Where we spend our time and focus is how we choose our own reality.
As any parent knows, the two things in shortest supply are time and focus. It feels like a little person is constantly tugging on your arm, dictating where both will go. And don’t get me wrong, there’s no more worthy recipient. It’s just that, despite the wondrous experience of being a parent overall, it turns out I still need time for myself.
Writing is my chosen outlet, but unfortunately it’s enormously time-consuming. Particularly novel writing. There are so many moving parts, research topics, characters and plot points one must know inside out. And those pieces don’t like to be put on hold so I can make dinner, clean half of said dinner off the table and floor, and read bedtime stories. By the time quiet ensues I am often too exhausted to create a fictional world from scratch.
It’s tempting to sink into the couch and just … not. Not create. Not think. Not do. But then I start to go a little crazy, one day at a time, and that turns out not to be good for anyone. In order to balance myself—making me an infinitely better parent, wife and person—I have to create.
And so, with this in mind, I recently embarked on a solo drive across the country. I knew my destination (a college friend’s house in DC) and I plotted a few places between coasts I thought I’d stop, but I had no set itinerary. My nerves hummed with excitement, just scary enough to feel alive, not enough to scare me off. There was a kind of freedom to the meandering adventure that pulled at me with the irresistible gravity of wanderlust.
“The road is messy in the way that real life is messy. It leads us out of denial and into reality, out of theory and into practice, out of caution and into action, out of statistics and into stories—in short, out of our heads and into our hearts.” (Gloria Steinem “My Life on the Road”)
What I love about traveling isn’t the anticipation. It’s not the fantasy of what may happen. What I love is the super crisp focus reality comes into when I offer my full attention to each moment. I can’t project what I want out of the situation because I don’t know what the situation is yet. I can’t wish something were more like I’d imagined because I’d never imagined it in the first place. It creates a space in which I am completely open to whatever experiences happen across my path. And that makes me feel alive.
Although it wasn’t my first time driving cross-country, it was my first time doing it solo. I’m one of those people who love driving. I feel anonymous and free when I’m in my car, uninhibited. On my five-day trek I wrote scenes in my head, listened to music, audio books, danced and sang with abandon, stopped to take photos whenever the mood struck (or the light was too good to pass up), and enjoyed the spectacular landscape. From dinosaur fossil laden deserts to mile-high mountains, to plains populated by farms and historical markers, this country has so much to see when you take the time to look.
Rosi Golan sang to me much of my drive and reminded me how much I love discovering new-to-me artists. Often I feel like music (and books) finds me when I need it most. I needed Rosi on this trip. Her voice was like a dear friend, spurring me on, making me think about things from every possible angle, giving me permission to be imperfect. And I was.
I was supposed to come home with a completed manuscript for my YA dystopia novel. But I didn’t. Despite my freedom, I got stuck. No matter how hard I tried to force it, I couldn’t. So I gave myself permission to use my time for something else: me.
And a funny thing happened. A part of myself I thought had gone (and had mourned its passing) returned. It was a reconnection to friends I’d forgotten were so much a part of me, to a time when we lived for the moment, talked about everything from philosophy to art to the future of our planet. It was a magical time when we chose to learn from each other—to have our perspectives opened wider than we’d ever dreamed possible.
And in my new present, we ended up drinking guava mimosas on a picnic blanket, listening to our friend’s dad play sitar. It was a weekend filled with friends, farm fresh epicurean dinners, philosophical conversations and big belly laughs that made my cheeks hurt. It was a weekend filled with the kind of warm feelings I’ve only ever known to mean that I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing in the moment I was meant to do it.
It was a kind of magic. Before this trip I knew I’d lost my magic—that the brilliant sheen of life had been turned down, desaturated—but I didn’t know that I couldn’t write without it. Thank goodness for that, because I’d have been paralyzed if I’d known the stakes were so high. But I set off on my adventure to seek something true, something undeniable. I went without expectation—just wanderlust in my heart and a trust in the little signals that gently nudged me along—only to find that my magic had been right there waiting for me. It simply required my attention—time and focus—not as a concept, but experientially, to recapture the feeling of magic. To feel the magic of every moment is to resonate with the universe. And when you resonate with the universe, when you feel yourself as a collection of energy within the whole, how can you not create?