The Lure of the Open Road (or How to Empty the Psychic Backpack)


As I head out on the open road, the early morning sun only just risen, I realise again how much I like setting out on a journey.

The swallows are cheeping in the nests around the house and there’s a freshness to the air.  It reminds me of how much I also like sitting down to a blank page.  When people find out I’m a writer, one of the things they often share with me is their dread of the empty page.  And yet, for me, it is one of the things I love.  At the beginning, anything is possible.  At the beginning, there seems to stretch in front of me an infinite adventure which can go wherever I want it to.

I guess its beginnings I like, rather than the journey itself. That sense of newness, freshness, excitement and possibility.  I’m an adventurer at heart.  Change doesn’t frighten me.  On the contrary – it beckons to me constantly like a familiar playmate.

‘Hey, c’mon and lets see what more we can do.’  

Before I commit to my destination, when I’m sitting behind the wheel of the car, an array of possibilities play in my mind.  Where might I go?  What would feel like the biggest adventure today?  And the same is true when I write.  What character wants to appear and where will their story take them?

The only catch is that I don’t like endings and once a journey is started, the sense of a destination (and therefore an ending) tends to creep in, no matter how much I try to just focus on the journey.  I’ve never been any good at endings.  I’d happily leap – mid-journey – from new beginning to new beginning without ever ending the old ones.  Looking back at my life so far, it seems littered with unfinished business.  Places I’ve moved from, projects, relationships, friendships.  So many adventures started but not ended with any degree of certainty.  All floating loose ends that can sometimes feel like they’re gently wafting in a breeze waiting to be caught up again should I choose to.

So why don’t I just end them properly, honour them and let them go?  I’m not sure really.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I never fully intended to end them but, instead, got distracted by another new adventure and wandered off without really considering what I’d left behind.  Yes, that’s something I find very easy to do.  The new almost always holds more fascination than the existing journey.  The potential lover rather than the existing one, the unwritten book rather than the one I’m half way through.

But it’s not just that.  It’s also that I’m never entirely sure that the journey I’ve left is actually finished.  Because within each journey, there are other journeys.  Stories within stories that can be explored ad infinitum.  I always see the potential for newness and more adventure even within the ‘old’ journeys.  Friendships can head in unexpected directions, if I allow them to.  Books can twist and turn, new characters appear to totally change the plot, or circumstances unravel that I had no way of anticipating.

There is a limit to how much I can carry with me, though, before it starts to weigh too heavily on my shoulders.  I become burdened with all the unfinished business that keeps me from lightly taking to the road again, or to the fresh sheet of (virtual) paper.  Sooner or later, I find that I need to stop and put the backpack down, unpacking what I’ve been storing so that I can choose what to keep with me and what I no longer really need.   And that is one of the  hardest tasks, I find – deciding what needs letting go

This summer I’m finding myself in that place again.  The backpack is getting too heavy and I’m feeling overly-burdened for what I want to do, which is to skip off on the next adventure.

‘Oh, but you should stay where you are, work hard, build something meaningful in your life.’  

No, that voice has no sway with me now.

 ‘Hey, look, the open road again!’  

Yes, that seems to be the voice I’m hearing loud and clear right now.

So what do I bring and what do I leave behind?  What will nurture me and what won’t?  What, of necessity, do I need to bring – you know, the equivalent of the tent and sleeping bag?

I sort through the backpack.

‘Expectations’ are top of the heap – expectations of who and what I should be, and of what those around me should be.  A lot of those can be disregarded.

‘Habits’ – the things I automatically do every day, every week – they can all be taken out too.

‘Roles’, are next up – mother, lover, business consultant, therapist, author, spiritual teacher.  That’s a lot to carry into any single twenty-four hour period.  Something there has to go.  If only I could squash them together in some way that made them more compact?  Give them three names instead of six?  I did try that but the list ended up getting longer.  Perhaps if I leave behind at least one or two of them and, more importantly, focus on dropping my expectations around them, it might make the roles lighter to carry?

Some of what’s coming out of the backpack isn’t even mine.  

There are attitudes, beliefs, routines and more that were off-loaded by others, which I unthinkingly tucked into the bag along with my own stuff.  Like the ‘extras’ you get with special offers, things you don’t really want but they come automatically with what ever you’ve bought.  New mother?  These are all the things you have to have along with your baby – the traditions, beliefs, routines that ‘naturally’ come with the territory.  New lover?  Well, no-one’s perfect so here’s the crap you have to assimilate if you want the relationship to work.

And what else?

My lover.  My children.  My home.  The car.  Do I really want to live as a wandering nomad with no strings?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  Well, maybe I am.  Maybe I want to be able to do that when I want to but without losing what nurtures me and what I love.  And that’s the real question here.  Not about my children, though.  I know that leaving them behind is not an option.  But the others?  Do I need them and do they nurture me?  Do they need me and am I nurturing for them?  There are times when we need to ask ourselves the hard questions around where we live, how we live and who we live with.  It doesn’t mean we’re unhappy.  It’s just a kind of ‘checking in’ to see where things are at.  

So all of those are now sitting on the side of the road and my backpack is pretty much empty, apart from some crumbs at the bottom from the last major trip.

And now its time for a coffee and a break.  I’m not yet ready to pack anything back in and I’m not willing to rush myself.  Like I said, I like beginnings and having an empty backpack feels like the start of a new journey.  Seeing it all laid out in front of me like this feels a little daunting but also very liberating.  Instead of being hidden in the dark recesses of the bag on my back, they are in plain view where they are no longer weighing me down and, perhaps just as importantly, I can make a clearer choice about what to bring along with me now.

I’m rarely so unhappy that I am in a hurry to leave things behind and there’s always a sense of wistful sadness in knowing some things have to go.  This is where I am now, as I turn to get my coffee.  Instinctively, I sense whats going to go and I’m almost unwilling to turn around and look them in the eye.  I’m half-hoping that some of them might wander off by themselves while my back is turned, to save me having to actually say farewell.  Its foolish, I know.  Even long out-grown habits and expectations have a certain comfort-factor to them, like the old jumper that a friend looks at aghast when you wear it, and you finally see it for what it has become – baggy, unflattering and with too many holes to really keep you warm any longer.

Over coffee, I’ll dream about what might be instead of thinking about the scattered parts of my life that are now strewn beside the empty backpack.  It’ll bring the freshness of the new day into my head and heart.  Then, when I’m readyb97871e253483d5229664415e4e7748c and primed to get going, I’ll go back and look at what I need to bring with me.

The rest I’ll burn in a fire of dedication to release the energy back into who and what I am.

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