I just wrote a blog post for Gogobot about how much ten years of writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet prepared me for a house fire.
And I was completely serious. The two experiences are astoundingly similar. When I’m working on a guidebook project, I’m doing something new constantly — every day, every hour, every minute even.
You know that feeling when you get on the freeway heading towards work and realize you’re actually going to the airport, or a friend’s house, and just missed your exit? Imagine the exact opposite feeling. The best way I can describe it is … vertiginous immediacy, like I’m constantly standing on a precipice, about to fall into something wonderful or something terrible. But it’s all coming so quickly that I can’t plan too far ahead and I certainly can’t go into the relaxed state of complacency where I’d miss my exit.
So, more and more in my life these days, I’m falling in love with stillness. After years of living in a fairly rare state of vertiginous immediacy for weeks and weeks at a time, I relish my nights watching Fringe on the couch with Anne or sitting in day- or weekend-long meditation retreats. In February, I went to three days of a nine-day silent meditation retreat. I lasted one day in the real world before I called and asked if I could come back. About once a week, Anne and I celebrate the ritual of setting up the Fringe DVD, preparing the sacred bowl of popcorn or the pumpkin milkshake chalices, and giggling mightily as we watched the scary parts through slits in our parted hands and half-opened eyes. (There might or might not be actual, honest-to-goodness squealing involved.)
I try to at least be somewhat mindful about my mindlessness, but both processes of stillness feel like being wrapped in a protective cocoon of renewal, a blanket of of familiarity we all — perhaps a little more than we’d like to or realize at times — use to get through deadlines and asshole drivers, street junkies and car maintenance bills.
The fire solidified a feeling I’d had for a while about travel. I relish my time under this blanket. I do. And as much as anyone, I pout when I’m forced out from under it. However, when the blanket is stripped away, I feel like I’m left with a different side of myself, one that, when I’m done pouting, I rather quite enjoy. This immediacy feels like a drug because, well, it actually, technically, is.
I now can feel when I’m working on adrenaline, and rather than try to change it, I’m trying to accept that my body is taking over for a reason. During the first few 14- to 16-hour days, just like when I’m on a Lonely Planet author deadline, I’d stop all non-essential needs and just. Get. Shit. Done.
In my next life, I’m coming back as a neuroscientist, so I’m preparing in this life by reading. I’d read enough as as layperson to understand what was happening while it was happening. And I watched, utterly and completely fascinated.
Huh, so that’s what mild shock feels like. Cool. Now I’m going to know to instantly give up all non-essential physical needs? Sure, sounds good, Body. You know me better than I do.
Within a few days, I realized the familiar feeling: I’d gone into ‘author mode.’ I find it amusing when people don’t believe me (or my 350 colleagues), but being a Lonely Planet author can be unbearably physically difficult, especially at my height (I’ll get into that one day). I have to consciously turn off my physical sensors that pick up pain. But, for me, it’s also a version of being in flow. It’s the exact polar opposite of couch nights with milkshakes and cheesy poofs, but I find that vertiginous immediacy incredibly restorative. When people are surprised that I seem so … okay after the fire, I think it’s because a) I’ve been through worse traumas than this and, frankly, a fire ain’t so bad and b) I’m probably more used to that feeling of vertiginous immediacy than most. You want to be present? Travel through a war zone, meditate for three days, or watch smoke pour through your ceiling tiles.
So, I’m looking for suggestions. I’d like to find a slightly easier activity that gives me that same feeling. I’d rather not vacillate from war zone to couch, high tea to month-long couch surfing. But give up my pumpkin-milkshake-and-Fringe nights? Never.