I’m sitting in a kitchen in a tiny old apartment in Sandanski, Bulgaria. It’s about 1:32 pm here, sunny and warm outside. My cousin-in-law is sitting on the bed next to me (beds in kitchens are occasionally a thing here, really cool), and we’re listening to retro 80’s music on my phone while working on our computers.
I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long, long time. We came here a week ago, just me and my two girls. A special 6-week vacation to stay with my husband’s family (he is back at home, holding down the fort like a champion, making us all miss him awfully). It is also a chance for me to disconnect from all the maddening stress that had been stalking me for many months at home. The combination of being sick and having sick babies for weeks on end, since February, with barely a breather between each new illness, and my constant companion of allergies so fierce they make my brain feel like cooked squash, was wearing me down to a ghost of a person. I was losing sense of everything. It felt like being in the surf without a board and having the waves crash over and over again… at some point you just want someone to pull you out, save you.
Do we all hold these things inside? Should we try to tell more of the dark side? Should we speak up? I want to keep the hard parts covered up beneath layers of smiles and sunshine. It’s both a choice and an instinct. Some people explain or complain, others do not. I believe that more often than not, speaking honestly about how we feel–if that feeling is in anyway not good– comes across as complaining. Self-interested whining. Boring to hear. Who wants to listen to lousy stuff? It all sounds like excuses. And excuses make your ears ring, they always sound the same; a droning tune of a tin pan band.
I’m so happy being here. I’m not sure if it’s because I so deeply and fervently love being in new/different places far faaaar away from home, or because the weather here is so sparklingly sunny and the air so clean and dry (as opposed to my hot and very humid Florida), or because it’s just a change of scenery, all of these things and more I’m sure. The food here (tomatoes, peaches, plums, nectarines, cucumber, butter, eggs, milk, cheese, etc. etc.) is SO GOOD it almost makes me angry. We burn holes in our wallets for Wholefoods groceries at home, and here you can drop $20 for enough wholesome, pure, straight-from-the-garden, truly organic and/or homemade sustenance to last you a full week. Really. (And the depth of flavors! Ah!) But ya can’t make much dough here, the green kind. Trade-offs.
I don’t want to go home. Back to the usual ebb and flow of life, the drum and marching of the band to the sounds of a music I have never cared for. But then again it’s home, it is comfort and warmth, family and friends, all that is most dear and familiar to me. Nothing can change that. As much as I fight it like a child, I still love my hometown (albeit in a strained and ever uncomfortable way.) Rather, I love certain things in it. The big, smooth-trunked Magnolia tree I climbed every day as a child, the white sand beaches that used to squeak like a rubber balloon when you walked on it, the cicadas in August, skiing down sand dunes (before it became outlawed), and the smell of car grease and diesel from my grandpa and dad’s old auto/body shops. Those things.
What I sat down to write about was supposed to be about this place– this little blog. As usual, I’d wanted to attempt to explain something. But explaining is the second cousin of excuses, and of course excuses are married to complaints, and there’s no room for that here. However, I think I’ve learned something recently… maybe this week, or maybe just today, this morning, when I was at the park with my eldest and she was playing on the playground happily… that it is what it is. You can love it, hate it, try to change it, try to break free of it, attempt to wrangle it into submission and understand it, scream at it, pray to it, yearn for it, beg of it… but it remains what it is.
I wrote this in my travel notebook a few days ago…
“…I’m never more than a stone’s throw away from the person I was at 17, and 22, and 25, and 28, and 30. Why is it so difficult to leave oneself behind?”
You, and me, and everyone, we all sometimes hope to change something in ourselves. To become new people, to become dream-versions of who we actually are. But small adjustments and little improvements are the only things we can attain– the rest is who we are. Why is it so hard to hug that character tightly, wrap it about our shoulders like a warm, beloved cardigan, and wear it with some pride right outside?
I’m working on that.
*I first saw the phrase “Be Here Now” spray-painted in simple lettering on a sidewalk by our apartment in South Beach, some 5 or 6 years ago. I didn’t know it was a statement that had already been in existence for a long time and had its own history– I just thought is was cool and made sense. I now know that phrase is attributed to the Western yogic spiritual leader Bhagavad Das, and his student Ram Dass, from several decades ago. I still like it.
Photo and art by: Tara Tona (taken/made on my iPhone, here on this little old sundeck, just before I published this.)