Yesterday, I wrote to Sarah, "We're finally back on dry land," and that really felt like the most accurate way to describe our current conditions. Oklahoma City greeted us Saturday night with its characteristic balmy temperatures, red-hued gusts, and really bad drivers. We haven't missed this place. We're living in an extended-stay hotel for the next five or so weeks while Dana wraps up a work assignment that reminds me an awful lot of the song that never ends (RIP Shari Lewis; girl could seriously rock a pair of suspenders).
In some ways it's an altogether different vantage point than the local RV park where we hung our hats between mid-September and mid-March; in most other ways, it's still Oklahoma and we still dislike it. Today, though—today, I think I'd write something different to Sarah. I might write, "What a bizarre feeling it is to have just cut a giant C in the western half of the United States only to carve that same C a second time, even deeper...and then to land back where we began, all in six weeks' time."
There's a vestibular disorder called mal de débarquement, which literally means "sickness of disembarkment." I'm sure you've experienced it before—maybe after rollerskating or iceskating as a child, when you finally pulled off your skates to go home and found yourself gliding, still. Vestibular Disorders Association defines it:
Although this term originally referred to the illusion of movement felt as an aftereffect of travel on water by ship or boat, some experts now include other types of travel (such as by airplane, automobile, and train) as well as situations with novel movement patterns (such as reclining on a waterbed). Most individuals experience this illusion of movement almost immediately after the cessation of the precipitating event, and the sensation usually resolves within 24 hours.
And it's not that I'm experiencing mal de débarquement in any sort of physiological way since detraining (thank god). It's more that I've acquired a different way of interacting with the world—or at least I want to. The Naked Scientists get closer to describing what I mean:
What scientists think is going on is that you have in your head a model of the world and how you are relating to it. In other words, if the world is moving, then you’re modeling that movement and working out how to compensate for it either with movements of your head and eyes or your balance system so that you don’t fall over. When you’re on a ship, because of the constant movements, your brain has to ‘de-tune’, or damp down, that response a little bit. If it didn’t, you would continuously be over-correcting for it, which might underlie why you get seasick in the first place, and why after a period of time at sea you stop feeling seasick. So, when you then come back onto land, the signals are being fed into this system which models how you’re interacting with the world. When those signals are coming in now, you’re not continuously in motion so the very thing that was expecting you to be in motion is no longer always seeing motion. As a result the model is predicting how you should respond to the movements around you incorrectly. So you experience these rather strange sensations as though the world is continuously moving.
Our train trip was equal parts high-highs and low-lows (I breathed "I love this" as much as I griped "I'm over this"), neither of which should be sustained for too long. So, despite a readiness to return to a slightly more conventional day-to-day (one that includes clean laundry, good water pressure, and a bed that doesn't require a safety harness), I find myself completely loathe to fall back into a routine that's divorced from the whimsy and wonder of our recent travel. That's probably my biggest takeaway from the six weeks we spent wearing a semicircular groove into the western half of this country: Keep your adventuring spirit alive and well, even (and especially) between adventures. After all, a marathoner doesn't stop stretching and strength training and running between the Boston and New York City races, does she? Certainly not.
So: How do I plan to stay in practice for the next month-and-a-half in a city that doesn't even remotely get me jazzed? How might you design your in-between time so that it conditions your curiosity muscle and whips your whimsy into shape?
Dream up the kinds of itineraries that travel magazines print. Pretend you've been hired to scout out the best local haunts. How would you recommend a non-touristy tourist elevate her everyday where you live? Try look at your own town or city through the eyes of a visitor, and really get down to the brass tacks of what's enjoyable, worthy, delightful, or intriguing. Rachael makes an excellent one for mothers with the morning off in Boston, but she's also compiled a veritable treasure trove of others on Pinterest for the simple day-tripper to the South End. Nicole offers up travel guides from local writers and bloggers "for bookworms who love to eat." The New York Times runs a weekly column that, for me, is the reading equivalent of dessert, called 36 Hours (which is further explained in the subtitle as "what to do when you've got 36 hours to get to know a city"). Keep in mind: A top-notch itinerary isn't reserved for popular destinations and exotic locales alone. You might find that this exercise lends itself to a shift in perspective...and then enables you to exist inside that new perspective whether you're on the move or disembarking.
Notes from the week of May 1
MEALS EATEN, DRINKS DRUNK
+ far too much Amtrak grub (meals are the same on every train—womp womp)
READ & NODDED MY HEAD
+ "The truth is, I hate being so easily irritated by sounds. The noise is amplified in my brain to such a level that I can’t ignore it. 'Sorry, you were saying?', spoons clinking. 'Yes, the situation in Syria is heartbreaking.' Who the fuck keeps banging their spoon? Is there a one-man band in here?"
FRIENDS MADE IN THE DINING CAR
+ Pat & Bob
+ Gail & Stanley
+ Jane & Mark
+ Valentina & Slava
+ Anne & Annie
+ an elderly Navy couple who warned us of the health risks of cellphone usage