Hey, StoryMuse Friends & Fans!

Where last we lay our scene, I was on writing sabbatical. I’m in the final throes of said sabbatical, preparing to return to full time StoryMuse juiciness June 1. Man, what a ride. I have discovered beautiful things. I have grappled with the hard things of flying without a net, the safe and comfortable guardrails of work commitments that give our days a certain understandable flow.

As my sabbatical draws to a close, I’m sitting in the gloaming on the banks of a beautiful, small lake, watching bats dive for mosquitoes and ducks drift lazily across, with no particular place to go. I have been granted a writing residency at the Acorn Center here in Georgia. While it was less than an hour’s drive from my house, it feels like it could be on the other side of the planet for all the peace and tranquility I’m finding here.

Last month, I finally achieved a lifelong goal–traveling to Ireland. After so many years dreaming of, planning for, fundraising for, just straight-up talking about this trip on countless, long walk & talks with friends, I feel so proud to have finally accomplished it. I’ve been back almost three weeks now, and it already feels like a dream that quickly fades when you wake. If you follow me on social media, then you may know about my daily posts whereby I delved into the hard, personal work of facing myself while traveling alone, not to mention learning how to drive on the other side of the road. That alone deserves a few paragraphs in my book. #NewLifeLevelUnlocked

Here’s a little bit from my travelogue:

People travel all the time.
Maybe less so these days, but it’s just something that happens a lot, for personal and professional reasons. Can’t tell you how many times I see on dating profiles that a potential partner will judge you as unqualified if you don’t have enough passport stamps.
Thing is, it’s just not something I’ve done very much of. Sure, I’ve got the well-curated car that travels up and down the interstates of the U.S. South, but flights, especially international travel? Not it.
Part of the problem is living the nonprofit lifestyle my whole adult life. But that’s not it, really. I know there are lots of people who figure out how to make travel a priority, more important than say, getting your legs waxed regularly or movies or any of the little things that rack up.
Others just book the trip, maybe sleep in hostels, and pay it off later if they have to.
This has not been the case for me.
Sure there have been some rare, beautiful opportunities. I went to Brazil for work and took the “trip of a lifetime” (their words) with my parents to Italy when they were still together.
Ireland, though. It’s a thing. Like, some deep soul work here.
Every time I’ve been asked to write a goals list or a bucket list or anything like it for the last ten years, going to Ireland has been at the top.
I’m not sure where it started for me. Being named Shannon and starting to dye my hair red when I was 16 probably has something to do with it. It might be all the Irish romance novels I used to read in college. Other pop culture like “Ballykissangel,” “Once,” and “The Commitments” kept the fire stoked.
And yet, there’s something that felt like trudging through warm molasses to get to this moment. I did and didn’t want to go alone.
I mean, I very much want to go alone. I’ve had to fend off every older woman in my life. Like seriously five or six different women have asked if they could go with me. After having spent all these years as the affable travel companion to multiple people–the Amy to many Aunt Marches–I didn’t want to do that because I wanted this trip to be just for me.
Plus I wanted to challenge myself physically with hikes and biking. Most importantly, I didn’t want to have it all on a carefully articulated itinerary in advance. I wanted to leave room for improvisation.
However, I keep thinking about a moment when my dad came to find me on a vacation when I was in high school.
“I just overheard these two girls not much older than you talking outside the store. They were looking at the scarves like these and one of them said, ‘Oh, this reminds me of Budapest. I miss Budapest.’ She was really nostalgic. That girl’s already been everywhere in her life. What does she have to look forward to?”
Somehow, in that moment, I felt like my dad was putting a curse on me, transmitting a dark value into my brain. That travel should be delayed, something you had to work very hard for, earned in the latter part of your life.
But, here I am. I’m 46. Technically, this is the latter part of my life. It’s going to be hard as hell to go on this trip alone because I’ll have to once again face the loneliness monster like never before. Still, I’ve been almost nowhere in my life. And I’m still somehow already nostalgic for Ireland.
No matter what, I feel so proud for the work it’s taken to get to this place. I’m containing fear. I’m hopeful about how I can translate this experience into an ongoing sense of agency. [Heck, maybe I’ll even be able to finish this golldarned book after I get back! I printed it out and am bringing it with me to edit while I travel.]
Even though I worked my ass off to get here, I do not take lightly the privileges that helped me get here.
And I’m extraordinarily grateful to the community that held this dream with me. My phone has been blowing up all day, which has brought tears to my eyes every single time. Thank you, friends. If this plane goes down, know that I died happy.
Welp, obviously the plane did not go down. I also did exactly zero work on my book while I was there, which is why it’s so great that I have this additional time out on the land at Acorn.
I’m sharing here some of my favorite photos from the trip. Just a few of the, I don’t know, five hundred or so I took. What can I say? When you’re traveling solo, there’s no one to get annoyed with you every time you pull over to take a pic of a random sheep hanging out on the side of the road. Folks seemed to enjoy my daily posts so much, I may try to do something with that trip writing. Or maybe I’ll just let Facebook memories bring it around for my enjoyment next spring. There was a line in a one-woman show I saw at the Atlanta Fringe Festival this past weekend that really grabbed me…
“I knew the trip had changed me, but I didn’t know how just yet.”
Pretty soon, I’ll be back, doing the thing I most love in this life, which is helping a variety of different people find and tell their stories for personal, professional, organizational, and community development. And, I have some very special advocacy projects coming down the pike.
The frogs and cicadas around the pond just started in on their soft serenade. I’m feeling so stinkin’ happy to be here. To have this opportunity. To have had the opportunity for the sabbatical writ large. (Hahaha, writ large. Insert bad pun groan here.)