On Wanderlust

Wanderlust always seems to creep up on me in those sacred, quiet moments where I find myself tired and contemplative and procrastinating and, generally, listening to Tom Waits or Townes Van Zandt, those singer/songwriter men who seemed to understand world weariness at its best. It is when I find myself reconnecting with my teenage years, when I was so absorbed with being on a road going somewhere else and contemplating a life that was easier than what I was living at the time. Wanderlust overwhelms me at some moments, the worst moments of the day, when I simply want to be anywhere but here.

I have written about the fact that I generally and always want to be anywhere but here. I’m finding this much more the case as I have returned back to the classroom, back to teaching, back to my somewhat normative life of academia and not having the time, yet always feeling the immense desire to write as much as I did when I had more than eight months to mull over my life and my place in the world.

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful to be back to a regular schedule, even if that consists of me having to buckle down and get to work and get to reading and grading and attentive to email. I find myself embracing the immeasurable gratitude I feel that I possess a job that I love; a job that brings me great joy daily – a job that only 40% of those who graduate with a Ph.D. these days find themselves in some way lucky enough to possess. I was on my way home tonight, in the driving rain, thinking about the fact that after my last class of the day, when I was profoundly tired, a student stopped me to continue our discussion about labor history and capitalism and philosophy and how we operate in the world. And so we talked about books and writing and the evolution of thought. A mere fifteen extra minutes of intelligent musing on the world is what made my day complete.

And then. Still. I want to be anywhere but here. Rebecca Solnit, prolific writer, historian, and contemplator of life has found a way to describe how those of us who are writers and experience wanderlust on a daily basis feel:

“Musing takes place in a kind of meadowlands of the imagination, a part of the imagination that has not yet been plowed, developed, or put to any immediately practical use…time spent there is not work time, yet without that time the mind becomes sterile, dull, domesticated. The fight for free space — for wilderness and public space — must be accompanied by a fight for free time to spend wandering in that space.”

I yearn for the free space that brings about a different kind of musing. And not the free time that I find myself in when I’m home and sitting under my ivy-laced tree awash in varying greens and blues from the sky that peeks out between the trimmed branches. For me, that kind of musing, particularly on writing, comes from sitting alone in front of the ocean where I can consider the enormity of life and how the music that perpetually occupies my mind reminds me that there are years past that I have yet to write about with conviction. I long for the presence I had while in Woodstock immersed in a community of creative folks who think and write about the world with fascination. The awareness I had while traveling in Ireland and observing the wonder of history and architecture and the bricks that lined the hundreds year old streets, streets that once held up the writers who I admire and hope to emulate in some small way someday.

On a quite limited income and with a vast group of friends and events that always hold me to Bethlehem I wonder how to be anywhere but here. The pull I feel to hike the John Muir Trail or to fly to Italy to inhale the sweet salt air of the Mediterranean and devour a true margarita pizza envelops me so much in the small spaces of quiet time that I wonder if I am ever truly present in the moment.

And then. I have that one brief thought that what is happening in the present is enough to sustain me until I can indulge my wanderlust. Without breaking the silent promise I have between me and myself and my students that until the semester is over, I will keep my wanderlust in check.