By Christine Baker
Clinton, CT, USA
Christine Baker, Venice, Italy
Haddam, Connecticut 1984
I hated to read until yesterday. It's summer and hot and before yesterday, I wanted to spend my whole day floating in the pool. Mom bribed me to stay out of the pool long enough to read three chapters from Charlotte's Web. Now all I want to do is read. I love words. I want to go places and see things and tell stories.
English Countryside 1995
On the bus on the way to Westminster Abbey, I notice that the farmhouses and country homes are incredibly close to the roadside we are traveling on. The bus must shake the small foundations. It all looks deceptively American with the frontier and the open road. Now I know where we get our inner desires for the wind at our backs, the sunset in clear view and the open free land all around: another gift from the English.
Several hours later, I walk through Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey, and try not to walk on the engravings of Tennyson, R. Browning, The Bronte Sisters, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare and so many others. I don't feel worthy to traipse all over their names. In my mind, I see them all above me, reading one another's works aloud, laughing, joking and sharing in both the joys and the ultimate pains of writing. I wish so much to simply stand united as a fellow writer with those who know what it means to make a life from words.
Austria, Swiss Alps, Pettneu 1995 - 3:07 pm
All around, higher than I could ever imagine in every possible direction, are mountains. Craggy, soft and rigid, jagged and sloped, snow-covered tunnels carved and cloud shrouded. Passing castles has become like passing McDonald's restaurants. I wonder what it would be like to live here and wake up every morning to this view. Would I ever grow accustomed to it or would the sheer power and majesty shake my soul every morning when I first looked out a window? Could I be happy here? Everywhere I go, words find me and I am grateful for that.
Venice, Italy 2007 - 6:45 pm
I don't know what I expect from Venice. I don't know what it expects from me. This place where pigeons walk and lions fly is a confusing blur of people, faces, legs, arms, sunglasses, cameras, bags, and pigeons. EVERYWHERE. I yearn for a quiet moment off the beaten path or a view of Venice in Italy when all the tourists are gone. As I walk along the water, I see a large piece of red metal jutting out. Modern art. It just doesn't belong in this city of winged lions and thousand-year-old bridges. I imagine a tour guide hoisting up a purple umbrella, walking a clueless, mouth-gaping pile of tourists past this piece of "Art" in a thousand years (if Venice doesn't sink by then). She will show them stone from Constantinople and cathedrals from ancient times. Then she'll stop at this red piece of crap and say, "this piece was erected in 1989 to show the world how people became foolish idiots."
Paris, France - Fontainebleau 1999 - 1:15 pm
Leave me here, I'll be perfectly happy in this place drinking tea in the tea house and feeding the fish and pruning the trees.
Rome, Italy – Vatican 2007 - 4:04 pm
Entering St. Peter's Cathedral, I see it for the first time. There, behind bulletproof glass and about 30 rows of people is the Pieta. I'll never have any idea how Michelangelo created such a masterpiece and I don't want to. Perhaps, as many believe, he was directly aided and inspired by God. It is an entirely human piece of God. It is said that after Michelangelo finished the project, which he did in an amazingly short amount of time, he looked at what he had done. He was so overwhelmed by it that he actually believed the sculpture of Jesus he created moved. He thought he had created living beings. So he took his mallet and cracked the knee of Jesus to remind himself it was only a statue, and that crack remains to this day. Many people I have met aren't as real as that remarkable piece of marble. Creation of any kind is a wondrous gift.
Airplane somewhere in the sky 1995 - 11:13 am
I sit in seat 48J. An Australian woman sits to my left, neat and quiet, wearing a pink and slightly ratty sweater. We chat to pass the time. I am young; she is much older, weathered even. "Don't ever compromise your dreams, don't get lost in the system. Don't kill your soul," she tells me with tears in her eyes. Apparently this has happened to her, but I don't press to know more.
Why do I write really? Where does this gravitational pull come from? Why can't I sleep? Will I ever forget the details of this trip, of my life? Where will life take me next? What road am I destined to walk down?
So many times we fall into the rut of believing that life just happens to us. Time passes. Things change and then again nothing changes at all. We move from job to job, house to house, holiday to holiday in a blur of too much to do in not enough time. We pack our moments like sardines and then we wonder where the time went and why we never felt truly present through much of it, or any of it.
There was a time when I did not listen to the wisdom of that woman in the pink sweater. I did get lost in the system. I did compromise my dreams working for someone else. I began to actively kill my own soul by spending my time working in a way that did not fulfill me. And then one day I just decided to stop. Just like that. I remember driving to work knowing I was about to quit my job with absolutely no safety net. Instead of worrying, I felt free. I felt great. I played a song by Shawn Colvin named "Cinnamon Road" over and over again in the car, yelling out the lyrics to the dead faces I passed on the highway.
In that moment I learned two powerful lessons about myself. First: that I was capable of taking great leaps of faith with only my intuition and my instinct to steer me. Second: that I should never ignore my intuition because it is a guiding force of the universe.
Many years ago, I became hooked on a young adult book mystery series centered on the "Choose Your Own Adventure" concept. The reader would literally come to a fork in the road and be able to choose the direction. "If you want to go left, turn to page 44. If you want to go right, turn to page 67." I was fascinated by the idea that the reader could become an active participant in the story. Now I have come to understand that those books are the perfect metaphor for life. We must become active participants in our own stories. We must choose our own adventures. We must seek and aspire and try and yes, even fail.
This is why I love to travel because it forces me to see the world and my relationship to it with new eyes. It forces me to look more closely into people's faces, pay more careful attention to the hue of a sunset or the curve of a sculpture, and ultimately live more fully in the moment. It also allows me to learn more about myself. By writing in my journal, I am in essence shaping my own life story, and I enjoy that process immensely.
One of my dreams is to hike the entire Appalachian Trail and by doing so, inspire people to practice kindness. I know it's a strange connection for most to make, but not for me. For me it makes perfect sense. I started and then I stopped. I know it sounds crazy to most and I don't really care. I haven't been able to do it in the timeframe I originally planned but no one is out there calling me a failure just yet. The time will come for me to experience that trail in all its difficulty and profoundly simple glory. I know this because I am still working in the direction of that dream. I know this because I always finish what I start and to date, my dreams have never led me astray. I know this because I am the one who is responsible for choosing my own adventure and that is one of the adventures in this lifetime that I choose.
If someone else were writing your life story, what would you want written about you? Think about it. Remember that happiness is a choice, our circumstances may not be. Don't be a person who settles for a mediocre existence. Become the person you are capable of being and work to fulfill your own dreams instead of waiting for someone else to do it for you. Choose your own adventure and don't forget to take notes along the way.