No, this post is not about quitting my job. At least not directly. It’s about noticing the enriching details of everyday life.
Last weekend Sarah and I spent most of Saturday cleaning out our garage. We aren’t hoarders and we didn’t need to call the Pickers guys, but the garage hadn’t been thoroughly cleaned since we bought the house over two years ago. The cement floor was covered in layers of gravel, dirt, and dust from winters past. Yard implements, grilling supplies, bird seed accoutrements, and various holiday decorations haphazardly lined the walls. Far too many cobwebs lined the window and ceiling for the comfort of modest arachnophobes such as us. Can you visualize it?
So we bit the bullet and moved the contents of the garage onto the front lawn. We worked methodically, often silently, and wiped hard-earned sweat from our brows. The heat of the sun seemed to sear the cicadas, their droning buzz ever present in our ears. Then we swept, hosed out, and vacuumed every last inch of the garage. Thoroughly. Of special note we found one Decon’d dead mouse beneath some shelves and a trio of tiny dessicated mice inside one of my rollerblades amidst the chewed remains of my foam boot liner. Charming.
By now you’re probably wondering why I’m relaying this mundane tale.
With everything purged and the garage spotless, it took on a different appearance. It looked foreign and somehow smaller. I started to notice little details that had utterly escaped me before: a small instruction booklet taped to the garage door track; the stylized lamp hanging next to the side door; two crawlspace panels screwed to the ceiling; a sizable gap beneath the cement floor and the drywall.
I saw a clear allegory. In the middle of this labor I was filled with a startling hope. That when it came time to clean out my mental garage, when it came time to discard all of the thoughts and worries and fears associated with my current position, I would notice the details of the life around me that had gone ignored and unseen for so long. Not for any lack of desire to see those details, trust me, but for lack of mental space, for room to store them.
As tangential as it may seem, this episode helped me believe that sweeping the seven years of dust and cobwebs from my mind would replenish and increase my focus and powers of observation. Being, as I am, on the brink of many strange and wonderful and unpredictable travels, and seeking to earn my stripes as a travel writer, this was hugely affirming.
Travel invites us to actively engage our senses and pay attention to the incoming information. The stippled texture of a cement bench, the mouth-watering scent of a paprika-laced dish, the rumble and clang of a passing street car, the multi-hued folds of light draped across a pastoral landscape – it’s often the details that add a sheen to the experience and pull us so willingly back in time to a moment. Likewise, the best travel writing is laden with sensory details and minor yet evocative flourishes that engage and transport you. Distraction and preoccupation crowded my vision and hid life’s details, much like the presence of all that dirt, grime, and yardy things did in my garage.
Before our trips begin, how can we increase the resolution of our future experience so we can see the details that seemingly hide in plain sight? It occurs to me that our computers and cameras are modeled after our minds, and it helps to think in these terms. We need to take higher resolution–higher megapixel–mental snapshots. And to do this, we need bigger mental hard drives, or at least hard drives with a lot of free space.
Cleaning out our real garage helped me understand that there’s a lot of “stuff” taking up my mental space and hindering my creativity and observations. Seeing all those details jump out at me, well, that’s just a little reminder that all will be well. Luckily, all that “stuff” will be irrelevant in the not-too-distant future and believe me, I’m looking forward to cleaning out that “garage.”
What things, people, jobs, situations are taking up space in your mental garage? What can you “delete” to increase your travel “bandwidth?”
Listening to: Radiohead – How I Made My Millions
Drinking: Aberlour 12 Year
Original photo by ludwig van standard lamp via Flickr under Creative Commons