When my uncle died in 2006.
When I started my low-residency MFA program in 2010 and every six months for the next two years.
When I drove to Kentucky for the Hindman Appalachian Writers Workshop last July.
|my bunk in the Hindman dorm|
These are the times (not many but there will be more) that I've traveled alone. Gone through security alone. Carried luggage alone. Navigated streets alone. Stopped for gas alone. Woke up in a different bed alone. And alone means so many different things. In the case of Hindman, I had three roommates plus, but that first night I was still alone.
Each time I've traveled alone has been a gift to me in ways I've taken for granted. Each trip has added something to my life, layer upon layer. To walk through unknown environments, among strangers, has filled me with a sense of my own self and my own strength. I have to be present to every moment; no one else is taking care of the details for me. I am both fully responsible for myself and like a child in the world, seeing everything for the first time.
When I get wherever I'm going, if there's no familiar face waiting, it's up to me to make connections and be the friend I hope to find. As a shy person and an introvert, this draws out skills I don't use when I'm around the same people I see every day, every week. Traveling alone takes away my social and conversational fall-back plan (Andrew), and I am not one to retreat from a challenge. I say hi, I ask the dreaded small-talk questions: i.e. "Where are you from?" I make awkward conversation for a minute and eventually, almost every time, chit chat turns into something better, warmer, more personal. By the end of a week, I have friends I'm crying at the thought of saying goodbye to. Friends I can't wait to see again.
Traveling alone reminds me (1) that I'm not lost in the world, (2) that the secret to being liked is to like people, and (3) that I have whatever it takes for whatever the journey.