Sometime yesterday, I dragged a carryon bag out of my closet and started packing a few things for an upcoming weeklong trip to Yosemite National Park. I plan on doing a fair bit of hiking, so I then went to an outdoors shop for a couple extra pairs of hiking socks, and this morning I packed in earnest; making sure I had enough socks and underwear, decanting my shower gel and lotion into TSA-approved bottles, paring the wardrobe down to a few pieces so I could mix-and-match for outfits and travel light, making sure that my tickets would be easily-reached in an outside pocket of my suitcase. I’ve even set out what I’ll wear on the plane, so I can dress quickly when I wake at an ungodly early hour that morning to make my flight. The clothes I’ve chosen are now sitting on top of my suitcase, which has been tucked into a corner of my room, waiting.
The trip to Yosemite isn’t for another two weeks.
For nearly as long as I can remember, the idea of going somewhere new has always thrilled me. Even when I was very, very young. One afternoon when I was about three, the teachers at my preschool read us all a book called Henry the Explorer, the tale of a little boy who sets out to “explore” new terrain in his neighborhood after reading about pioneers. Armed with a flashlight, a series of toy flags – so he can “claim” the things he finds – and a peanut butter sandwich, he and his Scottish terrier wander through the farm near his house, a forest, and even venture into a cave, where he narrowly escapes from something that might possibly be a bear before returning home safely (albeit late to dinner). Afterward, the teachers helped us kids all make our own little flags, and then set up a plastic crawl tunnel in one of the playrooms so we could all pretend to be crawling through a cave, just like Henry. But either the teachers were short-staffed that day, or there were just too many of us kids, because at one point I “explored” my way clear out of the tunnel, across the room to the door, and out into the hallway.
I don’t even think I was expecting to get out there, but I only hesitated a second before realizing that now I could really explore, and I set out to see what lay behind a doorway at the end of the hallway just past the bathrooms – something I was always curious about. I managed to get halfway up the stairs to the church offices one flight above us before a secretary from the church caught me and brought me back. The teachers gently explained to me that this was only meant to be pretend exploring, and I had to stay in the playroom. And so I rejoined the line of kids waiting for another turn through the crawl tunnel. I distinctly remember thinking during my second crawl through the tunnel that compared to real exploring, what we were doing was actually pretty boring.
My adult life, unfortunately, has not given me much chance for exploring. I did what I could during my 20s, but then a career in theater during my 30s kept me tied to home, where I always had one rehearsal or another to go to. And the budget of a theater professional also didn’t allow for much anyway, even when I did have the time.
One of the many turning points that lead me to retire from theater came in 2007, when my family were all discussing our various vacation plans – my parents were excitedly planning a trip to Rome, while my brother and sister in law were headed for the Cook Islands. Meanwhile, the only vacation I was taking was a long weekend in Chicago. Not to disparage Chicago, or that trip itself – I had a great time. But I suddenly felt the way I did as a child when I’d gotten that glimpse of that huge world outside, and then had someone or something pull me back to a much smaller and more confined space, and had someone tell me “no, this is as far as you can go.”
I think realizing that I felt that way is what made me start to fall out of love with theater – a love affair that had been going on for almost 30 years by that point, had made me sacrifice four years of time and a huge amount of money in student debt, and had given me the most professional success I’ve had in my life. I felt I belonged in theater – I still do – but I realized that there was an older, deeper place where I belonged, and an older and deeper self I had to get back to.
I am a traveler.