Well, I’m sure you’ve all been wondering how I’ve been passing my time for the past week and a half or so. And if you haven’t, that’s fine; all I’m asking is for you to humor me. The answer, in any case: not so badly as you might have thought.
After a whirlwind trip through the city of London, I’ve settled down in my little Northern Irish town for the next month, to meet with professional poets and playwrights and pound out a novella of my own in time to present to an international conference of writers at the end of July. Talk about pressure. My jet-lagged brain isn’t even quite awake enough to process all of this.
Traveling abroad has been a wonderful experience. Should I just list for you the famous graves I’ve seen since last Friday? Henry V. Richard II. Elizabeth I. Charles Dickens. Mary, Queen of Scots. Sir Isaac Newton. Edward the Confessor. Brian Borù, allegedly. Tons of ancient Irish chieftains from the 1st century BC. HENRY THE FIFTH.
But traveling is by no means an easy deal. I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past few years, and that means that I’m starting to learn what exactly I need to do to take care of myself when the going gets stressful. And living in one room with four other girls for the next month, and having a deadline to write a whole novella in essentially three and a half weeks, and being social and friendly and cheerful with a group of fifteen other people that I’d never even heard of before June 28…
Well, the going’s gotten a bit stressful.
I’ve written about coping mechanisms before, but this is one of those days that I’m really beginning to put them in practice. Now that we’re staying at a hostel, I’m able to cook dinners for myself, which is incredibly refreshing. No more shelling out fifteen pounds for deep-fried fish and chips (which, I’ll admit, were glorious and salty and delicious) when I can stay in and make a bowl of whatever sounds good to me at the time.
I also know how much sometimes I need to pull away and take a few quiet hours when constantly making small-talk and being “on point” starts to get to me; in fact, I’m doing that now. Sometimes taking a mental health break and lying down on your bed with your laptop blogging about something extremely personal can be just the refreshing moment that you need.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the guilt of living does not entirely go away. I made a point, as I said earlier, of only packing my “travel-sized eating disorder,” and so far it’s only been big enough to pack into a carry-on. There was a brief hiccup when I had a late-night gelato run and then found myself in the ancient “voices in my head” runaround. There have been times when I’m absolutely convinced that my stomach has grown to twice its normal size, and then there have been days when I’m sure my brand-new pants fit looser than they used to.
But the point is, I have these moments, and then they’re gone.
Case in point: we had our welcome dinner for the writers’ program this evening at a pub downtown. The menu included an alcoholic beverage of our choosing, an entree, and a dessert. Now, dessert is ordinarily simultaneously the meaning and the bane of my existence. I could live solely off of frozen yogurt, chocolate bars, and scones, if it weren’t for the crippling guilt that yanks the rug out from under me whenever I indulge.
But I had dessert this evening. And an entree that involved fries (well, chips, if we’re being technical). And a small Guinness, because this is Northern Ireland, after all.
And you know what?
I’m a little uncomfortable about it.
Not everything is perfect. I didn’t expect everything to be perfect.
But I can deal with it. I can reassure myself that I get to cook whatever I want for dinner tomorrow, and that this is a special occasion. People are not frequently buying me cheesecake free of charge and paying for my beer, so I may as well enjoy this while I can.
Plus, I’m living on top of a giant steep hill for the next month. If hiking that multiple times a day isn’t exercise, then I don’t know what is.
I might wish I’d made “safer” choices for dinner this evening, but what would have been the fun in that? I wanted the garlic chips and the cheesecake, and I’ll put up with the feelings of guilt and the slight confused rumbling in my stomach for the evening.
And I might wish that I’d gone out this evening with the other members of my program and been happy and social and put on a false front of excessive cheerfulness. But I know that sometimes I just need to be alone and in bed, and I’ll be much better for it in the morning.
And knowing what I need and having the strength to act on it?
That sounds pretty perfect to me.