In my modest circle of friends, there is talk of running away from home this month.
Almost everyone I know reports they are out of breath, dangling on the proverbial edge – a few even threatening to jump. And to think, it’s only the first trimester of the new year.
Maybe it’s March Madness.
I know because I’m right there with them, feet dangling in midair, feeling slightly frayed and off balance, fighting my own addiction to busyness, and taking on more instead of inking in the poetry reading or walk in the park I’ve vowed to do for months.
I’m the world’s worst offender when it comes to overcommitting and saying “yes” instead of “I’ll get back to you.” Or reminding myself that “no” is a complete sentence.
When I left my day job to write a few years ago, I envisioned unstructured days and blank pages with endless time to think, dream, create and simply “be.” I wanted to drown in my own words, breathe underwater, write and, of course, play.
A month or so ago, I began noticing the daily practice of writing slipping through my fingers, my mind and world cluttered and on overload.
Don’t get me wrong. I love every second of my crazy life. Truth be known, without it – I’d have little to write about. But like so many of my peers feeling squeezed and depleted, I find myself yearning for a day off, a “Calgon, take me away” kind of day.
Nothing fancy, really – just the priceless luxury of doing nothing. Or something my heart desires.
On a recent morning, in hearing a hint of despair in my voice, a dear friend who lives in Los Angeles (she’s the kind of friend who can read me like a book), took matters in her own hands. Coming to my rescue, she called with two simple requests.
“Pencil me in.”
“Let’s meet in the middle.”
And then she said the “B” word: Bakersfield.
Instead of my usual 100 mph life pace, I woke up the following morning, leisurely sipped my coffee, threw on some casuals, and headed south on Highway 99, the main artery running down the middle of our San Joaquin Valley.
The sight of blossoming oleanders, palm trees towering from distant roads, perfectly pruned vineyards and the familiar turnoffs for Fowler, Selma and Kingsburg immediately tranquilized my brewing angst.
By 11:30 a.m., I arrived in Bakersfield, finding my way to the Marketplace Center anchored by Patrick James, Chico’s and Johnny Garlic’s, a Guy Fieri restaurant where my friend and I met for lunch.
Two hours later we were walking arm in arm, just as we had done more than four decades ago as college coeds studying abroad.
We were running away from home then, not much different than what we were doing now, only no passports or luggage required for this trek.
Bakersfield was our Paris.
And the day was my palate cleanser, a delicious sorbet served between courses of an incredibly busy life. Over late afternoon coffee, she reminded me that multitasking is scattering the puzzle, not putting the pieces together. And that the most important thing we can give ourselves during this chapter of life is time – creating opportunity for contemplation, fascination, wonder. And friends.
I would take a lot of razzing on Facebook for the selfie we posted in our moment of euphoria. Two women, perfectly content, maybe even giddy, sipping coffee in Bako and savoring a few hours in protective custody in an obscure shopping center off the Ming Avenue exit.
Four hours later, it was time to say goodbye. On the drive home, I made note of the medicinal power of good friends and a change in scenery, both, I sensed, responsible for making the sun peek out from behind the clouds and transfusing a tired writer. I felt human again.
Resuming my writing ritual later that evening, I discovered an ad for a Left Bank Writers Retreat that had arrived in the mail. It included a list of activities – things we should do every day, whether we find ourselves in Fresno, Bakersfield or Paris:
1. Read a poem
2. Listen to a piece of music
3. Eat good food
4. Create something
5. Express gratitude
6. Have direct experience of life
7. Drink tea
8. Touch the earth
9. Love with an open heart
10. Go for a walk
Seven out of ten. Not bad for starters. It had been a good day, with enough time and miles to get lost and found.
Armen D. Bacon is a writer and co-author of “Griefland: An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship” and a collection of essays called “My Name is Armen.”