Just returned from a wonderful visit to Wales and England. It was a true vacation---few to no responsibilities, and gone long enough to settle down and Just Be.
I love my job, but we all need time to be off duty and refresh our perspective. This trip was a gift from my sister and her husband; my job was to show up and enjoy. What a gift that was.
We spent our first two days in a village a couple of hours north of London, where the average house was 400 years old and the streets resembled alleys. Weather and company were sunny and warm.
Time in Wales was rhythmic and slow in the best sense of the world. We stayed fairly close to the family home as to be available for the gracious meals of the matriarch and the zingy one-liners of the patriarch. Yet each day we saw amazing places-- castles and gardens and stone-age settlements. Day one was a pilgrimage to Dylan Thomas's writing studio and boathouse on the south coast. The walk is punctuated with poetry and inspiring vistas. I collected beach glass that I've convinced myself are from ale and whiskey bottles Thomas pitched from his writing perch on the cliff above.
London was hustlebustle in comparison, and the smells, or rather The Smell, overwhelming at first. My anosmia transmogrified into parosmia just a few days before my trip. I now get one smell and it's horrific: think offal dipped in toxic waste then burned. It's triggered by such seemingly unrelated scents as coffee, soap, and salsa. Also perfume, garbage, fuel and just about every ten feet of an urban environment. I used all those skills I preach about here to cope-- acceptance, targeted refocus, mental math-- and it worked pretty well most of the time. Eating was the hardest part, especially in restaurants where every pound paid was a gamble. I found fish and chips tolerable and ate more this week than I've had in 10 years. To your left is a sample of what I couldn't eat, so merely lusted after.
Tate Modern Art Musuem provided good targeted refocus and I especially enjoyed the Dadaist and Surrealist works. They had a nice room of Rothkos for soothing contemplation. Other highlights: walking along the Thames in the evening before theater, watching a well-acted play, wandering in the London library, and a great meetup with a writer for lunch.
Coming from a small town to a metropolis that size means lots of people watching. While walking in the city, I decided to experiment with eye contact. In most urban environments that's the province of the aggressive or insane, so percentage of return was low. Whether the person I passed was a child, elderly, rich business person or homeless looking, I looked into their eyes. If they looked back, I usually smiled. My thought was: Each of you is someone's child, who was loved or deserved to have been. It was a powerful experience. No one shouted or glared at me; many smiled in such an open way it was almost heartbreaking. That happened more with the poor/homeless than the business people.
In the past months I have been thinking a lot of the importance of community. And despite it's virtual prevalence and all our connections (Facebook, emails) we are more isolated than ever. In Llandeilo, Wales, population less than 2000, at least four pubs have shuttered their doors since my visit ten years ago. More than a bar, pubs are the UK's town halls and churches, where business is conducted, families connect, problems identified and resolved. Now some 50 pubs a week are closing throughout the UK. Some have histories going back hundreds of years.
In the US, it's our libraries and independent bookstores and diners that are going away. Places where we used to while away some time, breathe a little, meet with friends. Single-screen movie theaters are a thing of the past, but the multiplexes aren't doing that great either. Live music events don't attract like they used to; people are content to buy (or steal) their music off of the net. Old venues fold and with them a piece of our history and the exoskeleton of our community.
This week's homework: Get out a little. You don't need to cross the pond to find connection and renewal. Take some time to support a local institution you want to see survive. Ask a few friends to join you, and remember how nice it is to see familiar faces.
Meanwhile, if you need to relax, here's a Welsh lullaby:
Welcome to the middle path
- Jana Svoboda, LCSW
- Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.