half jokingly to someone that I was leaving mostly to throw myself into some new situations in places I had never been to and didn’t speak the language just to see what happened. It’s amazing how doing just that to myself for two months gave me the tools to be myself again, and to be okay with that.