My friend Linda posted a fun idea on Facebook. Google your name and see what comes up. Are you a lead dancer with the San Antonio ballet? An artisan cheesemaker in Idaho? A retired music teacher in Miami?
To play: go to Google, enter your first and last name in quotes, and that’s it. Example: “Jennifer Wilson”
There are approximately 1,294,672 Jennifer Wilsons. Okay, I made that up, but there are a lot of us, so I took the very first entry that came up. Apparently, I wrote a book that was heralded as “Best Nonfiction Book of 2011” by the American Society of Journalists and Authors. (Note: Please leave a comment below with your results! A friend of mine discovered he was a 15 year old ping pong champion.)
Written by Jennifer Wilson, it chronicles the adventures she and her family had when they moved to Croatia for a year in search of her ancestral ties. She and her husband and two young children were living the American Dream in Iowa – a house they fixed up, soccer schedules, two careers, and frequent pilgrimages to Target. And, they felt they were missing something vital despite their privilege, primarily time together as a family and a simpler life that didn’t involve consuming, watching tv and playing video games crammed between errands. On the basis of a yearning and a late night of giddy dreaming (a bottle of wine was involved), they uprooted themselves and moved to Croatia for a year. As you can imagine, that year changed them all in deep and unexpected ways.
I was immediately intrigued by the book’s description because my partner and I have a similar ambition. No, we don’t want to live in a small mountain village in Croatia, but we do want to shed life as we know it and hit the road for a year. We’ve targeted 2018 as The Year, and we have a ton of fun imagining the possible forms of transportation (Sprinter conversion van being our latest obsession) and locations (US national parks and Australia are front runners) our trip could entail. I also have a dream of writing a book about our escapades along the way.
One thing we’ve realized is to stop thinking about how to recreate life as we know it at home while on the road. Trying to do that is what leads to TTOUS (Travel Trailers of Unusual Size) Syndrome, where it suddenly becomes reasonable to have a full-size sofa, convection oven and king bed in tow.
While we were driving I-80 through Nebraska on the way back from the Rockies this summer, we talked. There’s not much else to do on that stretch, as those of you who know it will attest. Our conversation turned and wound us around to the idea that the trip should actually do the opposite of recreating the comforts of home life, or why take it? Our backpacking and other wilderness experiences have taught us that the most memorable adventures are the ones where problems had to be solved, challenges had to be overcome, and things did not go smoothly or according to plan. The idea is to live differently, and use the challenges as opportunities to have to talk to people, get creative, confront our weaknesses, and use our strengths. In other words, to ditch the Comfort Zone.
I read Jennifer Wilson’s book, and darn if she and her husband didn’t reach the same conclusions, starting from the moment they arrived with two exhausted and weepy little kids to find that that their promised apartment was still a rubble heap of deconstruction.
So this is how I believe ordinary people living ordinary lives suddenly do something extraordinary, like leave for a year or start a farm or open a retreat center in Sri Lanka. They don’t write a perfect Master Plan, with all the steps laid out in infinite detail. They come to realize there is no “perfect time.” They just decide to do it, start putting things in motion, and then work really hard to keep at it until it happens.
Having to have it all planned out ahead of time is our way of grasping at the illusion of control. All the little details and steps will present themselves, no worries about that, and you can and will solve them as you go. All you really need is courage, determination, and a healthy dose of optimism. Some wine and naivety help, too.
I love that life works this way – a random FB post that I may or may not have seen led me to a book by another Jennifer Wilson living in the Midwest who went away for a year and wrote about it. Who knew?
And who knows what’s next.
Running Away to Home by Jennifer Wilson