Category Archives: Travel

Driver’s seat


I just returned from a three-week trip to the Philippines. In some ways, I’m still trying to process thirteen years of change. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Places and structures look absolutely different, but the people, sounds and smells are all still the same.

I have lots of musings and thoughts about the trip, and even more experiences both funny and momentous (well, at least for me). But I’m not writing about those right now. Something else has been weighing on my mind.

I’m trying to understand why I’m so different when I’m back home. Not in the sense that I no longer fit in or can’t adjust. On the contrary, it’s like I’ve suddenly rediscovered my real self, or at least what’s left of it. It’s like part of me went to sleep when I left Manila, and the auto-pilot me took over running my life in the US. Which seemed like a sensible thing to do then, because the auto-pilot me is more practical, more sensible, and follows instructions beautifully.

But on manual mode, my old goals return, old plans set aside start resurfacing. Dreams reappear, giving birth to even more dreams made up as I go. I magically feel more hope, more promise, more drive to actually try and, in Joseph Campbell’s words, do what the push is out of my existence.

I visited old haunts, flirted with old ghosts. I saw old friends, who say I still look the way I did when I left. Okay, so maybe I just feel different. Then we talk, the usual, “so what are you doing now?” And then there it is. The look of surprise, or bewilderment, at my answer. Almost to a person, they say they would have thought I’d be doing something in music by now. Or poetry, literature, writing. Something creative. Anything in that world. And the sharp pang in my chest—this primal ache and longing and painful regret—tells me that somewhere inside, I’ve been wondering the same thing too.

So a dear friend says, Why not? It’s not too late. All you need is an arranger. And I start thinking, yes! Why not indeed? And the excitement builds, and now I’m singing my old songs in my head again, going over my lyrics, imagining how the piano solo will sound, or where a hint of strings will fit in. All the great things the arranger will do for my work. I tell myself it’s about time; I should have done this years ago. I’ve loved music since I was a little kid, been writing it since I was eleven. What in the world kept me from taking the plunge? Didn’t I always say this was what I should be doing with my life?

Now I’ve been back in the US less than a week, and already the doubts have crept in. I listen to some favorite songs, and think there’s no way I can even approach that. So okay, I tell myself maybe I can just write lyrics. Then I put on Ghost by the Indigo Girls, and am enamored all over again of the words and the brilliant use of imagery that I paralyze myself. I think, good grief, there really is no way I could ever do THATwith words.

So I start singing my songs a little less. Picked up my guitar, and put it back down. Sat at the piano, then the phone rang and that was the end of that. Now I’m back to checking email, catching up on work, getting back on track with chores. Slowly the music and writing plan is inching back to the “on hold” side, and sadly, I’m letting it happen again.

I need to be rid of the auto-pilot me. I need to take back the reins and start running things myself again. I need to remember what makes me truly happy, and completely alive.

And I need to stop just writing about it and start doing. Carpe diem. Carpe vita.


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