Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Travel Eyes

As much as I love Cloud, our cabin in the hills of the Finger Lakes, and difficult as it is to leave there and return to city and work, I always appreciate my first days back. I arrive in the city with different eyes, softened by the easy countryside and the slow passage of unscheduled hours. The city feels and looks different; I feel different, respond differently.

But I know that the shifting in pace and scenery is only a part of these different eyes. The main factor doesn't really have anything to do with Cloud. It is a feature of all travelled eyes, I think, if a person is sensitive to the different impressions that familiar surroundings can make.

These travel eyes are something I first identified when I was twenty and drifting around the U.S. during a year I'd dropped out of college. I wasn't a particularly outgoing or observant person, but I realized that when I came into a new place - especially a city, with its density of man-made detail - I noticed and responded to things I wouldn't have at home. I looked at buildings more closely, at the way the city was put together, the shops and parks, trying to see what it was about them that they struck my eye and spirit in some new way. I watched people, and noted how they interacted, how their pace, the shapes and rhythms of their language, the clothing they wore, all differed in some respects from Boston to New Orleans, to Detroit, to Atlanta, to San Francisco.

The most noted difference though, was how people responded to me. I'd find myself engaging with strangers almost anywhere I happened to be. It came from asking directions and being curious about what I saw. But I soon realized that it was also from people responding to me. And I came to understand that more people connected with me because of the different energy I was putting out, which had to do with being more outward-facing and more open to all the newness I kept coming upon.

That helped me to understand how, when I was surrounded by the familiar, I gradually became more inward-facing and less open. I was less curious about what was around me because I thought I already knew what that was, and was less inquisitive about the people, from thinking I already understood them.

This 'Travel Eyes' effect happens when going to a new place. But it also happens when returning home again. How does that beautiful line go? … (I just googled it)…: ""We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." From T. S. Eliot.

What I so love about a day like today is that - from being away for just a week - I come back to Toronto with a slightly un-hinged perspective on all the very regular, very set and 'known' aspects of my daily life. And it all looks fresher, and I'm apt to see something I haven't noted before. More likely to speak to a stranger on the street.

I rode my bike into work more slowly today, and I travelled by streets I don't often take. I lingered in front of my office building to watch the traffic before going in, and I stopped and chatted with a couple of colleagues I don't connect with very often. The day was somehow longer, and I felt less hemmed in by the set parts of my schedule. And, as I made connections with clients, and took up the unfinished business I'd put aside ten days ago, my eyes slowly began to settle.

The other thing I've learned, from having experienced these 'Travel Eyes' so often, is that it doesn't require travelling to get them. It's really all between the ears. The travelling just helps. I guess you could say that it shifts the default setting a bit, and only for awhile. Which I guess is as it should be. 'Settled Eyes' have their uses too.

1 comment: