The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” - Saint Augustine
Wandering through life, my goals for “success” and “happiness” have never had a geographic location attached to them. I tend to go where life takes me. That’s not to say that location doesn’t factor into my career and life decisions, but I’ve learned over the years and through my wanderings that happiness in a place has less to do with the place itself and more to do with where I am in my life and with the people who surround me there. Life in New York City offers every opportunity for diversion, culture, intellectual stimulation, culinary delight, and distraction; and yet the saddest and loneliest stage of my life was in New York, while the happiest and most fulfilling was (quite unexpectedly) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
When I was younger, the thought of staying in one place for the rest of my life absolutely terrified me (it still does, to some extent), but I think that’s part of what drove me to academia: as an academic, I’m free to wander for at least three months of the year. This summer my wandering takes me to Florence, Paris, Andorra, Barcelona, and Sofia. There’ll be a mix of work and relaxation, discovery and familiarity, new acquaintances and old friends.
In addition to my somewhat itinerant lifestyle, I have short-term wanderings as well. People with two and three-times my salary often say to me “I wish I could afford to travel.” This always makes me laugh, because to my mind, I can’t afford not to. There’s too much to see, too much to learn, and too many discoveries about myself and others to make.
Do you have a favorite place if so where and why?
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Because I do. That city is eerily alive. Some cities have a spirit—not in the spiritual sense—but in the very basic sense of an animating entity that gives it life. You can’t help but feel it when you visit, and it keeps calling you back (it’s either that, or Marie Laveau’s curse). That’s how I feel about New Orleans, and Louisiana in general. I think it’s the closest thing I have to what I would call “home.” On the other hand, there’s Paris. Paris isn’t on the top of my list as a tourist, but once you decide to really discover Paris, you can’t help but to fall in love. France has become my “deuxième patrimoine”—an essential part of my identity—and I feel its absence when I’ve been gone too long.
What drives you? What does it mean to be a wandering woman?
What drives me? That’s like asking what drives me to breathe. Okay, perhaps that sounds a bit dramatic, but how do you convey a hunger in words? Discovering new places is something I crave. I imagine it’s akin to asking a woman whose maternal clock has begun ticking why she wants to have a child. It’s a need, and you just feel it.
Being a wandering woman has its advantages and its disadvantages. It’s made me strong, and adaptable. It has taught me to see in different ways, and it’s helped to open my mind and to make me less judgmental, although I think that’s always a work in progress for anyone. I’ve learned to be more patient, and to appreciate things that I used to take for granted. I’ve had amazing and unforgettable experiences that wouldn’t have been possible if I had stayed in one place.
On the other hand, there are social stigmas associated with the wandering woman. She is, after all, the very antithesis of the domestic woman, a prototype that has dominated our society for generations, and that continues to thrive despite efforts to destroy, or even to redefine it. To quiet her wandering soul, does she have to find someone to “anchor” her somewhere? Will she be forced to sacrifice her wanderings to create a “family,” or can she redefine the notion of family through the relationships she builds? Will she wander so far that she’s left without roots and branches, or will the trace she leaves behind create a giant net that will catch her when she falls? These are some of the questions I ask myself when my wandering soul gets restless.
What's the journey you haven't taken but need to take?
I’m usually up for any new adventure, whether that be discovering a new place or rediscovering a familiar place with someone new. I like to visit places that make me feel like I’ve stepped back in time. But what I really crave is a place where I’ll be completely gobsmacked by the culture shock. It’s akin to lamenting the early butterflies-in-the-stomach days of a relationship, but I envy my students who study abroad for the first time. I want to experience the total discomfort of being foreign to a culture and then slowly beginning to understand it.
Do you have a favorite book or song or film or piece of art about wandering, or a another wanderer who speaks to your wanderer soul? Please elaborate.
Film: Agnès Varda's Sans toit ni loi. It's a beautiful film about a girl who lives on the edge of society, who wanders from place to place in an aimless fashion. The English title is Vagabond. I don't relate to the main character (Mona Bergeron whose very name evokes the idea of itineracy, berger = shepherd) and I don't see similarities in our wandering. She ends up dead in a ditch (not a spoiler alert, since the film begins with her dead body!), leaving behind no trace of who she was or even that she existed at all. But the film helps me to answer some of the questions I mentioned above by reminding me that it’s the friendships I create that keep me anchored and that give me a sense of family and home.
Song: "Freebird" by Lynrd Skynyrd. "If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me? For I must be traveling on now, there's too many places I've got to see." I first heard this song at the age of 16 in my brother’s car on the way home from school. The lyrics stuck with me, and I often play the song when I’m about to leave a place I’ve been in for a while.
Book: Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Clarissa Pinkola Estés, PhD. Because it speaks to my wandering soul.