I write about “change” a lot on this blog – so much so that it may seem repetitive. But change is the only constant in my life; the only thing about me that always remains the same. I’ve tattoo’d “evolve” on my arm to reinforce change as my personal mantra, and a Phoenix on my back to remind myself of my own ability to survive change. So yes, change is a bit redundant in my life…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In keeping with that mindset, I’ve been back from Spain for a little more than 24 hours, and I’ve already begun to notice how the trip has changed me. It wasn’t “life-changing” in the melodramatic sense, but it was insofar as it gave me a greater sense of clarity about some of the things I need to do to change my life. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Europe several times now, and while each trip has been unforgettable in its own way, this was by far the most impactful. I learned so much – about myself, about other people, about other places.
It was doubtlessly the most immersive of my trips – though I spent six weeks in France at one point, I never covered as much ground or pushed myself as far out of my comfort zone as I did in these eight days. I walked almost everywhere and saw so much of each city that I began to memorize directions. I shed almost all the weight I gained in sangria and paella as soon as I gained it, and I went to bed each night still feeling the pangs of rubber soles against cobblestone sidewalks reverberating through my legs. It was a roller coaster, in almost every way, and it was the most thrilling one I’ve ever ridden.
I spent a whole weekend with friends I had not seen in ages, an incredibly wonderful couple who retired to Valencia five years ago, and turned their retreat into anything but a retirement. Talk about relationship goals! I was amazed by how much of the world they’ve seen, how thoroughly they integrated themselves into Valencian culture, and how remarkably beautiful their view of the world is: the perfect balance of passion and tranquility, of pragmatism and optimism. I discovered the healing benefits of ham, and that there really is no point in rushing the waiter for your check – time always passes the same, and the world will still be there when you leave the restaurant. So keep your blood pressure low, and relax.
Most of all, I fell in love during my vacation. I fell in love with a country and a culture that used to seem so mystical to me, but were suddenly made real in one of those awesome moments when you realize that some things in life really do exceed expectations. I fell in love with the person I was with, in a more complete and well-rounded way than before. I saw him in a new light, a new environment, and in that regard, I came to understand him in new ways. I discovered new nuances in his personality, gained a better understanding of our differences and particularities, and learned how to make space for them.
The best part was, I fell in love with myself, discovering how much Spanish I remember and realizing I know how to navigate my way around a new city without always relying on my phone. And that when I do get lost, I can actually enjoy it. These may seem like little things to anyone else, but to someone like me – someone with a tragically warped sense of self – these are major revelations. I learned how to take my time. I learned that, as much as I hate to be alone, I really do love my own company, and I can spend an entire day in a strange city by myself without getting lonely.
I learned how to seek inspiration for my writing in my surroundings – how something as simple as a Gothic archway can inspire an entirely new idea for a novel, or how climbing up the narrowest paths of an enormous mountain can suddenly become the missing piece to a story I’m already working on. I learned how to discipline myself – that as soon as I have an idea, I should write it down. Even if it’s not fully formed. Even if it’s not Fitzgerald in its first draft. Even if I don’t “feel like it”. Because if I don’t write it down now, I probably won’t later. I learned that inspiration may not always come from within, and that’s okay. Instead of letting it discourage me, I should look elsewhere for it. The world exists to help writers find things to write about.
I learned what I must do to live the life I want. The changes I need to make to ensure that life-changing trips to Europe occur on a regular basis. The habits I need to avoid. The mindsets I need to abandon. They were like Catalan street signs, both foreign yet familiar – not completely clear, but recognizable enough to tell me where to go.
At the airport, waiting to board the flight back to Moscow, I became incredibly sad. My demeanor changed, and my partner said it seems like I get sad often. The moment stuck with me for the entire flight as I ruminated on what it meant, and I realized he’s right. I do. But that’s not a bad thing. Change is always sad. But it’s an integral part of who I am; a catalyst for me becoming more than who I was before. If I mourn the end of something, it is only to prepare myself for welcoming something new. If sadness seems to come easily to me, it’s only because change does as well, and my sadness often comes with excitement and happiness in equal measures. If I woke up, disappointed to be returning to my regular routine, it is only to prepare me for the thrill of my next adventure. Of my next change.
I suppose all of this is to say that, if I learned anything during my trip, it’s how to succumb to the waves and let them carry me where they will. As they say in Valencia, “Tranquilo.”