Some of the best travel moments for me are when I literally/metaphorically venture off the beaten path, and do something completely different.
After a series of unexpected and particularly stressful events over the summer, I was thisclose to canceling my trip to Japan. After a failed attempt at getting a refund on my ticket, I decided that it made more sense for me to go on my trip than not, and I am so grateful that I did so.
For me, Japan was truly an opportunity to press the reset button, and get back to the foundations of who I am.
For Jung, the house symbolizes one’s psyche, and having my parents up and leave my family home without much warning certainly had a negative effect on mine. Shortly before I went to Tokyo, I sat in my childhood bedroom for the last time ever. I was both saying goodbye to the child who I had been when I first moved there 15 years earlier, and to the place which had shaped me over the years into the woman who I now am.
How many times had I stared through the woods to the same blinking traffic light just outside of my window, watching it flash unchanged, thousands or perhaps millions of times? Like a metronome, it kept the pace of my late childhood and full teen years.
Vividly, I remembered the autumn day in 2000 that we moved in and painted my room, my parents and my godfather blasting Bruce Springsteen and all dancing as we whitewashed the walls together. My parents are so cool, I thought.
This belief wasn’t always echoed in the days and years to come, as I rode out the innumerable hours and emotions of my teenage years in my bedroom-happy and sad, monotonous and memorable-all leading up to this final moment of goodbye.
It was a modest but much loved room, where Harry Potter books were replaced with hair straighteners and where my size 5.5 hand-me-down Adidas sneakers were gradually swapped out for 37.5 Alexandre Birman snakeskin delights, procured vis-a-vis my first post-grad paychecks.
The ironic thing was that I have always hated my house. It was so much smaller than my friends’ Town and Country ready abodes, and perpetually filled to the brim with kids and noise and general chaos. Things were always breaking, things were always half fixed. Dirty dishes, crumbling paint, tiles which didn’t match, weird stains in the bathtub. No one would’ve classified my house as chic or cool; certainly no one would consider staging a photo shoot there. How many times I had agonized over inviting new friends (or a boyfriend who I wanted to impress) over to my house? To be invited in was a sign of trust, it was me silently asking you to see beyond the veneer of who I wanted to be and what I could control.
My dingy little house was about as far away as one could get from a glossy, editorial, Instagram-worthy estate. But it was my home.
And so, I began my 13+ hour journey to Tokyo as a person who wasn’t entirely whole. A home (and the extension of what it truly means to me, family) is just a concept, and doesn’t have to be a tangible set of objects like a living room fireplace or a kitchen table or a girlhood bedroom. We all know this. But, doesn’t it feel so much better to have those concepts represented by the tactical permanence of brick and mortar, iron and glass, rather than hanging in the ether as abstract, untenable and unknown?
I enjoyed a few days of forgetting about my existential crisis regarding my lack of a childhood home, opting instead to lose myself in the hustle and bustle of Tokyo (a city whose name is virtually synonymous with stimuli). Then, I felt the inexplicable need to embark an adventure which usually doesn’t appeal to me: hiking.
To be clear, this wasn’t a multi-month Wild-esque journey involving the ripping off of blackened toenails and desperate distillation of murky pond water. No, for me, a hiking adventure involved bullet trains and WiFi-equipped Moschino cell phones and an array of credit cards, in case one went missing. It wasn’t an epic vision quest worthy of a novel or even a novel(l)a, thanks to the suite of Google products perpetually in my palm. But for me, it was wild in the most penetrating sense. Wild in that way that changes you subtlety, that slowly picks away to leave an imprint on your soul.
In traditional Japanese culture, one of the tenets of beauty is ma, or negative space. It isn’t necessarily what is easily visible, but the absence of overt beauty-and what one can conjour in that empty space-which is appealing.
Maybe ma can be found in other things too, such as the tenacity of a broken heart which soldiers on amidst a thousand unanswered questions, or in the fragmented shade between who we are and who we so desperately wish to be.
Visually, ma engulfed me on my trip to Kamakura, though it would take me months to realize it. Instead, the day seemed to be an exercise in exaggeration; the monstrous meditating Buddha statue flanked by verdant hills, the silo-sized scroll wheel filled with ten thousand handwritten prayers and wishes, the sublime cave carved into the mountain bedrock with countless icons to pay homage to, a cavern so low and long that my (not quite) 5′ 2″ self needed to stoop down in parts to make it through.
Entrenched in color, enveloped in nature, I was able to let myself be. To go to the temple that I had never even heard of, which ended up being my favorite of them all. To sweat and sweat as I pushed myself to climb a little farther for an ocean view. To then climb back down to that ocean beach I had earlier seen, and to put my feet in the water, even though it looked dirty and unclear.
I am the girl who puts her feet in the water, who instinctively knows how to ground herself in the sand, even when it’s a little dirty and even when it’s not all clear.
2015 has been a murky year, a year which metaphorically did me pretty fucking dirty. From a few weeks into January to this very moment, it’s been the year which, like my beloved Andalucían toro, whipped me around and threw me again and again out of my center of gravity and a few times near broke me. But each time, I managed to find some type of umbrageous and temporary, yet solid, ground, and maybe that counts as ma too.