Staying Put and Paying Attention

In the past few years, the term “staycation” started to be used for people staying home as their “vacation.” (The term was added to the 2009 version of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.) The term may be new (and inspired by economic woes) but the concept has been around since the idea of vacation time off from work came to be.

Not everyone can use their two weeks off from their job and go off to an island beach or another country. Economics certainly plays a big part in this, but it’s not the only reason. I know people who don’t want to fly because of the security hassles at airports. Gas prices are a factor. Travel is stressful.

People hanging out in their backyard, visiting local parks, museums, festivals and attractions is typical of a stay-at-home vacation – which might be spent outside your home on day trips. If you live in California and stay within California for your vacation is that a staycation? If you live in the much smaller Delaware and stay there is that more of a staycation?

I am more of a hardliner about staying put. I came across a book called When Wanderers Cease to Roam: A Traveler’s Journal of Staying Put by Vivian Swift that appeals to my philosophy. I can’t say that I have actually read the book because I actually found myself flipping through and reading sections, and also thinking that I should stick to the month I’m living in right now and savor the book for the year.

Swift had spent a lifetime traveling around the world. (She writes that she had 23 temporary addresses in twenty years.) Now she has dropped anchor in a little town on the Long Island Sound and for ten years she observed her own life, her local area, and people.

The really interesting part of the book for me When Wanderers Cease to Roam‘s watercolors and drawings (even some of her needlework) of local landscapes, the passing seasons and small parts of the day.

She has not lost the lessons and memories of her travel and that past mixes with her present in interesting ways.

The book’s chapters are months which gives the book a journal feel. It reminds me of painters who chronicle a place (frequently very near their home – maybe just outside their window) and the changes in the sunlight during the day or over the seasons.

She starts collecting lost items like mittens, notes, photographs, and keys as she wanders like a beachcomber away from the beach.

The illustrations (300) are interspersed with about 200 pages of handwritten passages of prose and poetry.

From her March section:

I collect tea cups the way I used to collect days in foreign countries. There’s a tea cup, made of amber-colored glass, that’s just like a shard of the Sahara glinting on my shelf. The pale blue one – that’s like a cup of Nottingham rain reflecting the face of a handsome stranger I was flirting with one afternoon 30 years ago. Midnight blue Limoges is January in Paris, a rare snow fall in the city, cold kisses, and Jean-Claude. My tea cup collection is my passport.

We are not all artists who can journal in this way, but it’s an idea I want to explore over the next few months here.

Swift includes excerpts from her local paper, and all of us could create a journal made up of clippings from newspapers and magazines of words and images that reflect our daily life. I did that seriously for a number of years and would like to find the time to start up again.

Can you write a travel memoir without traveling? Can you preserve the simple pleasures in your life? Most of us keep photo albums and maybe video chronicles. Lots of bloggers put their life online. Though Twitter and Facebook certainly chronicle “small” parts of my daily life, it feels very incomplete.

In describing this first book herself, Swift says it is “hand-made, slow-information” and that it is “not quite a memoir and not exactly a diary, it’s more like a lifestyle catalog.”

Art journaling is already a genre, so she didn’t invent something, but she has provided a great example. (phenomenon actually), but she could not have done a better job of showcasing all there is to love about an art journal.

She also looks at those who have stayed put before her – like the 18th-century French soldier Xavier de Maistre. Confined to prison for 42 days, he decided to write about each of the items in his room as though each had great importance. She says that Maistre “invented a new mode of travel.” It reminds me of the many travelers and explorers (think of Darwin) who sat at home in their study writing about years of travel. She also brings in an explorer and naturalist, Alexander von Humbolt, who after five years exploring Latin America, returned to Paris and wrote 30 books over 20 years about his travels.

Not to overdo a theme that runs through this blog, but her book is a good example of being mindful or aware of the things and people, and changes that occur very close to us.

For some mindfulness and mittens, which sounds trivial on the surface, take a look at Swift’s collection of lost mittens, and some other pages from her book.

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A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

2 thoughts on “Staying Put and Paying Attention”

  1. I look forward to your weekend excursions.

    This is a book I will certainly look for in the bookstore. I think that this quiet observation of thing nearby is very important.

    I would recommend the book PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard to anyone who wants to read excellent and engaging prose about someone who examines in minute detail the small circle of the world they inhabit.


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