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A bit of research revealed that “days marked with a white stone” are days of pleasure, or days to be remembered with special gratification. The phrase comes from the Romans, who used a white stone to mark lucky days on their calendar.
I love this idea of marking a special day. Perhaps this is a way to use my newly adopted blue-bird-of-happiness motif.
Certainly the day I returned from my trip was a day to mark with a blue bird. It was nice to be away, but it was bliss to be back—to cuddle my two girls on my lap and to wake up next to the Big Man in the morning.
The reunion with the Big Girl and the Little Girl was bittersweet, though, because we’re leaving again in a few days for India, for a wedding. It will be exciting and wonderful, but I’d feel a lot better about leaving if I hadn’t just been away.
It’s not that I’m worried about the girls—I know they’ll be fine—but I feel sad about being away for so long. I don’t like the thought of missing so much, especially with the Little Girl, who, at nineteen months, is changing so quickly that I know she’ll be in an entirely new stage by the time we return.
But instead of dwelling on the downside, I’m trying to focus my attention on how lucky I am to be able to go on this trip, and to see a real Indian wedding, and to have a holiday alone with the Big Man.
Also, although it’s a long trip, and a lot of logistics, I know that no matter what happens, no matter how many flight delays or traffic jams we suffer, I’ll be able to comfort myself by thinking—at least I’m not traveling with two small children.
In the meantime, I’m trying to appreciate the pleasure of being with the Big Girl and the Little Girl — a pleasure it’s so easy to take for granted, until I know I’m going to be away from home. And I can look forward to the next day to mark with a blue bird: the day we come back.
Whenever I travel, I shrink from the moments when I act like a tourist—when I fumble with the unfamiliar money, when I pull out a map on the street, when I ask someone, “Do you speak English?” (uncosmopolitan me, I don’t speak any other languages).
But what’s the big deal?
Coming from New York City, I’m well accustomed to tourists. And I don’t mind them at all. It’s nice to see people visiting here from all over the world, and their enthusiasm always makes me realize afresh how lucky I am to live here—and all New Yorkers know how important tourists are to the city’s economic health. Most of all, I just don’t pay much attention.
But when I’m the tourist, I feel a childish agony of self-consciousness. Intellectually, I know that people aren’t staring in mocking disbelief, that they aren’t interested enough to feel disdainful.
It’s my foolish pride—my desire to appear smooth and sophisticated and in control. I imagine that if I traveled more, these feelings would wear off, or at least I’d become more skilful traveler.
But in the meantime, I keep reminding myself of something C. S. Lewis wrote: “When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” I don’t want my pride to keep me from venturing away from the familiar.
It’s a sign of immaturity to be too concerned with my adult dignity.
Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday…Tips for packing.
It’s been a long time since I’ve packed to travel outside the U.S. — or really, packed to go anywhere except Kansas City, where I can borrow anything I forget to bring. Here are some lessons I learned the hard way.
1. Don’t assume that you couldn’t possibly forget to pack an essential item — like socks.
2. Always bring a full bottle of Advil.
3. If you have a long flight, have breath mints handy.
4. If you bring an electrical converter, check to see whether it can accept three-pronged as well as two-pronged appliances. Obviously, the converter will do you no good if you can’t plug your three-pronged computer cord into its two-pronged base.
5. Squirrel away some snacks in your luggage.
6. Remember to bring your phone charger.
7. Bring far too many books, both on the plane and in your suitcase. You may run through your reading stash far more quickly than you predicted if you: a) decide you don’t like a book and won’t finish it, b) leave a book behind in the airport waiting lounge, c) finish a book more quickly than you anticipated, due to a delayed flight, or d) all of the above.
Since arriving at this biography conference, I’ve been flooded with memories of college. Cut off from my usual friends and family, figuring out the lay-out of a new place, eating dining-hall food three times a day, making small-talk with people I don’t know as I struggle to memorize the pertinent details of their lives, deciding whether to raise my hand to make a comment during a seminar discussion…it all feels very familiar.
I feel the urge to be social, to get a fix on everyone around me, to make sure I’m not missing anything. At the same time, I want to retreat and be alone with my familiar solitary self.
At least I don’t have to size up the romantic prospects.
One of my happiness resolutions is to “find an area of refuge,” that is, work to find a peaceful refuge for my thoughts. I assumed I’d invented this notion (using a term I lifted from a sign near an elevator at Yale Law School, a locution that struck me as very funny), but now it occurs to me that all I’ve done is to give a different label to the much-mocked admonition to “find your happy place.” Aaaack.
Oh well. In the area of happiness, it turns out, some of the most useful ideas are embarrassingly banal.
In any event, just as in college, I’ve found my area of refuge, a/k/a my happy place: the library. And this library is comfortingly similar to the library to which I retreated in college, with an intricately patterned ceiling, leather-covered chairs, and the calming smell of wood paneling.
What a pleasure it was to work on those projects! To remember a happy time is a distinctive kind of happiness, and a refuge that always waits.