“`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”…
- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
Sometimes, I think I’m caught in the talons of things I do and do not understand, with no weapon, and no reasonable way to escape. I am Alice on the banks of the river before she slips down the rabbit hole, and then again when she is through the looking glass.
I rant. I rave. But I do not scream for help; I do not listen to advice on how to flee. In addition, and perhaps unrelatedly, I have become a caricature of myself.
I miss the obvious.
How do you cope with your travel schedule interfering with the rest of your life? I ask a friend.
Silence. Perhaps there is no answer.
Daddy had the same wanderlust, and I grew up believing that distance was the thing that cemented families. There were things that were missed and that was to be acccepted; there were heroics undertaken in order to be present. That was How Things Were; there was No Other Way.
And I believed it, until my life didn’t work that way, and I balanced in fish pose on a warm April afternoon on Repulse Bay and I said I wanted to keep travelling, and he said that the distance was tearing us apart. What nonsense, I thought, what foolishness. This is how things work.
And now, does distance divide?
My friends in New York send me an invitation saying that they’ve planned something, and I have to respond: That sounds so lovely, but I leave tomorrow. And even when my life is not on travel, my priorities are not (and cannot be) hugely social. A work-life balance is one of managing a dog, a chronic illness, a desire to be an athelete, and building a career.
Time is a precious commodity. But sometimes having time means I write. Sometimes, it means trashy TV or reading the New Yorker. And then sometimes, I flip myself into a headstand to feel the blood rush to my head, and the dog flops in front of me, and he stares into my face with his wise eyes, and I do my best thinking upside down.
Can you stand on your head?
I shout more than I used to. Why do I rant? Why don’t I have the patience that I had before? When I land at JFK on a gorgeous spring day, why don’t I look around and think, This is the most beautiful place on earth? I love New York, I do. But sometimes, it all feels like thorns. Bad dreams; restless sleep; frizzy hair.
You need a holiday, he’s said before.
I get defensive.
How does one make others understand this nonsense poem? A stunning, makes-no-sense batch of lyrics set deep into the cohesive story of a wildflower life? There are airports, and hotels; personal and professional triumps; sickness and health; minor errors and epic fuck-ups. None of it translates easily, or is readily shared. It grows; it shrinks; somewhere therein, there must be a limit.
It is logical; then again, it is without rhyme-or-reason. It has become a monologue. And I find it hard to listen to anyone else, as I land in City 1, shower in the lounge; pass through to City 2; finally make my way to City 3. Am searched at security, and the agent splays my sweaters and tampons out on the table for all of continental Europe to see. I become irrationally fussy about tea, because it is all I can control.
I want to tell you to shut up, because I’ve had a headache for ten years, and I’ve sat through 13 hours of meetings, and I’ve just had another tepid shower and oh my goodness what is it with Everywhere in Europe and lukewarm water, and after all of that I honestly don’t give a hang about your grocery list or your Saturday plans. But then it occurs to me that I do care very much and it isn’t only that I care about you, it is also that I am jealous that you are shopping at a physical store, and walking around like an ordinary person, and are speaking in a dialogue with other humans. And also that you are probably having proper showers, with scalding water.
I am Alice, I suppose. I am a damsel only somewhat in distress, finding her way back out of the rabbit hole; slipping through the looking glass; navigating this treacherous, beautiful work of nonsense. Perhaps only to find that this may have been a dream.
Then again, perhaps not.