November 6, 2019. We touched down in Aguadilla and the cabin lights flickered on, just as the plane erupted in applause. It was a middle-of-the-night flight, as always, but none of us had slept, as always. Even before the unusually violent turbulence, (which found me squeezing hands of both the sweet, plump Ecuadorian squished beside me and the shy, nervous Boricua across the aisle), I watched the giddy men sipping paper cups of coffee and chatting excitedly, and thought to myself, “Puerto Rico! Here we go!”
And so, in the early morning hours, very much still awake, I collected my monstrous suitcase, and wheeled out to the lively parking lot. I breathed in the tropical air and gazed at the silhouette of the familiar Acacia tree, and waited for my ride to pull through the humble pick-up zone. I drew slow breathes, to keep myself steady against exhaustion and anxiety. Tonight was cool and dark and soothing. Tomorrow would be sunny and muggy and carry the weight of building another life. Another total shift. These new beginnings were getting less and less exciting.
The year before I’d made the same trek, my childhood trek, across the country from Oregon to the Caribbean, just a little past Puerto Rico to the USVI. My suitcase was full of domestic possessions; cookbooks, journals, art supplies. Not packed for traveling. Packed for settling. I was ready. I’d been ready. It had been creeping up on me.
But you cannot plan security. Sometimes with enough convincing you can pretend it, but what I’d learned, slowly, after years of travel and moving, is that things will work out or they won’t. But even in that they are still working out. Even with those things you are so sure you want, sometimes the universe has other plans.
So I guess I wasn’t ready yet, or it was not a place to stay, but another place to learn. Again I’d pulled up my eager roots. Again I’d packed and retreated to Oregon, to grieve, to take stock, to reassess. I knew it was time for something different.
But what could be different by now? I’d tasted and tested so many lives. I’d sailed, backpacked, bike-packed, and road tripped. I’d worked in kitchens, kayaks, construction, massage, education, therapy. I’d seen Europe, Central America, North America, and the oceans in between. Of course, there was always more…but in that moment, it all felt the same. It all felt like running.
Running…the nagging doubt of nomads. ‘Am I running?’, we wonder, as we plan another trip.
My answer? Yes. But not in a bad way. Travelers or not, we all adjust, cope, shift. We seek homeostasis. Watch a baby, watch an animal. They stretch, roll, sigh. Micro-adjustments to realign our pieces, constantly shifted by the movement of life. An effort to return to some sort of peace.
Trips for me were my reset, my cleanse. Staying still I would grow mold, build tension. I hadn’t learned to shift perspective in place, so I kept moving. Because my homeostasis, (my peace), was magic, expansiveness, and wonder. And I wasn’t about to hold myself in any position, or place, or job, or relationship, that smothered the magic.
I saw settling as, well, settling. I saw some people happy and peaceful, and I envied them. But I saw many more stuck, wasted, rolling in drama, and convinced that this was just “life”. And that kept me convinced to keep flying. I flew from boredom, from pain. But mostly, towards opportunity. Towards little visions of “next steps”, which crept mysteriously into my mind, and then magically manifested into reality.
It was never bad, the running. One step lead to the next, materializing from thin air. Each followed a common thread, building on practical skills, and emotional skills, always towards more depth, more strength, more independence. I saw the world, I saw myself. I collected stories and notebooks full of adventure, connection, challenge, and transformation.
Just because slowing down is an often inevitable part of life, does not mean that the travel was ever anything bad. That is something I had to learn. “Settling” is a curse word for many nomads, who strive to keep the fire burning forever, who condemn those who surrender to stillness.
But stuck is stuck. Stuck is holding on because you’re not sure what else to do. Holding on beyond what serves you. Sometimes what we hold onto is motion.
Surrender is…movement, flow. Micro-adjustments. Accepting who you are, even if it does not line up with who you thought you were going to be, or who you thought were going to be forever.
I came back to Puerto Rico because, really, I could not think of anywhere else to go. All the pieces seemed to fit. It was not exciting, or adventurous, or epic, but in that moment, nothing felt epic. My mood had hijacked my perspective, and I didn’t have the energy for anything new.
Not that I didn’t try. I contacted work on a new island, I entertained an offer from a friend to sail to Panama, I interviewed for a two-year position with troubled youth. And I fell back each time, exhausted by the idea of starting from scratch, again. I was getting too old for that shit.
Then Rincon called, asking me back, offering a job, and a familiar place to live, and a few family friends, and some waves to surf, and I surrendered. Because all I had the strength for, was to fall into something that felt like home, even if the nomad in me called it quitting. I was ready.
I never said I’d stay, but I didn’t have any plans to go. I estimated six months. By then, surely I would be healed and rested and ready to adventure again.
Lightening didn’t strike. I didn’t fall in love, or find a sudden crew of friends, but still I knew I was meant to be here. More like thunder rumbling steady behind dark, cozy clouds. Slow, steady. I built my business, I fixed up my shack. I channeled my expansive energy into projects, and all the art I’d been too mobile to start. I honed in on connection, and the inner obstacles that held me back. I dug into social insecurities and pulled out old habits that needed rewiring. I finally looked at pieces of myself I’d been not necessarily avoiding, but too unsettled to address.
I played with Tarot, played with micro-dosing. I finally downloaded Spotify and built my own playlists, learning what kind of music I actually like. I shushed my insecurities and took every social offer I could, learning the laborious process of making friends the slow, small town way, not the instant easy travel way.
COVID came, and I stayed. Stayed through the summer, rather than rushing off on some seasonal pilgrimage. I used the pandemic as an excuse, but I could have left if I wanted. The real excuse was that I was starting to feel steady, safe. I was pulling all those snapshots of myself, through all the years, in all the different situations, and gluing them into some sort of collage of who I really am. And I wasn’t ready to toss that to the wind again. The real excuse was…I had everything I needed in one simple, quaint life. I was embarrassed to admit.
In quarantine I learned to write. Meaning, I learned how to sit and start typing, even if I didn’t feel inspired. I learned what distracts me, mainly the desire to connect to others. I learned how to take space to create. I gained confidence in my ability to push through. I watched myself pump out pages, doing things I’d wondered if I could, edging closer to goals I’d always harbored, towards seeing myself as a creator rather than a wannabe.
I learned to soothe myself through loneliness, a skill I’ve been needing for a while. How to find the same comfort alone as with a lover. I tested out different combinations and found how to fill a day with joy, even with no one to look forward to.
I took a good look at my longing, and saw that the things I miss in lovers are actually the things I miss in myself. I discovered the hidden drawer where I’d stashed my sass, back when I swapped it for seriousness, back when I started playing grown-up dress-up.
I dug more and found my playfulness completely intact, just forgotten when I started to believe I needed others to turn it on. I dusted these things off and started to practice again. I taught myself how to twerk and danced by myself in my outdoor kitchen, in the middle of the jungle in Puerto Rico. I laughed at lizards and bugs and only slightly wondered if I was going a little crazy.
I learned what makes me happy, what brings me peace. Some of that brought shame, as it seemed rather uncool, relative to my adventurous generation. But I couldn’t keep ignoring my truth, so I just had to learn to accept it.
I learned to accept it. And to sit with uncomfortable thoughts, memories, and sadness. Not through any amazing superpower. Just through practice, through patience, and time.
From my little shack, I gazed out at the banana and coconut trees and allowed myself to be whoever I was going to be, in this world without movement. And I found magic. In all the ways I had found it gazing out of windows of trains, or at the moon in the middle of an ocean. I found adventure in internal processes. In challenging my habits and in setting goals. In watching my hands manifest reality from my mind’s musings.
I learned how to reset without running. I learned how to take time-out before burnout. The burnout which usually sent me flying. I learned how to know when to sleep for a day, or get out of town for a day, or have a drink, or smoke some weed. I learned what to watch out for, before the pressure built. I learned micro-adjustments for re-alignment. Because before, all I knew were grand gestures.
The goal was control, the goal was commitment. I needed to see I could stay, because I know I won’t have the energy to run forever, and because there are some things I want that will require some permanence.
I needed the confidence to know that if life proposes, I can say yes. I can say, yes I will stay some years and build a house, or write a book, or raise a child. Or…make the world better. So I needed to learn these skills and tame these beasts. To show myself that I can handle discomfort, that I won’t run.
One year here. I am happier than ever. A thriving business, budding friendships, and remembering who I am, who I was before opportunity knocked and carried me all over god’s creation, filling me with options.
The process of shifting perspective can begin with a bang, but grows through a trickle. This year I’ve seen myself work through conflict. I’ve seen myself grow from inadequacy to confidence. I’ve turned a corner and started thinking things like, “Hey, why couldn’t I buy a house?” I’ve started to feel like an adult, to the core. Not in seriousness, but in power. And that is wonderful.
But it takes longer than you think it will, this process of remembering yourself. If you knew how long it would take, you might never start. That’s why you just need to start, I guess. And surrender.
Is this my forever place? God, who knows. To say yes would feel like a lie. I can’t plan that. But neither would it feel scary, or against the code of all I stand for. I don’t know if I am a traveler anymore, I’m sure there will be some adventures that pop back up. But undoubtedly different than before. I will be different.
I doubt I will stay here forever, but I might, if it feels right. That is the art. Keep focused on your truth, and follow that, whatever form it takes. And don’t be scared if it looks different than what you thought. Magic is not one way of life. It is a feeling, a perspective. It comes from staying with what feels right. And it is killed by staying stuck in what doesn’t.